Around the Horn on a clipper ship in 1856, cooking and whaling off Baja California, mining in the Sierras in 1858, finally teaching school in Tuolumne County.
Not a Rogue Valley pioneer, but an introspective view into the life, mind and work of a miner.
LIFE AS A SAILOR.
How I Shipped on a California Clipper in '56.
LOG BOOK OF PRENTICE MULFORD.
First Hour on Board--On the Wharf a Freeman, on the Deck a Slave--In 1856 I shipped "before the mast" on the A-1 first-class clipper Wizard bound from New York to San Francisco.
My First Essay in Navigation--I Haul My Supervisor Overboard.
(Copyrighted 1889, by the Author.)
When I made up my mind to become a sailor, I had tried several of this world's callings and seemed to find none suitable. I had asked counsel of several elderly gentlemen in my native village as to the best way of securing all things needful during my sojourn in this world. They said many wise and good things. They looked wise and good. But really the wordy help they offered was unsatisfactory. So, I cut the knot myself and said I would be a sailor. I explained to my male and female friends that I felt myself destined for a maritime career. I needed more excitement than could be got out of a shore humdrum life. The sea was the place for enterprising youthful Americans. The American merchant marine needed American officers and sailors. All heard me and agreed. No doubt it was the best thing. And I talked on and they agreed with all my arguments. How people will agree with you when it's all one to them what you do! I was eighteen and in most respects a fool, including this--that I did not know it.
The Wizard, on which I shipped with five other boys from my native town, was a first-class clipper. She was a fine thing to look at from a distance, either as she lay at anchor, the tracery of her spars and rigging in relief against the sky, or speeding along under studding sails rigged out on both sides. But once on board and inside her symmetrical lines, things were not so beautiful. Those white, cloud-like sails tore men's fingers as, hard and heavy with ice or snow, the sailors tried to furl them. Those graceful, tapering yards, supporting the studding sails, strained and half crushed men's backs when lowered and toted about the deck. There were wooden belaying pins, iron marlinspikes and other miscellaneous things to fling at men's heads by those in authority. Those cobweb-like ropes had hard, thick ends lying coiled on deck to lash men's bodies.
We, the six boys, were obliged to leave our native heaths because there wasn't room for us on them to earn our bread and clothes. We were not clearly aware of this at the time, though an unspoken sentiment prevailed there, as it does in most of the older settled states, that the young man must move away to "seek his fortune."
The captain of the Wizard was from our native town. Therefore myself and the five other boys had shipped under him, expecting special favors. A mistake. Never sail under a captain who knows your folks at home. You have no business to expect favoritism, he has no business to grant it.
I was the last of the six young lubbers to leave the town for New York. On the morning of my departure the mothers, sisters and other female relatives of the five who had gone before discovered many other things which they deemed necessary for the urchins to carry on the voyage. So they bore down on me with them, and I bade most of these good people an earthly farewell, loaded down, in addition to my own traps, with an assorted cargo of cakes, sweetmeats, bed quilts, Bibles, tracts and one copy of Young's Night Thoughts for the boys.
I ate my last dinner as a free man at a Broadway restaurant, and then I went to the wharf where the ship lay. Already the tug was alongside, preparatory to hauling her out in the stream. I went up the plank and over the side. A gentleman in authority asked me, as I stepped on deck, if I belonged to the ship. I said I did. "Take off those togs, then, put on your working duds and turn to, then," he remarked. The togs went off. I put on my canvas pants and flannel shirt, the garb of sea servitude. Henceforth I was a slave. The ship just then was not a Sunday school, nor a society for ethical culture. It was a howling pandemonium of oaths and orders. Fully one-third of the able seamen had not recovered from their closing-out shore spree and had tumbled into their berths or were sprawled on deck drunk. Cargo in cases, bales, boxes and barrels was still rattled over the bulwarks and into the hold. Everybody seemed to be swearing--first, each one on his own private account, and secondly, all in one general chorus for mutual purposes. Many people seemed in command. I couldn't distinguish the officers of the ship from the stevedores. Still officers continued to turn up everywhere, and each officer ordered me to some particular and separate duty.
The world looked pretty black to me then. I wished there was some way out of it. On shore the period between the foremast hand and the position of captain was only the duration of a thought. Here it was an eternity. Daydreams are short, real experience is long. But all this is often in youth a difficult matter to realize.
There came along a short, stout man with a deeper voice and more sonorous oath than anybody else. This was the fourth and last mate. It was a relief to find at last the end of the mates and to know the exact number of men legitimately entitled to swear at me. This gentleman for a season concentrated himself entirely on me. He ordered me with a broom and scraper into the ship's pig pen, which he argued needed cleaning. This was my first well-defined maritime duty. It was a lower round of the ladder than I had anticipated. It seemed in its nature an occupation more bucolic than nautical. I would have preferred, also, that compliance with the order had not been exacted until the ship had left the wharf, because there were several shore visitors on board, and among them two of my intimate friends, who had come to see me off. There they stood, in all the bravery of silk hats and fashionable-cut attire, conversing on terms of equality with the first mate. They could talk with him on the weather or any subject. I, by virtue of my inferior position, was not at liberty to speak to this potentate at all.
I jumped into the pig pen. Thus destiny, despite our inclinations, forces down our throats these bitter pills. The fourth mate was not more than a year my senior. He stood over me during the entire process and scolded, cursed and commanded. My shore friends looked on from afar and grinned. Already they saw the great social chasm which yawned between me and them and governed their actions accordingly. Already did they involuntarily patronize me. It requires a wise man to detect the wickedness and deceit in his own nature. Probably I should have similarly acted had our positions been reversed. The mate was very particular. He made me sweep and scrape every corner with an elaborate and painful accuracy. He sent me into the pig's house to further perfect the work. I was obliged to enter it in an almost recumbent position. The pig ran out disgusted. I scraped his floor in a similar mood. Thus commenced life on the ocean wave.
But I got even with the mate. Destiny made me my own involuntary avenger of the indignity put upon me. By indignity I don't mean the cleaning of the pig pen. That was an honorable though menial occupation--at least, in theory. Cincinnatus on his farm may have done the same thing. But I do mean the scurrility and abuse the young officer bestowed on me, while I did my best to execute his bidding.
I hauled the young man overboard about three minutes afterward, but he never knew I did it, and I never allowed myself to think of the occurrence while on shipboard, for fear the powers of the air might ventilate the matter. It came about in this way: A line was passed through a hawsehole forward to the tug, which was puffing, fretting, fuming, and churning with her screw the mud ooze and garbage floating in the slip into a closer fusion. My friend the mate stood on the forechains with the end of the heavy rope in both hands, trying to pass it to those on the tug. This line running through the hawsehole aft was lying near where I stood. Someone called out: "Haul in on that line!" I supposed that the order referred to me and the hawser lying at my side. So, I hauled with all my might. I felt at first some resistance--something like a tugging at the other end. I hauled all the harder. Then something seemed to give way. It hauled easier. I heard, coincident with these sensations, a splash, loud cries, much swearing and the yell of "Man overboard!" I raised my head over the bulwarks and there was my mate, floundering amid dock ooze, rotten oranges and salt water. It was he who held the other end of the line, and my hauling had caused the center of gravity in his short body to shift beyond the base, and in accordance with a natural law he had gone overboard. He was the general cynosure of all eyes. They fished him out, wet and swearing. There was a vigorous demand for the miscreant who had been hauling on the line. I was as far as possible from the pot and kept myself very busy. Bluster went below and changed his clothes. I was avenged.
We were towed into the stream and anchored for the night. To look at New York City, with its many lights and its thousands amusing themselves in various ways from the ship's deck, without the possibility of joining them, was to feel for the first time the slavery of marine life. Emerging very early next morning from the "boys' house," I found everything in the bustle and confusion of getting underway. A long file of men were tramping aft with a very wet hawser. As I stood looking at them my ear was seized by our Dutch third mate, who accompanied the action with the remark, "Cooms, I put you to work." He conducted me in this manner to the rope and bade me lay hold of it. I did so. I could have done so with a better heart and will had it not been for the needless and degrading manner in which he enforced his command. Most men do their work just as well for being treated with a certain courtesy of command due from the superior to the inferior.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Crawfordsville Journal, Crawfordsville, Indiana, January 25, 1890, page 5
AT SEA AT NIGHT.The first night out was fine. The Wizard slightly bowed to the ocean, and the sails seemed great black patches, waving to and fro against the sky. The six boys, so soon to be miserable, gathered in a cluster on deck. Jed Coles proposed that we "spin yarns." It was the nautically correct way of passing the time. So we "spun yarns," or at least Jed did. He had a batch ready for the occasion. He sat on a tub, put an enormous chew of tobacco in his mouth, hitched up his trousers and felt every inch a sailor. I noticed the second mate, that incarnation of evil and brutality, hovering about us, dark as it was. I saw his fiendish grin and the glare of his greenish eye. A precious lot of young fools we must have seemed to him. A little after our yarn spinning was interrupted by shrieks and cries of distress proceeding from the forward part of the ship. We had then our first exhibition of the manner of enforcing American merchant service discipline.
Concerning the Use of a Rope's End.
LOG BOOK OF PRENTICE MULFORD.
Outrageous Conduct of the Ship, Ditto of the Atlantic Ocean--
Mixture of Molasses, Salt Water, Boys, Boys' Clothing,
Plum Cake and Young's Night Thoughts.
(Copyrighted 1889, by the Author.)
The second mate was beating Cummings, a simple being, who, having sailed only in "fore and aft" coasting vessels, had made the mistake of shipping as an ordinary seaman on a square-rigged craft, and was almost as much at sea in his knowledge of the ropes as the "boys." This officer had singled out Cummings for his awkwardness as the proper man to "haze." He was showering upon him blows, thick and fast, with the end of one of the forebraces. It was the first time I had ever seen a man beaten by one in authority. The cringing attitude, the cries, sobs and supplications of a full-grown man, and the oaths and terrible ferocity of his castigator, were inexpressibly shocking to me. The incident, which was often repeated during the voyage, broke up our amateur yarning and made us very thoughtful.
Jedediah Coles was not at all nautically loquacious the next night. Then the Gulf Stream gave us a touch of its tantrums. All during the afternoon the sky grew more and more threatening. By dark it was blowing hard. The lighter sails one by one were stowed. Then it blew harder. The mate swore the harder. The captain came on deck and swore at everybody. One of the "boys" asked him if he thought it would be stormy. He considered himself privileged to ask the captain that question. He was a native of the same village. His father and the captain were friends, and his mother and the captain's wife visited each other. So, he deemed it advisable to establish himself on a sociable footing with the captain at the commencement of the voyage. Poor boy! Never again during the trip did he consult the captain meteorologically. He learned speedily the great gulf which yawns between the cabin and the forecastle.
It grew dark, the waves became bigger and bigger, and the ship seemed taxed to her utmost trying to clamber [over] them one after another as they presented themselves. The mates came out in their oilskins.
When the order came to reef, and I saw the men clambering up the fore and main rigging, I added myself to their number, though I felt I should never come down again--at least, in one piece. It was my debut aloft off soundings. Many a time had I clambered about the rigging of the old whalers as they lay at the village wharf, but they were not roaring, kicking and plunging like this vessel. Heavy seamen's boots kicked me in the face as I followed their wearers up this awful ascent; other heavy boots trod on my fingers; they shook the ratlines, too, in a most uncomfortable manner. The mast strained and groaned fearfully. Somehow, after climbing over some awful chasms, I got on the yard with the men. I dared not go out far. The foot rope wobbled, jerked and gave way under me at times with the weight and motion of the men upon it. The great sail seemed in no humor to be furled. It hauled away from us, bellied, puffed and kept up a gigantic series of thundering flaps. Laying over on the yard the men would gather in as much of the hard, wet, wirelike canvas as possible and then together haul back on it.
This I objected to. It was risky enough to lay out on an enormous stick sixty feet in the air, while the wind tore our voices from us and seemed to hurl the words far away ere they had well got out of our mouths, and the white-topped waves, dimly seen below, seemed leaping up and snatching at us. But at that height, and amid all that motion, to balance one's body on the stomach, grasp with outstretched arms a hard roll of struggling, wet canvas, while the legs were as far extended the other way and the feet resting only against a rope working and wobbling and giving way here and there from the weight of fifteen hundred pounds of men unequally distributed over it, was a task and seeming risk too great for my courage. I dared do nothing but hold on. The conduct of the main topsail was desperate and outrageous. It seemed straining every nerve--supposing, for the sake of forcible expression, that it had nerves--to pull us off the yard and "into the great deep."
I found myself between two old sailors, who lost no time in convincing me of my complete and utter worthlessness aloft. I concurred. They bade me clear out and get down on deck. I was glad to do so. Reefing topsails in reality was very different from reefing them in books or in imagination. On reaching the deck I concluded to lie down. All through the evening I had experienced an uneasy sensation in the stomach. I argued with myself it was not seasickness--something did not agree with me. But when I lay down in the scuppers I admitted being seasick. Then I only cared to lie there. Life was too miserable even to hope in. The tumult went on as ever. The sailors trampled over me. Being in the way, they dragged me aside. I cared not. Finally, someone bawled in my ear, "Sick! Go below." I went. The five other boys, all similarly affected, all caring naught for life or living, lay in their bunks.
The boys' house was about the size of a respectable pigpen--a single pigpen. There was room in it for two boys to turn at once, providing they turned slowly and carefully. On going on board, we had bestowed such of our outfit as could be brought into this pen in the manner in which boys of 16 bestow things generally on first commencing to "keep house." Everything was arranged on a terra firma basis. We made no calculation for the ship's deviating from an even keel. When she did commence to pitch everything fell down. Clothing fell on the floor; plates, knives, forks, cups and bottles rolled from shelf and bunk; plum and sponge cake, pie and sweetmeats fell; for each boy had a space in his sea chest filled with these articles, placed there by kind, dear relatives at home. It was intended that we should not refer to them until the ship was far advanced on her voyage.
But we never had such large supplies of cake and sweetmeats at hand before, so we went for these things immediately. The house abounded with them the first night out. The roof leaked. We left our sliding door carelessly open, and a few barrels of the ocean slopped over the bulwarks into the apartment. At midnight our combined clothing, plates, mugs, knives, forks, bottles, water kegs, combs, hair brushes, hats, pants, coats, meat, bread, pie, cake, sweetmeats, molasses, salt water, and an occasional seasick and despairing boy united to form a wet, sodden mass on the floor two feet in depth. Above, the storm howled and swept through the rigging, with little sail to interrupt it. Six sick and wretched boys in their berths lay "heads and pints," as they pack herring--that is, the toe of one rested on the pillow of the other, for it was not possible to lie otherwise in those narrow receptacles for the living. But the horrors of that second night are not to be related.
No solicitous stewards with basins and tenders of broth and champagne attended us. We were not cabin passengers on an ocean steamer. Barely had the next morning's dawn appeared when our door was flung open. In it stood that dreadful second mate of the greenish eyes, hard, brick-red complexion, horny fists and raspy voice--a hard, rough, rude, unfeeling man, who cried: "Come out of there! Oh, you're young bears--your troubles ain't commenced yet!" Then his long, bony arm gripped us, one after another, and tore us from our bunks. Out this dreadful morning we tumbled, in the wet clothes wherein we had lain all night, weak, sick, staggering, giddy.
A long iron hook was put in my hand and I was desired to go forward and assist in hauling a long length after length of the cable, preparatory to stowing it away. Sky and sea were all of dull, monotonous gray; the ship was still clambering one great wave after another with tiresome and laborious monotony. All the canvas of the preceding day had disappeared, save a much-diminished foretopsail and storm staysail. The mates on duty were alert and swearing. The men, not all fully recovered from their last shore debauch, were grumbling and swearing also. The cook, a dark-hued tropical mongrel, with glittering eyes, was swearing at something amiss in his department. It was a miserable time. But a cure was quickly effected. In thirty-six hours, all seasickness had departed. With the delicate petting process in vogue with wealthy cabin passengers it would have required a week. But we had no time in which to be seasick.
Life for us on board this ship was commenced on a new basis. We were obliged to learn "manners." Manners among modern youth have become almost obsolete. The etiquette and formality required from the young to the elder, and common to the time of perukes and knee breeches, has now little place save on shipboard, where such traditions and customs linger. We were surprised to find it our duty to say "sir" to an officer, and also to find it imperative to recognize every order addressed us by the remark "Aye, aye, sir!" The sullen, shambling fashion of receiving words addressed to us in silence, so that the speaker was left in doubt as to whether he was heard or not, had no place off soundings. In short, we were obliged to practice what is not common now to many boys on shore--that is, an outward show of respect for superiors. If business called us to the "west end" of a ship, the quarterdeck, our place was to walk on the lee side of that deck and leave the weather side the moment the duty was done. If sent for any article by an officer, it was our business to find it without further recourse to him.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Crawfordsville Journal, Crawfordsville, Indiana, January 25, 1890, page 5
A SEA EDUCATION.Petted boys have little patience for hunting for things. At home two minutes is about the limit of time spent in looking for a mislaid poker, and the "ma!" "pa!" or "aunt!" is called on to turn to and do this disagreeable work. The second mate once ordered me to find a certain iron hook, wherewith to draw the pump boxes, and when, after a short search, I returned and asked him where it might be, I was horrified by the expression of astonished indignation spreading over his face, as he yelled: "Great Scott, he expects me to help him find it!" I saw the point and all it involved, and never so wounded an officer's dignity again. It is a sailor's, and especially a boy's, business on shipboard to find whatever he is ordered to.
Teaching Young Lubbers the Etiquette of the Ocean.
LOG BOOK OF PRENTICE MULFORD.
Ma Much Missed on Board--Boys Taught to Appreciate Ma's Breakfast--
The Ship's Leaks--Sudden Call of the Ocean--
Refusal to Perform Further in Opera.
(Copyrighted 1889, by the Author.)
We soon learned on the Wizard how well we had lived at home. Our sea fare of hardtack and salt junk taught us how to appreciate at their true value the broiled steaks, hotcakes and buttered toast of home tables. The quart of very common molasses served out to us weekly soon became a luxury, and when the steward occasionally brought us "benavlins" (the nautical term for the broken fragments from the cabin table), we regarded it as very luxurious living, though a month previous we should have deemed such food fit only for the swill tub.
In about two weeks we had settled down into the routine of life at sea. Sailors are apt to term theirs a "dog's life." I never did. It was a peculiar life, and in some respects an unpleasant one--like many others on land. But it was not a "dog's life." There was plenty to eat, and we relished our "lobscouse," har tack, salt junk, beans, codfish, potatoes and--Sundays and Thursdays--duff.
The hours of labor were not exhausting. It was "watch and watch, four hours off and four hours on." Many a New York retail grocer's clerk, who turns to at 5 in the morning and never leaves off until 11 at night, would revel on such regulation of time and labor. So would many a sewing girl. We had plenty of time for sleep. If called up at 4 every alternate morning, and obliged to stand watch until 8 a.m., we could "turn in" at that hour after breakfast and sleep till noon. Apart from the alternate watches the work of "jobs" occupied about six hours per day. True, there was at times some heavy work, but it was only occasional. Sailor work is not heavy as compared with the incessant fagging, wearing, never-ending character of some occupations on shore. Skill, agility and quickness are in greater demand than mere brute strength.
Lobscouse is a preparation of hard bread, first soaked and then stewed with shredded salt beef. It looks somewhat like rations for a delicate bear when served out by the panful. But it is very good. Salt beef is wonderfully improved by streaks of fat through it. These serve the foremast hands in place of butter. I know of no better relish than good pilot bread and sliced salt junk, with plenty of clean, white fat. On shore that quart of boiling hot liquid, sweetened with molasses and called tea, would have been pitched into the gutter. At sea, after an afternoon's work, it was good. With similar content and resignation, not to say happiness, we drank in the morning the hot quart of black fluid similarly sweetened and called coffee. It was not real coffee. I don't know what it was. I cared not to know. Of course, we grumbled at it. But we drank it. It was "filling," and was far better than the cold, brackish water, impregnated thickly with iron rust, a gallon of which was served out daily. For the fresh water was kept below in an iron tank, and, as the deck leaked, a small portion of the Atlantic had somehow gained admission to it and slightly salted it. It resembled chocolate to the eye, but not to the palate.
On the fourth day out the Wizard was found to have four feet of water in her hold. The ship was pumped dry in about four hours, when she proceeded to fill up again. The captain seemed a man of many minds for the next two or three days. First, the ship was put back for New York. This course was altered, and her bows pointed for Africa. Then the foremast hands became worried, and, going aft one morning in a body, asked Capt. S--- what he meant to do and where he meant to go, because they had shipped for San Francisco and they did not intend going anywhere else. The captain answered that his own safety and that of the vessel were as dear to him as their lives were to them, and that he intended doing the best for the general good. This answer was not very satisfactory to the crew, who went grumbling back to their quarters. Ultimately it turned out that we were to take the leak with us to San Francisco.
At the rate the water was running in it was judged that the bone, muscle and sinews of the crew could manage to keep it down. So, we pumped all the way round Cape Horn. We pumped during our respective watches every two hours. In good weather and on an even keel it took half an hour to "suck the pumps." If the vessel was heeled to larboard or starboard it took much longer. In very rough weather we pumped all the time that could be spared from other duties. There were two pumps at the foot of the mainmast worked by levers, and these were furnished with "bell ropes" to pull on. Half the watch worked at each lever, and these were located exactly where on stormy nights the wild waves were in the habit of flinging over the bulwarks a hogshead or two of water to drench us and wash us off our feet.
The Wizard was a very "wet ship." She loved giving us moist surprises. Sometimes on a fine day she would gracefully, but suddenly, poke her nose under, and come up and out of the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean with fifteen or twenty tons of pea green sea water foaming over the t'gallant forecastle, cascading thence on the spar deck and washing everything movable slam bang up and sometimes into the cabin. This took place once on a washday. Sailors' washday is often regulated by the supply of water caught from the clouds. On this particular occasion the foredeck was full of old salts up to their bared elbows in suds, vigorously discoursing washtub and washboard. Then the flood came, and in a moment the deck was filled with a great surge bearing on its crest all these old salts struggling among their tubs, their washboards, their soap and partly washed garments. The cabin bulkhead partly stopped some, but the door being open others were borne partly inside, and their woolen shirts were afterward found stranded on the carpeted cabin floor. One "duff day" we had gathered about our extra repast in the boys' house. The duff and New Orleans molasses had just commenced to disappear.
Then a shining, greenish, translucent cataract filled the doorway from top to bottom. It struck boys, beef, bread duff and dishes. It scattered them. It tumbled them in various heaps. It was a brief season of terror, spitting and sputtering salt water, and a scrambling for life, as we thought. It washed under bunks and in remote corners duff, bread, beef, plates, knives, forks, cups, spoons and molasses bottles. The dinner was lost. Going on deck we found a couple of feet of water swashing from bulwark to bulwark with every roll, bearing with it heavy blocks and everything movable which had been loosened by the shock, to the great risk of legs and bodies. But these were trifles. At least we call them trifles when they are over. I have noticed, however, that a man may swear as hard at a jammed finger as a broken leg, and the most efficacious means in the world to quickly develop a furious temper is to lose one's dinner when hungry, get wet through, then abused by a Dutch mate for not stirring around quicker, and finally work all the afternoon setting things to rights on a empty stomach, robbed and disappointed of its duff. This is no trifle.
Learning the ropes isn't all a boy's first lessons at sea. He must learn also to wash and mend his own clothes. At least he must try to learn and go through the forms. I never could wash a flannel shirt, and how the extraneous matter called dirt, which the washing process is intended to disperse, is gotten rid of by soap and muscle at an equal average over the entire surface of the garment is for me today one of earth's mysteries. I could wash a shirt in spots; when I tried to convince myself that I had finished it, I could still see where I had washed clean and where I had not. There is a certain system in the proper manipulation of a garment in a washtub which to me is incomprehensible. An old sailor is usually a good washer. It's part of his trade. Those on the Wizard would reprove the boys for their slipshod work. "Such a slovenly washed shirt as that," said Conner, an old man-of-war's man, "hung in the rigging is a disgrace to the ship." He alluded to one of mine. The failure was not from any lack of labor put on it. The trouble lay in that I didn't know where to put the labor on.
It was particularly disagreeable at midnight as we assembled at the bell ropes to give her the last "shake up," and, more asleep than awake, pulled wearily, with monotonous clank. Sometimes at that hour, when our labors were half through, the valves would get out of order. It was then necessary to call the carpenter and have them repaired. This would keep us on deck half an hour or more, for by mutual compact each watch was obliged to "suck its own pumps." Such delays made the men very angry. They stopped singing at their work--always a bad sign--and became silent, morose and sullen. For the first six weeks all the "shanty-songs" known on the sea had been sung. Regularly at each pumping exercise we had "Shanty Ann," "Bully in the Alley," "Miranda Lee," "Storm Along, John," and other operatic maritime gems, some of which might have a place in our modern operas of "The Pinafore" school.
There's a good deal of rough melody when these airs are rolled out by twenty or thirty strong lungs to the accompaniment of a windlass' clank and the wild, shrill sweep of the winds in the rigging above. But the men would no longer sing. The fact was reported to the captain. He put on his spectacles, walked out on the quarterdeck and gazed at them mournfully and reprovingly. The mates tried to incite them to renewed melody. But the shipping articles did not compel them to sing unless they felt like it. The pumps clanked gloomily without any enlivening chorus. The captain went sadly back to his cabin and renewed his novel.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Crawfordsville Journal, Crawfordsville, Indiana, February 1, 1890, page 7
ON A LEAKY SHIP.One night the pumps broke down five minutes before 12 o'clock. Our watch was at work on them. The carpenter was called as usual, and after the usual bungling and fishing in the well for the broken valves, they were put in order again. It was then nearly 1 a.m. Meanwhile all the able seamen in our watch had at eight bells walked below. The watch newly come on deck refused to pump the ship clear, alleging it was the business of the others. The watch below were bidden to come on deck and perform their neglected duty. They refused. This was mutiny. The four mates got their pistols, entered the forecastle and stormed, ordered and threatened. It was of no avail. The fifteen able seamen who refused constituted the main strength and effectiveness of that watch. They were threatened with being put in irons. They preferred irons to pumping out of their turn. They were put in irons, fifteen stout men, by four mates, who then returned and reported proceedings to the captain. The men remained shackled until the next morning. It was then discovered that it was impossible to work the ship without their aid. Of course, they couldn't handle the vessel in irons.
Account of Interesting Performances at the Pumps
LOG BOOK OF PRENTICE MULFORD.
A Small Mutiny--Night Work--Night Watches--Carrying Studding Sails--Beautiful to Look At, Diabolical to Handle. Scrubbing Decks.
(Copyrighted 1889, by the Author.)
The Wizard rated over 3,000 tons, and many a frigate of her size would have been deemed poorly off with less than one hundred men for handling the ship alone. We rarely secured the lower sails properly in heavy weather, from the mere lack of physical strength to handle them. So, Capt. S--- pored sadly at his breakfast through his gold-bowed spectacles, and when the meal was over issued orders for the release of the fifteen men in irons. In this little affair the boys and ordinary seamen belonging to the mutinous watch took no part. They were strictly neutral and waited to see which side would win. I felt rather unpleasant and alarmed. Though not a full-fledged mutiny and a conversion of a peaceful merchantman into a pirate, it did look at one time as if the initiatory steps to such end were being taken.
One of the great aims of existence at sea is that of keeping the decks clean. The scrubbing, swishing and swashing is performed by each watch on alternate mornings and commences at daylight. It was the one ordeal which I regarded with horror and contempt. You are called up at 4 in the morning, when the sleep of a growing youth is soundest. The maniacal wretch of the other watch, who does the calling, does it with the glee and screech of a fiend. He will not stop his "All h-a-a-nds!" until he hears some responsive echo from the sleepers. He is noisy and joyous because it is so near the time he can turn in. And these four hours of sleep at sea are such luxuries as may rarely be realized on shore. But the mate's watch is calling us, screeching, howling, thumping on the forecastle door, and making himself extremely pleasant.
We are called and on deck, and stumbling about, maybe with one boot half on, and more asleep than awake and more dead than alive. We are in the warm, enervating latitude of the tropics, with every sinew relaxed from the steaming heat. Perhaps there is a light wind aft. We are carrying studding sails. Studding sails are beautiful to look at from a distance. But when once you have sailed in a ship carrying them from the royals down and know something of the labor of rigging them out all on one side, fore, main and mizzen masts, and then, if the breeze alters a couple of points, taking the starboard sails all down and rigging out the larboard, or perhaps on both sides--and this on a Sunday afternoon, when there are no jobs and you've been expecting plenty of leisure to eat your duff and molasses; or if you have ever helped carry those heavy yards about the deck when the ship was rolling violently in a heavy ground swell, and every time she brought up, sails, blocks and everything movable was bringing up also with a series of pistol like reports; or if you have ever laid out on a royal yard trying to pass a heavy rope through the "jewel block," at the extreme end thereof, while the mast and yard were oscillating to and fro with you through the air in a rapidly recurring series of gigantic arcs caused by the lazy swell, in the trough of which your ship is rolling--and at the end of each roll you find yourself holding on for dear life, lest at the termination of each oscillation you be shot like an arrow into the sea from your insecure perch--why in all these cases the beauty and picturesqueness of a ship under studding sails will be tempered by some sober realities.
It is 5:30 or 6 o'clock. The morning light has come. The cry of "Turn to!" is heard. That is, "turn to" to wash down decks, an operation which will tax the already exhausted resources of an empty stomach until breakfast time at 8 o'clock. The mates have their fragrant "cabin coffee" and biscuit served them on the brass capstan aft; we can smell its aroma, but nothing warm can get into our stomachs for over two long hours of work. The basic idea in this regular washing down decks at sea seems to be that of keeping men busy for the sake of keeping them busy. The top of every deck plank must be scrubbed with a care and scrutiny befitting the labors of a diamond polisher on his gems, while the underside may be dripping with foulness, as it sometimes is. I had the post of honor in scrubbing the quarterdeck. That was the drawing of water in a canvas bucket from the mizzen chains to wash over that deck. The remaining five boys would push wearily about with their brooms, hand brushes, squabs and squeegees, superintended by our extraordinary fourth mate (always to me an object of interest, from the fact of the secret carefully hoarded in my breast that I had pulled him into the New York dock), who, with a microscopic eye, inspected each crack and seam after the boys' labors, in search of atomic particles of dirt, and called them back with all the dignity of command, and a small amount of commanding personality behind it, whenever he deemed he had discovered any. When this labor was finished I was generally so exhausted as to have no appetite for breakfast. But a sailor's stomach is not presumed to be at all sensitive under any conditions. And above all a "boy"--a boy belonging to a squad of boys who about once a day were encouraged and enthused to exertion and maritime ambition by the assurance conveyed them by one of the mates that they weren't "worth their salt"--what business had a boy's stomach to put on airs at sea? Most landsmen, if called up at 4 o'clock on a muggy morning and worked like mules for a couple of hours on a digestive vacuum, would probably at the breakfast hour feel more the need of food than the appetite to partake of it.
Though I followed the sea nearly two years, I am no sailor. The net result of my maritime experience is a capacity for tying a bow line or a square knot and a positive knowledge and conviction concerning which end of the ship goes first. I also know enough not to throw hot ashes to windward.
But on a yard I could never do much else but hold on. The foolhardy men about me would lie out flat on their stomachs amid the darkness and storm and expose themselves to the risk of pitching headlong into the sea in the most reckless manner while trying to "spill the wind" out of a t'gallant sail. But I never emulated them. I never lived up to the maritime maxim of "one hand for yourself and the other for the owners." I kept both hands for myself, and that kept me from going overboard. What would the owners have cared had I gone overboard? Nothing. Such an occurrence twenty-five odd years ago would, weeks afterward, have been reported in the marine news this way: "Common sailor, very common sailor, fell from t'gallant yard off Cape Horn and lost."
The owner would have secretly rejoiced, as he bought his Christmas toys for his children, that the t'gallant yard had not gone with the sailor. No; on a yard in a storm I believed and lived up to the maxim: "Hold fast to that which is good." The yard was good. Yet I was ambitious when a boy before the mast on the clipper which brought me to California. I was quick to get into the rigging when there was anything to do aloft. But once in the rigging I was of little utility.
The first time I went up at night to loosen one of the royals, I thought I should never stop climbing. The deck soon vanished in the darkness of a very black tropical night, the mastheads were likewise lost in a Cimmerian obscurity--whatever that is. At last I found the yard. I wasn't quite sure whether it was the right one or not. I didn't know exactly what to do. I knew I had to untie something somewhere. But where? Meantime the savage Scotch second mate was bellowing, as it then seemed, a mile below me. I knew the bellow was for me. I had to do something, and I commenced doing. I did know, or rather guessed, enough to cast off the lee and weather gaskets, or lines which bind the sail when furled to the yard, and then I made them up into a most slovenly knot. But the bunt gasket (the line binding the middle and most bulky portion of the sail) bothered me. I couldn't untie it. I picked away at it desperately, tore my nails and skinning my knuckles.
The bellowing from below continued as fiercely as ever, which, though not intelligible as to words, was certainly exhorting me, and me only, to vigilance. Then the watch got tired waiting for me. Thinking the sail loosed, they began hoisting. They hoisted the yard to its proper place and me with it. I clung on and went up higher. That, by the way, always comes of holding fast to that which is good. Then a man's head came bobbing up out of the darkness. It was that of a good-natured Nantucket boy, whose name of course was Coffin. He asked me the trouble. I went into a lengthy explanation about the unmanageable knot. "Oh, the knot!" said he. "Cut it!" and he cut it. I would never have cut it. In my then and ever-present nautical ignorance I should have expected the mast or yard to have fallen from cutting anything aloft. Only a few days previous I had seen the captain on the quarterdeck jumping up and down in his tracks with rage because a common seaman had, by mistake, cut a mizzen brace, and the second mate, as usual, had jumped up and down on the seaman when he reached the deck. I feared to set a similar jumping process in operation. Coming on deck after my lengthy and blundering sojourn loosing a royal, I expected to be mauled to a pulp for my stupidity. But both watch and bellowing mate had gone below and I heard no more of it.
A few days after my unsuccessful ascension, the Wizard one morning shot through a bank of fog and San Francisco lay before us.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Crawfordsville Journal, Crawfordsville, Indiana, February 1, 1890, page 7
A SEA COOK'S LIFE.I shipped as cook and steward of the schooner Henry, bound from San Francisco for a whaling, sealing, abalone curing and general "pick up" voyage along the Lower Californian coast. My acceptance as cook was based on the production of an Irish stew which I cooked for the captain and mate while the Henry was "hove down" on the beach at North Point and undergoing the process of cleaning her bottom of barnacles. I can't recollect at this lapse of time where I learned to cook an Irish stew. I will add that it was all I could cook--positively all--and with this astounding capital of culinary ignorance I ventured down upon the great deep to do the maritime housework for twenty great men.
Trials of Dealing with a Land Lubber Stove.
LOG BOOK OF PRENTICE MULFORD.
He Qualifies by Making a Irish Stew, the Only Irish He Could Make--
Vessel "In a Stew" for Weeks--Pies--Duff, Plum Duff, Plain Duff--My Duff.
(Copyrighted 1889, by the Author.)
When we were fairly afloat and the Farallones were out of sight, my fearful incapacity for the duties of the position became apparent. Besides, I was dreadfully seasick, and so remained for two weeks. Yet I cooked. It was purgatory, not only for myself, but all hands. There was a general howl of execration forward and aft at my bread, my lobscouse, my tea, my coffee, my beef, my beans, my cake, my pies. Why the captain continued me in the position, why they didn't throw me overboard, why I was not beaten to a jelly for my continued culinary failures, is for me to this day one of the great mysteries of my existence. We were away nearly ten months. I was three months learning my trade. The sufferings of the crew during those three months were fearful. They had to eat my failures or starve. Several times it was intimated to me by the under officers that I had better resign and go "for'ard" as one of the crew. I would not. I persevered at the expense of many a pound of good flour. I conquered and returned a second-class sea cook.
The Henry was a small vessel--the deck was a clutter of whaling gear. Where my galley or sea kitchen should have been stood the try works for boiling blubber. They shoved me around anywhere. Sometimes I was moved to the starboard side, sometimes to the larboard, sometimes when cutting in a whale, way astern. I expected eventually to be hoisted into one of the tops and cook aloft. Any well-regulated galley is placed amidships, where there is the least motion. This is an important consideration for a sea cook. At best he is often obliged to make his soup like an acrobat, half on his head and half on his heels, and with the roof of his unsteady kitchen trying to become the floor. My stove was not a marine stove. It had no rail around the edges to guard the pots and kettles from falling off during extra lurches.
The Henry was a most uneasy craft, and always getting up extra lurches or else trying to stand on her head or stern. Therefore, as she flew up high astern when I was located in that quarter, she has in more than one instance flung me bodily, in an unguarded moment, out of that galley door and over that quarterdeck, while a host of kettles, covers and other culinary utensils rushed with clang and clatter out after me and with me as their commander at their head. We all eventually terminated in the scuppers. I will not, as usual, say "lee scuppers." Any scupper was a lee scupper on that infernal vessel. I endeavored to remedy the lack of a rail about this stove by a system of wires attaching both pots and lids to the galley ceiling. I "guyed" my chief culinary utensils. Still during furious oscillations of the boat, the pots would roll off their holes, and, though prevented from falling, some of them as suspended by these wires would swing like so many pendulums, around and to and fro over the area of that stove.
That was the busiest year of my life. I was the first one up in the morning, and the last, save the watch, to turn in at night. In this dry goods box of a kitchen I had daily to prepare a breakfast for seven men in the cabin, and another for eleven in the forecastle; a dinner for the cabin and another for the forecastle; likewise, supper for the same. It was my business to set the aristocratic cabin table, clear it off and wash the dishes three times daily. I had to serve out the tea and coffee to the eleven men forward. The cabin expected hot biscuit for breakfast, and frequently pie and pudding for dinner. Above all men must the sea cook not only have a place for everything and everything in its place, but he must have everything choked and wedged in its place. You must wash up your tea things, sometimes holding on to the deck with your toes, and the washtub with one hand, and wedging each plate, so soon as wiped, into a corner, so that it slide not away and smash. And even then the entire dish-washing apparatus, yourself included, slides gently across the deck to leeward. You can't leave a fork, or a stove cover, or lid lifter lying about indifferently but what it slides and sneaks away with the roll of the vessel to some secret crevice and is long lost. When your best dinner is cooked in rough weather, it is a time of trial, terror and tribulation to bestow it safely on the cabin table. You must harbor your kindling and matches as sacredly as the ancients kept their household goods, for if not, on stormy mornings, with the drift flying over the deck and everything wet and clammy with the water-surcharged air of the sea, your breakfast will be hours late through inability to kindle a fire, whereas the cook catches it from that potentate of the sea, "the old man," and all the mates raise their voices and cry with empty stomachs, "Let him be accursed."
One great trial with me lay in the difficulty of distinguishing fresh water from salt--I mean by the eye. We sea cooks use salt water to boil beef and potatoes in; or rather to boil beef and pork and steam the potatoes. So, I usually had a pail of salt water and one of fresh standing by the galley door. Sometimes these got mixed up. I always found this out after making salt water coffee, but then it was too late. They were particular, especially in the cabin, and did not like salt water coffee. On any strictly disciplined vessel the cook, for such an offense, would have been compelled to drink a quart or so of his own coffee, but some merciful cherub aloft always interfered and got me out of bad scrapes. Another annoyance was the loss of spoons and forks thrown accidentally overboard as I flung away my soup and grease-clouded dishwater. It was indeed bitter when, as occupied in these daily washings, I allowed my mind to drift to other and brighter scenes, to see the glitter of a spoon or fork in the air or sinking in the deep blue sea, and then to realize that already there were not enough spoons to go around, or forks either. Our storeroom was the cabin. Among other articles there was a keg of molasses. One evening after draining a quantity I neglected to close the faucet tightly. Molasses, therefore, oozed over the cabin floor all night. The cabin was a freshet of molasses. Very early in the morning the captain, getting out of his bunk, jumped both stockinged feet into the saccharine deluge. Some men will swear as vigorously in a foot bath of molasses as they would in one of coal-tar. He did. It was a very black day for me, and life generally seemed joyless and uninviting; but I cooked on.
The Henry was full of mice. These little creatures would obtrude themselves in my dough wet up for fresh bread overnight, become bemired and die therein. Once a mouse thus dead was unconsciously rolled up in a biscuit, baked with it, and served smoking hot for the morning's meal aft. It was, as it were, an involuntary meat pie. Of course, the cabin grumbled; but they would grumble at anything. They were as particular about their food as a habitué of Delmonico's. I wish now at times I had saved that biscuit to add to my collection of odds and endibles. Still even the biscuit proved but an episode in my career. I cooked on, and those I served stood aghast, not knowing what would come next.
After five months of self-training I graduated on pies. I studied and wrought out the making of pies unassisted and untaught. Mine were sea mince pies; material, salt beef soaked to freshness and boiled tender, dried apples and molasses. The cabin pronounced them good. This was one of the few feathers in my culinary cap. Of course, their goodness was relative. On shore such a pie would be scorned. But on a long sea voyage almost any combination of flour, dried fruit and sugar will pass. Indeed, the appetite, rendered more vigorous and perhaps appreciative by long deprivation from luxuries, will take not kindly to dried apples alone. The changes in the weekly bill of fare at sea run something thus: Sundays and Thursdays are "duff days"; Tuesday, bean day; Friday, codfish and potato day; some vessels have one or two special days for pork; salt beef, hardtack, tea and coffee are fluids and solids to fall back on every day. I dreaded the making of duffs, or flour puddings, to the end of the voyage. Rarely did I attain success with them.
A duff is a quantity of flour and yeast, or yeast powder, mixed, tied up in a bag and boiled until it is light. Plum duff argues the insertion of a quantity of raisins. Plain duff is duff without raisins. But the proper cooking of a duff is rather a delicate matter. If it boils too long the flour settles into a hard, putty-like mass, whereunto there is neither sponginess, lightness, nor that porousness which delights the heart of a cook when he takes his duff from the seething cauldron. If the duff does not boil long enough, the interior is still a paste. If a duff stops boiling for ever so few minutes, great damage results. And sometimes duff won't do properly, anyway. Mine were generally of the hardened species, and the plums evinced a tendency to hold mass meetings at the bottom. Twice the hands forward rebelled at my duffs, and their committee on culinary grievances bore them aft to the door of the cabin and deposited them there unbroken and uneaten for the "Old Man's" inspection. Which public demonstration I witnessed from my galley door, and when the duff deputation had retired, I emerged, and swiftly and silently bore that duff away before the Old Man had finished his dinner below. It is a hard ordeal thus to feel one's self the subject of such an outbreak of popular indignation. But my sympathies now are all with the sailors. A spoiled duff is a great misfortune in the forecastle of a whaler, where neither pie nor cake nor any other delicacy, save boiled flour and molasses sauce, come from month's end to month's end.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Crawfordsville Journal, Crawfordsville, Indiana, February 8, 1890, page 5
ON COOKING WHALE.I was an experimental cook, and once or twice, while cutting in whale, tried them with whale meat. The flesh lying under the blubber somewhat resembles beef in color and is so tender as easily to be torn apart by the hands. But whale meat is not docile under culinary treatment. Gastronomically, it has an individuality of its own, which will keep on asserting itself, no matter how much spice and pepper is put upon it. It is a wild, untamed steed. I propounded it to my guests in the guise of sausages, but when the meal was over the sausages were there still. It can't be done. Shark can. Shark's is a sweet meat, much resembling that of the swordfish, but no man will ever eat a whale, at least an old one. The calves might conduct themselves better in the frying pan. We had many about us whose mothers we had killed, but we never thought of frying them. When a whaler is trying out oil, she is blackened with the greasy soot arising from the burning blubber scraps from stem to stern. It falls like a storm of black snowflakes. They sift into the tiniest crevice. Of all this my cookery got its full share. It tinged my bread and even my pies with a funeral tinge of blackness. The deck at such times was covered with "horse pieces" up to the top of the bulwarks. "Horse pieces" are chunks of blubber a foot or so in length, that being one stage of their reduction to the size necessary for the try pots. I have introduced them here for the purpose of remarking that on my passage to and fro, from galley to cabin, while engaged in laying the cloth and arranging our services of gold plate and Sevres wear, I had to clamber, wade, climb and sometimes, in my white necktie and swallow-tail coat, actually crawl over the greasy mass with the silver tureen full of "consommé" or "soup Julien," while I held the gilt-edged and enameled menu between my teeth. Those were trying-out times for a maritime head butler.
Whale in Sausage Not Gastronomically Inviting.
LOG BOOK OF PRENTICE MULFORD.
Shark's Meat--Social Position of the Sea Cook--A Useful, but Not Always Honored, Member of Society--Mexican Butter and Sugar Fiends.
(Copyrighted 1889, by the Author.)
The cook socially does not rank high at sea. He stands very near the bottom round of the ladder. He is the subject of many jests and low comparisons. This should not be. The cook should rank next or near to the captain. It is the cook who prepares the material which shall put mental and physical strength into human bodies. He is, in fact, a chemist, who carries on the last external processes with meat, flour and vegetables necessary to prepare them for their invisible and still more wonderful treatment in the laboratory which every man and woman possesses--the stomach--whereby these raw materials are converted not only into blood, bone, nerve, sinew and muscle, but into thoughts. A good cook may help materially to make good poetry. An indigestible beefsteak, fried in grease to leather, may, in the stomach of a general, lose a battle on which shall depend the fate of nations. A good cook might have won the battle. Of course, he would receive no credit therefor, save the conviction in his own culinary soul, that his beefsteak properly and quickly broiled was thus enabled to digest itself properly in the stomach of the general, and thereby transmit to and through the general's organism that amount of nerve force and vigor, which, acting upon the brain, caused all his intelligence and talent to attain its maximum, and thereby conquer his adversary. That's what a cook may do. This would be a far better and happier world were there more really good cooks on land and sea. And when all cooks are Blots or Soyers, then will we have a society to be proud of.
While whaling in Margarita Bay, we "kedged" the Henry about one hundred miles inland, where the whales abounded. In so kedging it was necessary to stake out at low water portions of the channel daily, when it ran a mere creek through an expanse of hard sand, sometimes a mile from either shore. At high water, all this would be covered to a depth of six or seven feet. The Henry grounded at each ebb, and often keeled over at an angle of forty-five. From our bulwarks it was often possible to jump on dry ground. This keeling over process, twice repeated every twenty-four hours, was particularly hard on the cook, for the inconvenience resulting from such a forty-five degree angle of inclination extended to all things within his province. My stove worked badly at the angle of forty-five. The kettle could be but half filled, and only boiled where the water was shallowest inside. The cabin table could only be set at an angle of forty-five. So that while the guests on the upper side had great difficulty in preventing themselves from slipping off their seats on and over that table, those on the lower side had equal difficulty in keeping themselves up to a convenient feeding distance.
Capt. Reynolds, at the head of the board, had a hard lot in the endeavor to maintain his dignity and sitting perpendicularly at the same time on the then permanent and not popular angle of forty-five. But I, steward, butler, cook and cabin boy, bore the hardest tribulation of all in carrying my dishes across the deck, down the cabin stairs, and arranging them on a table at an angle of forty-five. Of course, at this time the rack used in rough weather to prevent plates and platters from slipping off was brought into permanent use.
Transit from galley to cabin was accomplished by crawling on two legs and one arm, thus making of myself a peripatetic human triangle, while the unoccupied hand with difficulty bore aloft the soup tureen. It was then I appreciated the great advantages afforded in certain circumstances by the prehensile caudal termination of our possible remote ancestors. With such a properly equipped appendage, the steward might have taken a close hitch around an eyebolt and let all the rest of himself and his dishes safely down into the little cabin. It is questionable whether man's condition has been physically improved by the process of evolution. He may have lost more than he has gained. A monkey can well afford to scorn the relatively clumsy evolutions of the most skillful human brother acrobat.
In former days while narrating the events of this voyage, which I have done some thousands of times, I used to say, "we whaled." But I never whaled, never went in the boats, never pulled an oar. I had other fish to fry in the galley, and now that I commence to realize what a conscience is, I mention this for truth's sake as well as to give variety to the story. We were boarded occasionally by a few Mexicans. There was one melancholy-looking Don Somebody who seemed always in a chronic state of corn husk cigarette. When not smoking he was rolling them, when not rolling or smoking he was lighting them. He and his companions were persons of some importance, for which reason Capt. Reynolds tendered them the hospitalities of the Henry and would ask them to whatever meal was nearest ready.
These two Mexicans had enormous stowage for grub. They resembled the gulls. They also seemed unfathomable. There was no filling them. What they did at table they did with all their might, and when they finished, especially when eating by themselves, as they frequently did, there was literally nothing left. "Nothing" in this case meant something. It meant in addition to bread, meat and potatoes, every scrap of butter on the butter plate and every grain of sugar in the sugar bowl. I didn't take the hint the first time they ate with us, deeming the entire absence of butter and sugar at the end of the repast to be owing to my placing a small amount on the table.
The second time they came on board I remedied this. But on inspection after they had finished I found left only an empty butter plate and sugar bowl. It was so at the third trial. Butter and sugar seem to be regarded as delicacies by the natives of Lower California. Nor do they seem to comprehend the real mission and import of butter and sugar on the table. They regarded both these articles as regular dishes, and scooped them in. On discovering this, after a consultation with the captain, I put them on allowance. These two men would have eaten up all our butter and sugar in four weeks.
However, it was comparatively a slight toll they levied on us for carrying off their whale oil, seal and abalone. We were miles within their legal boundaries, taking away the wealth of their waters. Twelve other American whalers lay in Margarita Bay that season. It was practically an invasion, only the Mexicans didn't seem to know they were invaded or didn't care if they did know. So long as they had plenty of butter and sugar on coming on board and the blubber-stripped carcasses which came on shore they seemed satisfied. These carcasses they cut open when stranded and extracted the fat about the heart, which, on being fried out, would yield from one to four barrels of oil and about three miles of solid stench. They borrowed from us the vessels wherewith to boil this fat. I was ordered to loan them all the pots, pans and kettles which could be spared from my culinary laboratory. They never returned them, and I was very glad they did not. No amount of scouring would ever have rid them of the odor of decomposed leviathan. We left them a dozen or so iron vessels the richer. A Mexican, at least on that coast, with a kettle is looked up to as a man of wealth. Beyond serapes, cigarette lighters, saddles and bridles, the gang of natives on shore had few other possessions. They seemed brilliant examples of contented poverty. The individual Mexican is a more independent being than the citizen of our own boasted "independent" nation. His wants are ten times less.
Some mercantile hopes may hang on the senoras and senoritas. The few we saw wanted calicoes of gay and diverse patterns. The men will eat butter and sugar, but whether they will buy these articles remains to be proved. Perhaps furniture sets of polished and painted horses' skulls might tempt some of the more aesthetic in the matter of household adornment to purchase, if put at a reasonable rate. Such are the conclusions drawn regarding the probabilities of trade with Mexico, at least the fragment of Mexico I saw from my galley. If we wanted any service of them they talked dollars at a very high figure. But they never abated. They showed no anxiety to tempt a bargain or an engagement. They went on just as ever, full to the brim of genuine sangfroid, eternally rolling, lighting, and smoking their cigarettes, and looking as if they felt themselves a superior race, and knew it all, and didn't want to know any more, until we asked them to eat. Then they seemed in no hurry but clambered lazily down the cabin stairs and lazily set to work to find the bottom of every dish on the table, including the sugar dish and butter plate. I learned on that voyage the true signification of the term "greaser."
PRENTICE MULFORD.Crawfordsville Journal, Crawfordsville, Indiana, February 15, 1890, page 7
MINING FOR GOLD.Having finished my own tribulations and those I fed as a sea cook, I resolved to go to the mines. I went. By boat and stage, I got over the 200 miles intervening 'twixt San Francisco and the "diggings." I had friends on Hawkins' Bar, on the Tuolumne River, in Tuolumne County. Thither I went. When I "struck" Hawkins' in 1858 it was on its last legs. Still it boasted a store and a dozen houses. Golden hopes were still anchored in the bed of the river. Expensive river claims were then being worked from Red Mountain down to French Bar. But a premature rain and consequent freshet swept the river that season from end to end with the bosom of destruction and sent for the winter the miners back to their two-dollar-per-day bank diggings.
Occupations Adopted Preparatory Thereto.
PRENTICE MULFORD'S NOTE BOOK.
Beef Peddling--Provision Packing--The Mountain Flight of the Mexican Mustang--The Gold Rocker--"Crevicing" a Rocky Camp--
Our Mining Company.
(Copyrighted 1889, by the Author.)
It was at Hawkins' that I had first "buckled to the mines." My first "buckling," however, was in the capacity of a meat peddler. I became the agent of a firm of butchers up on the mountain for distributing their tough steaks to the Hawkins' Bar miners. Through the instrumentality of a horse, over whose back was slung a couple of huge panniers, I continued the agency for a week. Then one morning the horse kicked up his heels and ran away. As he ran, at every kick a raw and bloody steak would fly out of the boxes, flash in the brilliant morning sunshine, and then fall in the fine red dust of the mountain trail. I followed hard after, gathering up these steaks as they fell, and when the burden became too heavy I piled them up by the roadside in little heaps of dusty, very dusty, meat. At last, dusty, perspiring and distressed beyond measure, I managed to catch that villainous horse. For he, after having ejected nearly the whole load of meat, concluded to stop and be caught. I loaded the panniers again with the dusty, carnivorous deposits, led the horse down the steep trail to the river, then muddy and of a rich coffee color from up-country mining sediment. Herein I washed my steaks, rinsed them as well as I could of dust, and, as was then the custom, hung up piece after piece in the gauze-curtained meat safes at the miners' cabins. I think Hawkins' got its share of grit that day in its beef. Shortly afterward I went out of the beefsteak distributing bureau.
Then I went into the service of the man who kept the Bar store, saloon and boarding house. I was errand boy, barkeeper, bookkeeper, woodchopper, assistant cook and general maid of all work, and possibly worthlessness. One day the storekeeper's horse, packed with miners' supplies, was given into my charge to lead three miles up the river to the camp of the Split Rock River claim. The load was strapped to a "cross-jack" saddle. It consisted mostly of flour, potatoes, bacon and a demijohn of whiskey. I was advised by the merchant, on setting out, not to let that horse get ahead of me. If he did it was prophesied that he would run away, "sure pop." But I had not gone forty rods from the store when the beast made a rush, got ahead of me, tore the leading halter out of my grasp and set off along the narrow mountain trail at the rate of twenty knots per hour. Hence the distance between us soon increased.
As he ran, the motion burst the bag of flour, ditto the potatoes, and then the whiskey demijohn broke. It was a fine sight. The flour rose in the air like a white cloud above the horse, out of and above which flew potatoes, and the whole was interspersed with jets of whiskey. It looked like a snow squall traveling on horseback. When the animal had spilt all the flour, all the potatoes and all the whiskey, he slowed up and allowed himself to be caught. His mission was accomplished. I found remaining the saddle and the empty potato sack. The trail was white with flour for a mile, and so it remained for months afterward. I led the animal back to the store. My heart was heavy, and his load was light. The storekeeper gave me his blessing. I did not thereafter remain long in the service of that transportation bureau.
After this I borrowed a rocker and started to washing some river bank gravel. It took me several days to become in any degree skilled in the use of the rocker. I had no teacher and was obliged to become acquainted with all its peculiarities by myself. First I set it on a dead level. As it had no "fall" the sand would not run out. But the hardest work of all was to dip and pour water from the dipper on the gravel in the sieve with one hand and rock the cradle with the other. There was a constant tendency on the part of the hand and arm employed in pouring to go through the motion of rocking, and vice versa. The hand and arm that rocked were more inclined to go through the motion of pouring. I seemed cut up in two individuals, between whom existed a troublesome and perplexing difference of opinion as to their respective duties and functions. Such a conflict, to all intents and purposes, of two different minds inside of and acting on one body, shook it up fearfully and tore it all to pieces. I was as a house divided against itself and could not stand. However, at last the physical and mental elements thus warring with each other inside of me made up their differences, and the left hand rocked the cradle peacefully while the right hand poured harmoniously, and the result was about $1.50 per day. Soon after I found my first mining partner. He wandered to the Bar, a melancholy-looking man, with three dogs accompanying, and was always in a chronic state of red bandanna and nose wiping. He and I joined forces and went up the river to "crevice" among the rocks near the Split Rock claim. He had all the skill, all the experience and all the dogs, and I all the general ignorance and incapacity. I deemed it a great advantage to have thus secured a real "old miner" for a partner and felt that such a man must turn up gold.
We built ourselves a rude brush house on a shelf of the rocky ledge in a canyon whose sides sloped at an angle of forty-five degrees. Even this shelf was not level. It pitched toward the river, and there was so little of it that during the night's repose our legs stuck out of the house entrance. We were obliged to "chock" all our supply of provisions in their respective packages to prevent them from rolling out of our wigwam over the brink and into the Tuolumne. If a potato got loose it ran like a "thing possessed" over the rocks and down into the muddy, raging current. We were obliged to peg ourselves at night while sleeping to prevent a like catastrophe. It was a permanent and laborious existence at an angle of forty-five. To stand erect for any length of time was very tiresome. More frequently, like Nebuchadnezzar, we lived on all fours. "Crevicing" did not prove very profitable. By day the bare rocks become heated by the sun to a blistering capacity.
With pick and sledge and crowbar and bent bits of hoop iron we pried and pounded and scraped, and scraped and pounded and pried all the hot day long, or else were doubled up in all sorts of back-aching, back-breaking, body-tiring positions, drawing up at arm's length from some deeper "pothole" or crevice spoonful after spoonful of yellow mold. It did hold considerable gold, and heavy gold too. But it took so long to get the mold. This was in the latter part of September. The termination of the dry season was reached. The first rain came. It came at night. It drizzled through our brush house. It sent tiny streams down the rocky mountains, and some of these streams found their way under us. We had lain and endured the rain from above dripping on our faces and wetting our clothes. In those times one's day suit served for a nightgown. But when the aqueous enemy undermined our position we had to turn out.
It blew a gale. How the wind howled and tore up the canyon! We tried to kindle a fire. Match after match was blown out. Finally, a blaze was attained. Then the rains descended heavier than ever and put it out. The chief misery was, we could not at night find our way out of the canyon to any place of shelter. Nor could we walk at all to keep warm. There was "standing room only." All about us were the steeply inclined rocks, molded into every irregularity of shape. We were obliged all through the night to "stand and take it" as it came, shivering in our thin summer clothing. With daylight we made our way to the camp of the Split Rockers. They gave us some gin. It was common gin--very common gin--but the comfortable and soothing remembrance of that gin after such a night exists for me even unto this day. I wore a black cloth cap. The rain had washed out the dye, and this dye had coursed over my brow and cheeks in tiny rivulets of jet. I noticed that I seemed to be more than a usual object of interest to those about me, and wondered, until a friend advised me to consult a mirror. I did so, and found my face marked like a railroad route map. Such was my inauguration in mining at Hawkins' Bar. What glorious old times they were! What independence! What freedom from the trammels and conventionalities of fashion! Who cared or commented if we did turn up the bottoms of our pantaloons, or wear, for coolness' sake, our flannel shirts outside the trousers? Who then was so much better than anybody else, when any man might strike it rich tomorrow? Who would beg for work or truckle, and fawn and curry favor of an employer for the mere sake of retaining a situation and help that same man to make money, when he could shoulder pick, shovel and rocker, go down to the river's edge and make his $2 or $3 per day? Though even at that time this reputed $3 was oftener $1.50.
Even then reports of the paying capacities of claims were as apt to be watered as are stocks nowadays.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Crawfordsville Journal, Crawfordsville, Indiana, February 15, 1890, page 5
MINING FOR GOLD.We got out of our blankets heavily. Legs and back were apt to be a little stiff in the morning. Or if not stiff, they lacked action. Working all the day previously, possibly in the water, or with it splashing all about, tugging at heavy boulders, shouldering wet sluices, to say nothing of the regular pick and shovel exercise, would make itself felt even when the limb and blood were younger than now. Dressing was a short job. A pair of damp overalls, a pair of socks, a pair of shoes, or possibly the heavy rubber mining boots. Flannel shirts we slept in. A face swabbing with cold water in the tin basin outside and a "lick and a promise" for the hair with the comb. That was about all for week days. Vanity of apparel there was little for the working miner. Who was there to dress for? Woman? The nearest was half a mile, 50 years of age, and married. Then breakfast. The fire kindled in the contrary little stove. Possibly it was necessary to attack with an ax that dried old stump near by and hack off a few chips to cook with. The miner's wood pile was generally small.
Interesting Points on the Minutiae Thereof.
PRENTICE MULFORD'S NOTE BOOK.
Log Hut Life--Getting Breakfast--Corn Whiskey at 11 a.m.,
Noon, Dinner, Afternoon--Home After Work--Wood to Cut,
Water to Bring and Supper to Cook.
(Copyrighted 1889, by the Author.)
He got in fuel on rainy days, or at the odd intervals to be spared from work. You put on the worn tin teapot, lowered the gauze-covered meat safe from the tree, cut a steak from the chunk of bull mahogany within called beef, slung a dab of lard in the frying pan, put therein the meat and let it sizzle. Two or three boiled potatoes might be sliced, fried more or less brown in the gravy, and this, with bread and tea, formed the breakfast. The bread was the bread of your own laborious baking, the loaf of an irregular shape, the crust very hard and thick, the color often "pied," being black where it had burned, brown where it had baked, and of a pallid whiteness where it had not baked at all. Within the loaf might be close, heavy, and in color either a creamy or a canary yellow, in proportion to the improper amount of yeast powder used.
The table is a broad shelf against the wall. There is no tablecloth. You did not always wash up after breakfast, for the dishes, as they stood, were all in place for dinner. Some fastidious miners washed their dishes after each meal; most of us did not. It was too much to expect of hard-worked humanity. The cabin door is open while you eat and from it you look forth on the claim. There lies the bank of red earth as you left it yesterday after the "cave." There is the reservoir full of coffee-colored ditch water which had run in during the night after being used for washing in a dozen claims "up country." Then you draw on those damp, clammy rubber boots, either to the knee or hip high, the outside splashed with the dried reddish mud, and smelling disagreeably of rubber as you pulled them on and smelling worse as you became heated and perspiring. In these you waddle to the claim. I forgot. Breakfast over, one of the most important acts of the day was next on the program. That was the filling, lighting and smoking of your pipe. Nothing could hurry you through this performance. The filling was cut in slivers with a careful and solemn consideration; the weed was carefully bestowed in the bowl: the match was applied with a deliberation savoring of a religious act; the first puff rose in the air as incense to the early morn, and smoking thus you waddled in your big boots to the claim. There you met your three partners, all likewise smoking. There they stand on the bank, looking into the ground sluice. There is no "good morning" or other greeting; if anything, grunts. There lay the tools--shovels, picks, crowbar and sluice fork--helplessly about, as left last evening. A little muddy water trickles through the line of sluices. One of us goes to the reservoir, a few hundred yards off, and turns on the water. Another goes to the tail of the sluices with the sluice fork. Then is heard the clicking of the pick and the grating of the shovel against the red dirt; down comes the muddy water over the bank and the day's work has fairly commenced.
We stand in a row, allowing sufficient room between each for swinging the pick. We are undermining the bank, the water running at our feet and between us and the bottom of the bank. Each chunk of red dirt dislodged by the pick falls into the running water, and if it be hard and will not readily dissolve it must be broken up by pick or shovel to keep the stream clear and unimpeded. The large boulders are picked out by hand and thrown behind us--not in disordered fashion, either. Room in the cut is scarce and must be economized, so the ever-accumulating boulder pile is "faced up" with a neat wall, laid without mortar, but with some care and skill. The bedrock is under our feet. We are undermining the bank and keeping the stream turned in as much as possible to the part undermined. The gravel for a foot or six inches is pretty hard, and the stones here are harder and closer packed than those nearer the surface. There the gravel is lighter. Many of the stones are light and rotten; a blow with the pick dashes them to pieces. This streak just above the ledge and for a few inches in the crevices of the ledge is our "pay streak," where ages on ages ago some stream ran, depositing, as all streams do, the heavier gravel on the bottom and the lighter above. Occasionally the pick strikes a firmly embedded boulder hard and square on its point, in such a way as to send the vibration like a shock along the iron, up the handle and into one's arm and "crazy bone." Our bank of dirt is about eight feet in height. A few inches of the top is a dark mold, below that are three or four feet of "hardpan," below the "hardpan" light sandy gravel and rotten boulders, and near the ledge is the pay streak. This order of formation has varied as we have worked up and into the bank. At first, near the river's edge, there was only mold on a very light alluvial sand. This was readily washed off and paid $4 or $5 per day. A little farther back we struck the edge of the red gravel streak. This for a time paid better. Farther still came the deposit of light sandy gravel, and lastly came in the accursed "hardpan."
Our claim, on being first prospected, was reported to pay three cents to the pan from the top down. We believed it at first, not having learned that "three cents to the pan from the top down" means the biggest kind of luck. If you get an average of half a cent a pan from the top down, and the dirt would wash easily, we should make money. It was hard even for an "honest miner" to give as a result of a prospect anything less than "three cents to the pan." But "hardpan" is our foe. "Hardpan" is the essence of brickbats. Its consistency is about that of chalk. It seems the finest kind of sand cemented and pressed together. It can be carved into any form with a knife. It takes as much time to work off a square foot of hardpan as ten square feet of soft gravel. When, after half a day's labor, we succeed in getting down a cave, it goes into the ground sluice in a few great lumps, which must be battered to pieces with our picks before the water will slowly dissolve them into mud. And it doesn't hold a "color" of gold. The work in the ground sluice goes on hour after hour. Pick and shovel and scrape, scrape and shovel and pick, the water meantime tumbling and roaring over the bank and making it difficult for us to hear one another's voices. The sun climbs higher and gets hotter. The water pail is frequently visited. The backs of the gray shirts are wet with perspiration. In an easy, companionable claim, where the partners are all good fellows and on good terms and not too insane in the matter of getting an enormous quantity of dirt through the sluices each day, there may be more or less brief suspensions from the work, when all hands lean on their shovels and talk politics, or horses, or last night's poker game, or have a short service of tobacco smoke, with the usual solemn preliminaries of cutting the plug and filling pipes. But if the majority of the "company" are a mean, crabbed, close-fisted lot, the misery goes on without cessation.
A queerly assorted group are we thus laboring together. Jack Gwin's impelling hope and life's idea is to earn enough to pay his passage home to Philadelphia and buy him a suit of clothes. A decent suit he has not earned these five years. He would be the terror and distress of his relatives if ever he got back, for with him $5 in his pocket over expenses and sobriety are an impossibility. McFadden dreams of a cabin, a cow, some geese and goats, a horse and a wife, and is in a fair way of realizing them all. He saves most of his earnings, gets drunk wisely only on holidays, pays his debts regularly, hates the English, lives in that little black, brownish cabin up yonder, does all his cooking in two tin pots, sleeps in one pair of ancient blankets and a most disreputable bed quilt, and $3 will cover the cost of all his domestic fittings and utensils. Bill Furnea, a French Canadian, has drifted here into this hole in the foothills very much as he drifted into the world--without aim or object in life save present enjoyment. He is a good worker and works because he was brought up to it and can't help it. He is a good boatman, a good logger, a skilled woodcutter, a devotee of poker and generally a successful one, an entertaining scamp, full of wit and originality, quick to take in the peculiarities and eccentricities of others, something of a dandy, as far as dandyism can be indulged in this out-of-the-way place, and a born scamp, glib of tongue, unreliable, and socially the best man of the crowd.
It is near 11 o'clock. There stands in a cool corner of the claim, and carefully shielded from any stray flying pebble, a black bottle. It is nearly full of whiskey--very common corn whiskey. It is most welcome at this hour. Poison it may be, but a draught from the tin cup brightens up and makes all things new. The sunshine is more cheerful. All nature smiles. The picks descend with increased force and a host of new daydreams start into being. It revives hope. It quenches despair. It gilds the monotony of our lives. It was ever thus, and possibly ever shall be, world without end. It is high noon. The sun is over our heads and the shadows are at their shortest length. One of our number trudges wearily up to the reservoir to shut off the water. So soon as its flow lessens we trudge off in wet overalls or heavy rubbers to our respective cabins. We are now ground sluicing at or about the year 1860, when miners generally had abandoned "cabining" in squads and each man kept house by himself. Cause--general incompatibility of temper, temperament, disposition, and habit. The sober miner found it disagreeable to live permanently with the spreeing miner, and the miner nice in his domestic economy and particular about his food soon became tired of a companion who never aired his blankets and didn't care whether his bread was light or heavy, sweet or sour. Trudging to our cabins, we pick up the dried twigs in our path. These are to kindle the dinner fire. Dinner is very much like breakfast, beef or bacon, bread, tea, dried apple sauce. The boots are kicked off and thumped into a corner. The temperature is up to that notch that induces perspiration without any exertion at all, and the ugly little stove makes it hotter still.
We sit down to the noon meal in a melting condition and rise from it in the same state. Dinner is eaten, the "nooning" is over, back again to the claim, turn on the water, pick, shovel, scrape, pry, toss back boulders and prop up sluices slipped from their supports. Between 2 and 3 o'clock a snowy white cloud rises over a distant peak to the eastward. It seems like a great bank of snow against the blue sky, and the longer we look at it the farther we seem to peer into its translucent, clear white depths. It rises over that peak at almost the same hour every afternoon and is almost of the same shape. It is the condensed vapor of the snow melting on the higher Sierra summits, eighty-six miles distant. It is imposing in its silent imperceptible rising, its wonderful whiteness, its majesty, its distance. It seems a fit bed of snowy splendor for fairies or some sort of ethereal beings to bask and revel in. It seems to be looking down, half in scorn, half in pity, at us four weary, miserable worms of the dust, feebly pecking at a bit of mother earth, muddy, wet and feebly squirming in and about this bank of dirt.
At 4 o'clock there are longer pauses in our labors. There is more leaning on shovels and more frequent glances at our timepiece, the sun, as he sinks in the western heavens. The shadow of the hill opposite creeps slowly down its side. It is a cool, welcome shadow. The strongest worker secretly welcomes it. Though he be a "horse of a man," his muscles all feel the effects of the long day's labor. It is more his strong will than his body which keeps him swinging the pick. We are in duty bound to work till 6 o'clock. Everybody works till 6 o'clock. Everybody is more or less tired at 4 o'clock, but it is not the capacity of the body for labor that fixes the time. It is custom, stupid custom. The gauge is the limit of physical strength, not for the weakest, but the strongest. The great, brawny-armed, big-boned Hercules of our company doesn't feel it much. He may walk three miles after supper to the bar store, play cards and drink whiskey till 9 o'clock, and then walk back again and be up fresh for work next morning by 5:30 o'clock. This is 1860.
In 1870 he showed it, however, and in the marks of age was ten years ahead of his time. You can't keep up this sort of thing--digging, tugging, lifting, wet to the skin day after day, summer and winter with no interval of rest, but a steady drag twelve months of the year--without paying for it. There's dissipation in the use of muscle as well as in the use of whiskey. Every old miner knows it now and feels it. Don't you? How does the muscle of 45 years in 1882 compare with that of 25 years in 1862? Of course, man must live by the sweat of his brow or the sweat of his brain, but many of you sweat too long in those days, and I hear you all saying, "That's so!" Start anew the fire in the little stove; thump the wet boots in the corner; drag yourself down to the spring a few hundred yards distant for a pail of fresh water; hack a few more chips from the dried stump; mix some flour, water and yeast powder for the day's baking; sit down a minute on your flour barrel chair and look on your earthly possessions. The worn and scarred trunk you brought years ago from the States; it holds your best suit of a forgotten fashion, two or three white shirts, a bundle of letters from home, a few photographs, a Bible not worn out with use, a quartz crystal, a few gold "specimens," a tarantula's nest, the tail of a rattlesnake and six vests. Do you remember how vests would accumulate in the mines? Pants, coat, everything else would wear out--vests never.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Crawfordsville Journal, Crawfordsville, Indiana, February 8, 1890, page 2
A MINER'S SUNDAY.This is the Sunday sun that streams through the cabin window and through the chinks of the cabin wall.
A Memory Picture From "Way Back in the '50s."
PRENTICE MULFORD'S NOTE BOOK.
The Miner's Morning Sabbath Thoughts. How He Adorned Himself--
Where He Went--Sunday Devotions--More Poker Than Praise--"Camp"--Camp Talk.
(Copyrighted 1889, by the Author.)
It is the same sunshine as that of the weekday. Yet as the miner wakes and realizes it is Sunday it has a different appearance and conveys a different impression from that of the weekday sun. Everything seems more quiet, more restful, and even more staid and serious. There belongs to it and to the landscape as he looks out a flavor of faraway eastern Sabbath bells and Sunday morning's hush and longer family prayer than usual and Sunday school. But there is not a church bell within ten miles, and there never will be one heard on this flat. There is not the least approach to church society or religious organization or observance. There is not, so far as known, so much as a man in the least religiously inclined. We are a hard lot. No work on the claim today. The pick and shovel will rest where thrown Saturday afternoon, and only a trickle of yellowish water from the reservoir will seep through the long line of sluices instead of yesterday's muddy surge rushing through--sand, gravel, and grating pebble and boulder.
But there is work of another sort to be done and a great deal of it. After breakfast and shaving that small mirror of most imperfect glass, whose reflection distorts the features, screwing up one side of the face and enlarging the other in an unnatural fashion, is suitably adjusted. A smell of soap pervades the air. He lathers and shaves and re-lathers and re-shaves with a tedious and painful precision, the while making faces at himself in the glass as he brings one portion of his countenance after another more directly under the sweep of the razor. In some cases, he comes off with a few scratches or leaves a hirsute oasis here and there of uncut bristle. Black pantaloons, a white shirt, a felt or straw hat, a linen duster and the Sunday boots. This is his dandy outfit. In his pocket is a buckskin purse, once yellow, now faded to a dull gray, holding gold dust, a few ounces more or less, perhaps five, perhaps ten.
It is the company dust and is to be sold and turned into bright, yellow gold pieces. And why all this preparation? "To go to camp." Camp is three miles away over the mountain yonder. A group of ramshackle cabins, alternating with saloons, three grocery stores, a hotel, an express office and a justice of the peace, all in a hot gulch, with hillsides long ago swept of trees, scarred with cuts and streaked with patches of dry yellowish ledge. "Camp" to him has all the importance and interest of a great metropolis. It is the center of news. The stage passes through it on the way to a larger camp. Two boss gamblers reside there. There is a faro game on occasion, a billiard table with a mountainous sort of bed, where the balls roll as they please and after an eccentric fashion of their own.
The camp is for him the first nerve center of civilization and the only outlet to the great world which he has left. You, fresh from the great city, regard this dilapidated place as an out-of-the-way corner; but to him, living on his remote flat, with but two cabins in sight for as many miles, camp is a place of importance.
He repairs first to the Magnolia. He has long in imagination seen it from afar. How cool is the big barroom. The landlord keeps the floor well wet down. That Magnolia floor is one of the few places where water, unmixed with other fluid, is useful and grateful. How comforting and soothing is the first drink. A long drink in a long tumbler, with plenty of ice, soda water and whiskey. If heaven be anywhere as a material locality it is in that first cool drink after a three-mile July tramp over the kiln-dried hills and herbage of the California foothills. The Magnolia is the social heart center of camp.
There he finds the doctor. The doctor drinks with him. The doctor drinks with everybody. There, too, is the justice of the peace. The justice drinks with him. The justice holds his court at the Magnolia. The proprietor of the Magnolia is the camp constable, and between drinks during trial calls viva voce the witnesses in the case. The judge drinks with him. The judge generally drinks. The principal camp gambler is at the Magnolia. He takes a light drink. He is a wise man and knows the advantage and profit of keeping a cool head. The regular camp drunkard sits in the rear in one of the armchairs back of the billiard table.
He looks so humble, so respectful--and so dry, that our miner's heart moves to pity and he "asks him up." He complies, but not with undue haste. This treats of the era between 1865 and 1870. The camp drunkard had not then so "lost his grip" as to be unmindful of a certain slowness, deliberation and dignity befitting a gentleman. But when he does arrive at the bar he takes a "four-fingered" drink.
They stand in a row at the bar. The barkeeper is mixing the "long" and the short drinks. Each man waits, says nothing and eyes every motion of the bartender. The silence is impressive. All is ready. Each glass is grasped and raised, and then from each to each, and more than all, from all to the drink donor, there is a nod, that incantatory phrase is uttered, "Well, here's luck," and the poison is down. As it rasps, they call "Ahem!" with varied degrees of modulation. But this is a careful and prudent miner, and he now repairs to the store. There his dust is weighed, sold, and the week's provision ordered. His combined partners' "divvies" are put aside in a lump and safely stored. Now the weight is off his mind. He returns to the attractions of camp.
These are not numerous. There is the Magnolia, the Bella Union, the Court Exchange, the post and express office. There are the "boys." He learns the news of the county or district. The Mount Vernon is paying $4 per day. Long Shortman has gone on another spree and hasn't done any work for the last ten days. Jimmy McNeil has sent for his wife's sister. She is unmarried. Sullivan has had another row with his wife, and she has complained to the authorities. Sam Gedney is going to run for county clerk on the Democratic ticket. Bob Delmame lost $200 at the game the other night. A San Francisco company have bought the Crazy Gulch quartz lead and will put a ten-stamp mill on it. The schoolmaster was drunk last Friday night. Ford shot at McGillis the other night but did not hit him. There is scandal and talk concerning the Frenchwoman who keeps the peanut stand, and the justice of the peace. The Wiley girls, two sisters, who have recently moved into camp, are making a sensation, and their small parlor at times won't hold the crowd of semi-bald and unconsciously middle-aged miners and others who are calling on them with possible matrimony in prospective.
They may pass along the street about the middle of the afternoon, and such "ragging out" was never seen before in this camp. The curious have investigated the tracks made by their little gaiters in the red dust of the upper road and report them the smallest feet ever seen in this section. Billy Devins, of the Blue-jay claim, is thought to have the best show with the eldest, and Goldberry, of the livery stable, with the youngest. No. He won't let his best horse and buggy to anybody now and takes her out riding three times a week. But they're snappy and uncertain, and nobody can count on them for a certainty. So runs the week's news, which he picks up with sundry drinks.
He enjoys the luxury of a hotel dinner--a dinner he is not obliged to prepare with his own hands--a decidedly plain dinner in metropolitan estimation, but to him, commencing with soup and ending with pie, a sumptuous repast. It is moonlight, and he takes his way back by the old trail home. Old not in years, but in association. It is but the track of twenty years or so, yet for him how old is it in thought. How many, many times he has traveled over it.
That poker game is going on in one corner of the Magnolia. The "hard case" from over the hill is trying to beat it. He has been so trying every Sunday night in that same saloon and in that same corner for the last twenty years. He has grown old in trying. It has kept him poor, yet he thinks he can play poker. He is encouraged in this impression by a considerate few. He works for them. They "scoop him in" regularly. He will go home tomorrow morning, and during the week wash out a couple of ounces more for the benefit of "Scotty" and "Texas."
It is 11 o'clock and time to go home. That three-mile walk is before him; he has taken as many drinks as is prudent, possibly one or two more. The camp saloon revelries are beginning to quiet down. Most of the prominent drunks have fallen in the cause. The chronic drunk of the camp is talking at the bar. But he will thus talk all night; he never stops talking--or drinking. He has been here more or less drunk ever since 1852. He is phenomenal and not a standard for ordinary intemperates. Almost every camp has known such a drunkard. Some are alive yet. They are of the immortal few not born to die. It would be madness to compete with such.
So, he sets out on his lonely walk. Of how much has he thought while plodding over it. Here the same big buckeye brushes against his face as it did in the "spring of '50," when he was twenty years younger and had a sweetheart in the "States," whose memory was fresh and warm. It has all died out since. The letters became less and less, the years more and more, and then all came to a dead standstill, and he received the village paper, and there, appropriately below the column of deaths, he read of her marriage, whereat he went to camp and plunged wildly into all the concert saloon could give, and made things howl and boldly challenged the chronic poker game and won.
The trail turns suddenly. It has run over the rocks by the river, its trail at times for many feet almost illegible, a vague, smoothly worn streak over ledge and loose boulders, polished and strewn with new white sand and pebbles by some unusually high freshet. But here the shelving bank suddenly ceases. It becomes a precipice. Up the hard worn path in the red earth he climbs forty, fifty, sixty feet. It is closely hedged with chamisal. Now he emerges near the brow of the high, rocky bluff. In all its moonlit glory surges, bubbles and roars the river below. Its yellow muddiness of the day is now changed to a dark shade of brown, with tremulous silver bars. Night and the moon are the artists.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Crawfordsville Journal, Crawfordsville, Indiana, February 15, 1890, page 2
RAIN IN THE MINES.No work on the claim today. It rains too hard. It is the winter rain of California--a warm, steady, continuous drizzle. The red earth is soft and soppy. It mires to the ankles. The dark green of the chaparral on the hillsides seems today almost black. The hue of the river by my cabin door is yellower than ever. The water mark is three feet higher than last night, and it creeps upward every hour. Over the mountain crags yonder white sheets of foam are tumbling where none has been seen before for many months. This is an enforced day of rest. I have finished my breakfast and sit down for a few minutes in a keen enjoyment of idleness. There is a ceaseless patter of raindrops on the cabin roof. The river roars louder than ever over the riffle close by. That roar is the first sound I hear in the morning and the last at night. It has roared thus for me these three years. In one sense of time's duration they seem as three hundred years; in another, they seem not much over three months. It is three months when I think only of the date of my arrival on Fraser's Flat. It is three hundred years as I attempt to recall the daily round of experience and thought since I came here. Outwardly it has been what many would consider a monotonous experience. Weeks have been so much alike that they leave no distinguishing marks in my memory.
Life at Fraser's Flat During a Storm.
PRENTICE MULFORD'S NOTE BOOK.
Enforced Idleness--"More Rain, More Rest"--Patching Clothes
to Kill Time. Love's Labor Lost on a Pair of Old Pants--
Writing Home--Same Old Song.
(Copyrighted 1889, by the Author.)
I wonder how many years more I shall spend here. I wonder if I must live and die here. I am no nearer fortune than three years ago, not so near, by three years. I seem more and more chained down here by force of habit. I seem fit for little else but to dig. I long to see something of the great world beyond this lone foothill nook. Yet without money I feel less and less capable of going out and "getting on" in that world. And as for saving money--well, we call this a "three-dollar claim," which means an average daily profit when all expenses are paid, of two dollars, more or less. These thoughts are making it as gloomy within as the weather is without. I must get out of this. My gray flannel working shirt needs mending. The right sleeve is ripped from wrist to elbow. It has been so ripped for about six weeks. I have rolled that wet sleeve up to the elbow about a hundred times a day, and at every tenth stroke of the pick it has unrolled again and flapped in my face. I sew up the sleeve with a very large needle and a very coarse thread doubled. This is a good time to clean up a little. I will be domestic today. I will bake a fresh batch of bread and make a pie. It shall be a mince pie. We are ten miles from the nearest baker's mince pie. It shall be made of salt beef previously soaked to freshness, dried apples, molasses, and vinegar in lieu of cider. The crust I roll out with a junk bottle on a smooth, flat board. I bake it on a shallow tin plate. It will be, when done, a thin, wafery pie; but it will be a pie--the shadow of a pie at least--such as I used to eat at home; only a shadow.
Rain, rain, rain. The wind is up and about too, tearing around among the trees and shaking the cloth roof of my cabin. Here and there little trickles of water are coming through and running down the logs. Mine is a log cabin of the roughest make. Four logs piled atop of each other form the sides. A mud chimney at one end; a door at the other. The logs are very dry and very rotten and abound in those insects that delight in rotten wood. I have found scorpions under the bark and occasionally an earwig promenades over the table. I open the door and look out on the river. It is rising. Wrecks are coming down--boards, logs, lumber and an occasional sluice and pieces of fluming. There is an eddy around the turn of the hill above, where much of this drift runs in. I repair thither and make a few hauls. I secure a half dozen good boards, some pieces of joist, some driftwood for fuel, and pile it up on the bank out of the swelling water's reach. "Halloa!" That cry is from a couple of men on the other side of the river, plodding down the trail in oilskins. I know them. Two of the "boys" from Poverty Bar. They are going to Price's store, two miles below--store, grog shop, boarding house, polling booth at election, ferry, etc. Being a rainy day, they are going there to get drunk. That is not their avowed purpose on setting out, but it's as near a certainty as anything can be in this world.
I return to my cabin. The pie has baked. It is browner than I had intended it should be. On one side it is almost black. It is ornamented about the rim with a row of scallops made by pressure of the thumb. Now I put in the bread, previously mixed and kneaded. I am not a good bread maker. It is always bread too much baked or too little, or too sour or too yellow, or too heavy. But I don't care. I bake only for myself, and I am unfortunately too easily pleased, and probably too lazy to take that care and elaborate preparation necessary for good bread. I never measure accurately the proportions of flour, water and yeast powder necessary for good bread. I throw them together at random. It's a "hit or miss"--generally miss. It's too much trouble to bother about these small details. A particular friend of mine who stayed with me a few days reproved me for the poor quality of my bread and the general slovenliness apparent about my cooking utensils.
"You have no pride," said he.
I owned up. What was the use of pride about a tin kettle. This friend was my backer. He had set me up on this claim, and put me, after a fashion, on my feet. He had come to see how I was getting along.. While on this visit, a man of some standing from a camp up the river came along looking for a stray cow. My friend asked him to dinner--one of my dinners--graced by about the worst baking of bread I ever accomplished. My friend did not realize what he was about when he asked the future lieutenant governor of the state of California to that dinner. But when he sat down to my board, and when they tried to eat my bread, he sorrowed in secret and gave me some good and forcible advice afterward relative to culinary and domestic matters. In these matters he was a very particular man. During his stay he inaugurated a reign of neatness, and for me one of terror and discomfort. He put his whole mind on cooking and covered the stove with dishes. He was an animated bill of fare. He scoured all the tinware brightly.
But the man didn't enjoy eating his elaborately prepared meals so much as I did. He worked too hard getting them up. He exhausted too much of his force in planning, worrying and cooking. He worked his mind in too many channels at once. He lacked repose. There's where I had the best of him. I was reposeful, and if you please so to term it, lazy. He is dead--I am alive. There's the result of different mental conditions. It is noon. I have no clock to tell the hours, but we acquire a faculty of feeling when noon arrives. The rain has ceased temporarily, but it will soon recommence, for which I am glad, as it will prevent work on the claim during the afternoon. Having eaten dinner, finishing with a piece of mince pie, it occurs to me that this is a good time to write home. It's hard work writing home. I put it off for weeks and months. It lays a load on my mind. I receive at times letters from people complaining of my neglect. I know I ought to write, but what is there to write? Nothing but the same old story, "Hope soon to do well." I have written in this strain for the last six years, until I am tired and sick of it. It is of no use telling any more about the country. All that has been told. If my people knew how much I suffered in this endeavor to be dutiful, perhaps they would not insist on my writing more than the line, "I am still alive; yours truly."
The ink in my cabin is thick, the pen a bad one, and my mind seems in this epistolary effort thicker and rustier than ink or pen. "Dear___," and then a big blot, and then a long pause and the patter of the rain and the roar of the river. I write about a page and a half, feeling as if every stroke of the pen were encumbered with a ball and chain. I accomplish half a dozen more blots, and I finish in a wretched state of mind and in a prickly heat. It is a barren, pithless, sapless effort. I will go out and get a breath of fresh air and rain. It is 4 o'clock. Still it rains. The heavens are dark, and already the first shades of the winter's night are coming on. I revisit my haul of lumber from the river. It is gone. The river has not reached the spot where I placed it. It is the work of those thieving Chinamen on Chambers' Bar, half a mile above. There is no use in going after them. My lumber is deposited and hidden amid the piles they have today dragged out of the river.
I spend about an hour getting in fuel. I have a woodyard on the hillside yonder. Nature has kindly felled and seasoned there a few scrub oaks for my use. I drag down a few branches. The land here is free--very free. No fences, no boundary lines, no gates, no proprietors. It's a pretty flat wen the sun shines. A dark background of mountain, in front a river, with its curving and varied outline of tule and bank up and down stream, and close about the oaks are so scattered as to give one the impression of a park and an old mansion hidden somewhere in the background. What a luxury would be this spot to thousands in crowded cities who haven't even the range of a back yard nor the shadow of a tree! Yet I am discontented and would get away to these crowded cities. The early darkness has come. I light my candle. My candelabra is of glass--dark olive green--a bottle. I did use a big potato with a hole therein scooped. But the esthetic nature requires constant change and I adopted a bottle. I spread the evening repast. I sit down alone. From the window I see lights glimmering in the few other neighboring cabins.
I take refuge in the effort to repair my best and only pair of broadcloth pantaloons. I brought these with me from the States. They show decided signs of wear. I am putting in a patch. It is a job I take hold of at intervals. There is about it a mystery and a complication I can't fathom. I can't get the patch to fit, or rather to set. There is more in the tailor's art than I imagined. Every time I put them on I find a difference and a seeming division of action and sentiment between the new cloth I have sewed inside and the old cloth outside. They won't hold together. The stitches rip apart, and everything goes by the run. I seem to fail in making the new cloth accommodate itself to the varying proportions of this part of the garment. And so, the dreary night wears on. Rain, rain, rain; roar, roar, roar. Is this living?
PRENTICE MULFORD.Crawfordsville Journal, Crawfordsville, Indiana, February 15, 1890, page 2
A PIONEER SCHOOL.I was not confident of my ability to teach even a "common school" when the situation was offered me in a little Tuolumne County mining camp. I said so to my old friend, Pete H., who had secured me the position. "Well," said he, after a reflective pause, "do you retain a clear recollection of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet? For, if you do, you are equal to any educational demand this camp will make on you."
The Perils of an Early Pedagogue.
PRENTICE MULFORD'S NOTE BOOK.
Teaching the Young Idea While in Danger of Being Shot--
How I Knocked Out English Grammar--Vulgar Fractions Prohibited.
(Copyrighted 1889, by the Author.)
It was a reckless "camp." No phase of life was viewed or treated seriously. They did walk their horses to the grave slowly at a funeral, but how they did race back!
It was legally necessary, however, that I should be examined as to my ability by the school trustees. These were Dr. D., Bill K., a saloon keeper, and Tom J., a miner. I met them in the justice's office. The doctor was an important-appearing man, proud, pompous, well dressed and spectacled. He glared at me with an expression betwixt sadness and severity. I saw he was to be the chief inquisitor. I expected from him a searching examination, and trembled; it was years since I had seen a school book. I knew that in geography I was rusty and in mathematics musty.
Before the doctor lay one thin book. It turned out to be a spelling book. The doctor opened it, glared on me leisurely, and finally said: "Spell cat." I did so. "Spell hat." I spelled. "Rat," said the doctor, with a look of explosive fierceness and in a tone an octave higher. I spelled, and then remarked: "But, doctor, you surely must know that I can spell words of one syllable?" "I don't," he shouted, and propounded "mat" for me to spell, with an increase of energy in his voice, and so went on until I had so spelled long enough to amuse him and the other two trustee triflers. Then he shut the book, saying: "Young man, you'll do for our camp. I wouldn't teach that school for $5,000 a year; and there are two boys you'll have for scholars that I advise you to kill, if possible, the first week. Let's all go over and take a drink."
My school house was the church, built and paid for partly by the gamblers and partly by the good people of Jimtown "for the use of all sects" on Sundays, for educational purposes on weekdays.
I was shut up in that little church six hours a day with sixty children and youths, ranging from 4 to 18 years of age. In summer it was a fiercely hot little church. The mercury was always near 90 by noon, and sometimes over 100, and you could at times hear the shingles split and crack on the roof of the cathedral. A few years of interior California summers' suns will turn unpainted boards and shingles almost as black as charcoal.
The majority of my pupils' parents being from New England and North America, they brought and carried into effect all their North American ideas of education. The California summer heat is, I think, unfit for educational purposes. It is too hot to herd sixty restless children together six hours a day. They proved this in several cases. Some fell sick suddenly. Some fainted. But this made no difference. The school went on in all its misery. I sent a fainting child home one day, and the father returned with it an hour afterward. He was fierce, and said he wanted his child kept in school when he sent it to school.
This was in California's early days. My scholars were the children of the Argonauts, and in some cases had come out with them. There was then no regular system of textbooks. Publishers had not commenced making fortunes by getting out a new school book system every three years.
My scholars came, bringing a great variety of school books. They brought "Pike's Arithmetic," which had come over the plains, and "Smith's Geography," which had sailed around Cape Horn. Seldom were two alike. But the greatest variety lay in grammars. There was a regular museum of English grammars, whose authors fought each other with different rules and called the various arts of speech by different names. I accounted for the great variety of grammars on the supposition that it is or was the ambition of a large proportion of schoolmasters to write a work on grammar before they died and say: "I have left another grammar to bless and confuse posterity."
Besides bringing grammars, most of the boys brought dogs. Dogs of many breeds and sizes hovered around the school house. They wanted frequently to come in, and did often come in, to sneak under the seats and lay themselves at their masters' feet. I had frequently to kick or order them out, and I noticed that whenever a dog was chased out he would take the longest road to get out, and under as many seats as possible, in order to receive as many kicks as possible from the youthful owners of the other dogs.
I could not so organize a battalion of ten different grammars as to act in concert on my grammar class of twenty pupils. So, I put them all on the retired list, and tried to teach this so called "science" orally. I chalked the rules on the blackboard as well as the names of the different parts of speech. I made my scholars commit these to memory, standing, although I will not argue that memory takes any stronger grip on a thing while the pupil stands. At last I taught a few with good memories to "parse." I worked hard with that grammar class and was very proud of their proficiency until I found that after months of this drilling they neither spoke nor wrote any better English than before.
However, I lost nothing by this experience, for it helped me to the conviction that I have held to ever since, that the entire grammar system and method does very little to make one habitually use correct language, and that a taste for reading and constant association with correct English speaking people does a great deal. As for spending time in "parsing," I think it would be better to use that force in learning the boy to shoe horses and the girl to make bread, or let the girl shoe the horses if she wants to and the boy make the bread.
The labor of teaching the alphabet to ten infants, calling them up once an hour "to say their letters," is, in my estimation, greater than that of swinging a pick in the surface gold "diggings." I have tried both, and infinitely prefer the pick. It is not so much work when you are employed with them as when you are occupied with the other pupils. Then these poor little alphabetical cherubs can do nothing but squirm on their low benches, catch flies, pinch each other, make and project spit balls and hold up their hands for another drink of water. I could not let them out of doors to play in the sand, where they should have been, because the North American parent would have considered himself as defrauded of a part of his infant's schooling were they not imprisoned the whole six hours.
Neither can you set a child to studying A or M or any other letter. There is not an idea in A or B. During the two years of my administration I wrought with one child who never could get successfully beyond F. Her parents questioned my ability as a teacher. Some days she would repeat the whole alphabet correctly. I would go home with a load off my mind. The next day her mind would relapse into an alphabetical blank after F. She grew to be an eyesore to me. The sight of her at last made me sick.
I held a public examination every six months and was careful to do all the examining myself. An interloper among the audience I invited did me great damage on one of these memorized performances by asking a simple arithmetical question of the showoff geographical boy. The urchin was brilliant in dealing with boundary lines, capes and islands, but his head was one that mathematics could not readily be injected into. On the other hand, my specimen grammarian was as likely to describe an island as a body of land surrounded by land as by water. I had no heart to find fault with this poor barefooted urchin who, when in class was always trying to stand on one leg, like a crane, and sending his right big toe on exploring scratching expeditions up his left trouser. He had been born and brought up in an inland country, where no body of water was to be seen save an occasional fleeting mud puddle; and what earthly conception could he form of the ocean and its islands?
But the parents who attended these exhibitions of stuffed memories were struck at the proficiency of the progeny, and retired with the impression that their children knew a great deal because they had parroted off so much that was all Greek to them; and after I had been in this occupation a year I would sit in my empty theological school house when they had gone and try and convict myself as a profound humbug, and one, too, compelled, in order to get a living, to encourage and foster a system which had so much humbug in it.
The California schools were not then "graded." They were conducted on the "go as you please" plan, sometimes going as the teachers pleased, sometimes as the parents pleased, sometimes as the pupils pleased. The parents of the youthful brains I was trying to develop into future statesmen and presidents wanted me to teach many things. One father wished his son taught Latin. It is bringing extremes pretty near each other to teach Latin and A B C's. But I "taught" the young man Latin as I was "taught" many things at school. I started him committing to memory the Latin declensions and conjugations, and then heard him "say his lesson." If he got anything out of it I don't know what it was, except tough work. He never reached any translations of the classics, for several reasons.
Another father was annoyed because I exercised his son mathematically in what, in those days, were called "vulgar fractions." "I don't want," said he, "my son to have anything to do with fractions, anyway. They're no use in business. Anything over half a cent we call a cent on the books, and anything under it we don't call nothin'. But I want Thomas to be well grounded in "tare and tret."
So, I grounded Thomas in "tare and tret." He grew up, took to evil ways, and was hung by a vigilance committee somewhere in Southern California. A boy who stammered very badly was sent me. I was expected to cure him. Five or six of my pupils were Mexicans and spoke very little English.
One of my hardest trials was a great, stout boy, so full of vitality that he could not remain quiet at his desk. I could not blame him. He had force enough inside of him to run a steam engine. It would have vent in some direction. But it would not expend itself in "learning lessons." He would work his books into a mass of dog's ears. His writing book was ever in mourning with ink stains. His face was generally inky. His inkstand was generally upset. He would hold a pen as he would a pitchfork. He seemed also to give out his vitality when he came to school and infect all the others with it. He was not a regular scholar. He was sent only when it was an "off day" on his father's "ranch." In the scholastic sense he learned nothing.
But that boy at the age of 15 would drive his father's two-horse wagon, loaded with fruit and vegetables, 150 miles from California to Nevada over the rough mountain roads of the Sierras, sell the produce to the silver miners of Aurora and adjacent camps, and return safely home. He was obliged in places to camp out at night, cook for himself, look out for his stock, repair harness or wagon and keep an eye out for skulking Indians, who, if not "hostile," were not saints. When it came to using the hand and the head together he had in him "go," "gumptions" and executive ability, and none of my "teaching" put it where it was in him either. He may have grown up "unpolished," but he is one of the kinds who are at this moment hiring polished and scholarly men to do work for them on very small wages.
I do not despise "polish" and "culture," but is there not an education now necessary which shall give the child some clearer idea of the manner in which it must cope with the world in a few years? The land today is full of "culture" at ten dollars a week. Culture gives polish to the blade. But it is not the process which makes the hard, well-tempered steel.
The "smartest" boy in my school gave me even more trouble than the son of the rancher. He could commit to memory as much in ten minutes as the others could in an hour, and the balance of the time he was working off the Satanism with which he was filled. His memory was an omnivorous maw. It would take in anything and everything with the smallest amount of application. It would have required two-thirds of my time to feed this voracious and mischievous little monster with books for his memory to devour.
But he was not the boy to drive a team through a wild country and dispose of the load in Nevada, though he could on such a trip have committed to memory several hundred words per day on any subject, whether he understood it or not.
My young lady pupils also gave me a great deal of trouble. They were very independent, and for this reason: Girls, even of 15, were very scarce then in the mines; so were women of any marriageable age. There were ten men to one woman. The result was that anything humanly feminine was very valuable, much sought after and made much of by men of all ages. My girls of 15, as to life and association, were grown-up women. Young miners and middle-aged, semi-baldheaded miners, who did not realize how many of their years had slipped away since they came out from the "States," took these girls to balls and whirled them by night over the dusty roads of Tuolumne County in dusty buggies.
It was difficult for one lone man, and he only a schoolmaster, to enforce discipline with these prematurely matured children, who had an average of two chances a month to marry, and who felt like any other woman their power and influence with the other sex. Half of them did have a prospective husband in some brawny pick slinger, who never went abroad without a battery of portable small artillery slung at his waist, and who was half jealous, half envious of the schoolmaster for what he considered the privilege of being in the same room with his future wife six hours a day.
One needs to live in a country where there is a dearth of women to realize these situations. When my school was dismissed at 4 o'clock p.m., all the unemployed chivalry of "Jimtown" massed on the street corner at the Bella Union Saloon to see this coveted bevy of California rosebuds pass on their way home. The Bella Union, by the way, was only a few yards from the church. Extremes got very close together in these mining camps. But the frequenters of the Bella Union, who gambled all night on the arid green baize of the monte table, had more than half paid for that church, and I infer, wanted it in sight so that no other persuasion should run off with it. I was glad when these girls got married and entered another school of life, where I knew within a year's time they were likely to have a master.
I was once "barred out" at the close of a summer term. This was a fashion imported from the extreme southwestern part of what some call "our beloved Union." Returning from dinner I found the doors and windows of the university closed against me. I parleyed at one of the windows a few feet from the ground. I was met by a delegation of the two biggest boys. They informed me I could get in by coming out with a disbursement of $2.50, to treat the school to nuts, candies and cakes. I did not accede, smashed the window and went in. Most of the undergraduates went suddenly out. I clinched with the biggest boy. The other, like a coward, ran away. The two together could easily have mastered me. Order was restored. The mutiny did not hang well together. It was not a good "combine." The northern-bred scholars did not quite understand this move and did not really enter heartily into it. Their backing had been forced by the two big boys, and therefore had not good stuff in it.
The big boy had a cut face. So had I. His still bigger brother met me a few days after and wanted to pick a quarrel with me about the affair. A quarrel with his class always lay within easy approach of knife or pistol. Besides, I was a Yankee. He was a Texan. And this was in 1862, when the two sections in California were neighbors, but not very warm friends, and about equal in numbers.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Crawfordsville Journal, Crawfordsville, Indiana, February 22, 1890, page 2
ABOUT THE GOLD FEVER.One June morning, when I was a boy, Captain Eben Latham came to our house, and the first gossip he unloaded was that "them stories about finding gold in Californy was all true." It was "wash day" and our folks and some of the neighbors were gathered in the "wash house" while the colored help soused her fat black arms in the suds of the wash tub.
HOW IT AFFECTED PRENTICE MULFORD'S NATIVE VILLAGE.
The Formation of Companies--The Last Sunday at Home and the Girl He Left Behind Him--Return of an Argonaut. Evolution, Revolution, Dust and Decay.
(Copyrighted by the Author.)
That was the first report I heard from California. Old Eben had been a man of the sea; was once captured by a pirate, and when he told the story, which he did once a week, he concluded by rolling up his trousers and showing the bullet scars he had received.
California then was but a blotch of yellow on the schoolboy's map of 1847. It was associated only with hides, tallow, and Dana's Two Years Before the Mast. It was thought of principally in connection with long-horned savage cattle, lassoes, and Mexicans. Very near this in general vacancy and mystery was the entire region west of the Rocky Mountains. What was known as the Indian Territory covered an area now occupied by half a dozen prosperous states. Texas was then the Mecca of adventurers and people who found it advisable to leave home suddenly. The phrase in those days, "Gone to Texas," had a meaning almost equivalent to "Gone to the ------." Then California took its place.
The report slumbered during the summer in our village, but in the fall it commenced kindling and by winter it was ablaze. The companies commenced forming. It was not entirely a strange land to some of our people.
Ours was a whaling village. Two-thirds of the male population were bred to the sea. Every boy knew the ropes of a ship as soon if not sooner than he did his multiplication table. Ours was a "traveled" community. They went nearer the North and South Poles than most people of their time and Bering Straits, the Kamchatkan coast, the Sea of Japan, Rio Janeiro, Valparaiso, the Sandwich Islands, the Azores and the names of many other remote localities were words in everyone's mouth, and words, too, which we were familiar with from childhood. Many of our whalers had touched at San Francisco and Monterey. There had recently been a great break down in the whale fishery. Whale ships for sale were plentiful. Most of them were bought to carry the "'49" rush of merchandise and men to California.
By November, 1848, California was the talk of the village, as it was all that time of the whole country. The great gold fever raged all winter.
All the old retired whaling captains wanted to go, and most of them did go. All the spruce young men of the place wanted to go. Companies were formed, and there was much serious drawing up of constitutions and bylaws for their regulation. In most cases the avowed object of the companies, as set forth in these documents, was "mining and trading with the Indians." Great profit was expected to be gotten out of the California Indian. He was expected to give stores of gold and furs in exchange for gilt watches, brass chains, beads, and glass marbles. The companies bought safes in which to keep their gold, and also strange and complex gold-washing machines, of which numerous patterns suddenly sprang up, invented by Yankees who never saw and never were to see a gold mine. Curious ideas were entertained relative to California. The Sacramento River was reported as abounding in alligators. Colored prints represented the adventurer pursued by these reptiles. The general opinion was that it was a fearfully hot country and full of snakes.
Of the companies formed in our vicinity, some had more standing and weight than others, and membership in them was eagerly sought for. An idea prevailed that when this moral weight and respectability was launched on the shores of California it would entail fortune on all belonging to the organization. People with the lightning glance and divination of golden anticipation saw themselves already in the mines hauling over chunks of ore and returning home weighed down with them. Five years was the longest period anyone expected to stay. Five years at most was to be given to rifling California of her treasures, and then that country was to be thrown aside like a used-up newspaper and the rich adventurers would spend the remainder of their days in wealth, peace, and prosperity at their Eastern homes. l No one talked then of going out "to build up the glorious state of California." No one then ever took any pride in the thought that he might be called a "Californian." So they went.
People who could not go invested in men who could go, and paid half the expense of their passage and outfit on condition that they should remit back half the gold they dug. This description of Argonaut seldom paid any dividends. I doubt if one ever sent back a dollar. Eastern shareholders really got their money's worth in gilded hopes, which with them lasted for years. But people never put such brilliant anticipations on the credit side of the account; and merely because that at the last they are not realized.
As the winter of "'48" waned the companies, one after another, set sail for the land of gold. The Sunday preceding they listened to farewell sermons at church. I recollect seeing a score or two of the young Argonauts thus preached to. They were admonished from the pulpit to behave temperately, virtuously, wisely, and piously. How seriously they listened. How soberly were their narrow-brimmed, straight-up-and-down, little plug hats of that period piled one atop the other in front of them. How glistened their hair with the village barber's hair oil. How pronounced the creak of their tight boots as they marched up the aisle. How brilliant the hue of their neckties. How patiently and resignedly they listened to the sad discourse of the minister, knowing it would be the last they would hear for many months. How eager the glances they cast up to the church choir, where sat the girls they were to marry on their return. How few returned. How few married the girl of that period's choice. How little weighed the words of the minister a year afterward in the hurry-scurry of the San Francisco life of '49-'50.
What an innocent, unsophisticated, inexperienced lot were those forty-odd young Argonauts who sat in those pews. Not one of them then could bake his own bread, turn a flapjack, reseat his trousers, or wash his shirt. Not one of them had dug even a post hole. All had a vague sort of impression that California was a nutshell of a country and that they would see each other there frequently and eventually all return home at or about the same time. How little they realized that one was to go to the northern and one to the southern mines and one to remain in San Francisco, and the three never to meet again! What glittering gold mines existed in their brains even during the preaching of that sermon! Holes where the gold was put out by the shovelful, from which an occasional boulder or pebble was picked out and flung away.
The young Argonaut, church being dismissed, took his little stiff, shiny plug and went home to the last Sunday tea. And that Sunday night, on seeing her home from church for the last time, he was allowed to sit up with her almost as long as he pleased. The light glimmered long from the old homestead front parlor window. The cold north wind without roared among the leafless sycamores and crashed the branches together. It was a sad, sad pleasure. The old sofa they sat upon would be sat upon by them no more for years. For years? Forever in many cases. Today, old and gray, gaunt and bent, somewhere in the gulches, "up north" somewhere, hidden away in an obscure mining camp of the Tuolumne, Stanislaus, or Mokelumne, up in Cariboo or down in Arizona, still he recollects that night as a dream. And she? Oh, she dried her eyes and married the stay-at-home five years after. A girl can't wait forever. And besides, bad reports after a time reached home about him. He drank. He gambled. He found fair friends among the senoritas. And, worse than all, he made no fortune.
By spring most of the Argonauts had departed. With them went the flower of the village. Their absence made a big social gap, and that for many a day. The girls they left behind tried for a time to live on hope, and afterward "took up" and made the most of the younger generation of boys.
After many months came the first letters from San Francisco, and then specimens of gold dust and gold pieces. The gold dust came in quills or in vials, mixed with black sand
In the course of two years a few of the "boys" came straggling back. The first of these arrivals, I remember, walked up our main street, wearing on his shoulders a brilliant-hued Mexican serape. It created a sensation. All the small boys of the village "tagged on behind him," a sort of impromptu guard of honor. The serape was about all he did bring home. He talked a great deal of gold and brought specimens, but not in sufficient quantity to pay all outstanding bills. The next of the returned was a long, gaunt, yellow case of Chagres fever. He brought only gloom. Along in 1853-54 came a few of the more fortunate who had made a "raise." Two returned and paid up their creditors in full who had been by creditors given over. But few came to remain. They "stayed around" home a few weeks, turned up their noses at the small prices asked for drinks, cigars, and stews, treated everybody, grew restless and were off again.
Sometimes on visiting my native village I stand before one of those old-fashioned houses, from whose front door thirty-four years ago there went forth for the last time the young Argonaut on his way to the ship. There is more than one such house in the village. The door is double, the knocker is still upon it, the window panes are small, the front gate is the same and up to the door the same stones lie upon the walk. But within all are strangers.
The father and mother are past anxious inquiry of their son. The sisters are married and live, or have died. elsewhere. A new generation is all about. They never heard of him. The great event of that period, the sailing of that ship for California, is sometimes recalled by a few--a few rapidly diminishing. His name is all but forgotten. Some have a dim remembrance of him. In his time he was an important young man in the village. He set the fashion in collars and the newest style of plugs. Oh, fame, how fleeting! What is a generation? A puff. A few old maids recollect him. What a pity, what a shame that we do all fade as a leaf!
The recollections treated in this chapter are to me as a commencement and an ending of the shadows of a series of coming events.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Yorkville Enquirer, Yorkville, South Carolina, May 6, 1891, page 1
THE CALIFORNIA GOLD FEVER.
A Desolate Pacific Island Described by Prentice Mulford.
(Copyrighted by the Author.)
Two hundred miles from the Lower California coast lies the lone island of Guadalupe. Guadalupe is one of the twelve or twenty names which for centuries the Spaniards have been applying to the various geographical divisions of the earth's surface.
Whitney talked of the plentifulness of sea elephant on the Guadalupe beaches; I presume the sea elephant is identical with the sea lion. They resemble a lion about as much as an elephant. So the prow of the Henry was turned toward Guadalupe. While on this trip one morning before daylight I heard at intervals a strange noise, something between a bellow and a creak. I thought it at first the creaking of something aloft, but as it grew lighter I saw a strange-looking head emerge momentarily from the water. It gave forth the same cry, dove, and came up on the other side of the vessel. It was a seal pup, which the sailors said had lost its mother and followed the vessel, mistaking the hull for its maternal parent.
I presume that seals have no recognized fathers to look after them. The poor thing, uttering its plaintive but discordant cry, must have followed us to sea forty or fifty miles. I know not whether the sailors' explanation of its conduct be correct. Anyway, it makes the occurrence more pathetic, and were I utterly unprincipled I should make an entire chapter describing how this pup seal followed the Henry during the voyage like a dog, being regularly fed, and as it grew up came on board and was taught a number of accomplishments, among the rest that of supplying us with fish. 'Tis thus that a rigid adherence to veracity spoils many an interesting and thrilling tale, and brings to him who practices it more poverty than pence.
Guadalupe on the third day came in sight--a lone, wave-washed, wind-swept isle about forty miles in length. It seemed the very embodiment of loneliness. Some would also say of desolation, as man is ever disposed to call any place he does not inhabit. But though Guadalupe contained not a single representative of the most intelligent animal on the planet, it sustained great herds of goats, sea birds, and a little black-and-white land bird, so tame and trustful as to perch and eat from Miller's and Whitney's tin plates during their former visit to the island.
It was our business to murder all the mother sea lions who had established their nurseries at Guadalupe. A boat full of murderers was quickly sent on shore. We did not see boat or crew again for three days. Most of that period was spent by us in looking for the boat, and by the boat's crew in looking at us. They landed on the first day, found no seal, put off at dusk, lost us in a fog, went ashore, swore at the Henry's people for not sighting them, hauled their boat well up on the beach at the mouth of a deep canyon, supped on hard bread and water, and, turning their craft bottom up, crawled under it for a bed quilt and went to sleep on the sand.
During the night a semi-hurricane, called in those latitudes a "willa wah," came tearing and howling down the canyon. Striking the boat, it rolled it over and over among the rocks, smashed the frail sides, and rendered it unseaworthy. For two days the crew roamed up and down the island, living on shellfish and the fresh water left standing in pools, and trying to signal us by fires built on the mountains. The captain was in a state of great perplexity at this disappearance. But, having left a portion of the crew at St. Bartholomew's Bay, he had not hands enough to send another boat ashore, and work the vessel. Then he dare not come nearer the island than three miles, fearing sunken rocks and currents setting inshore.
On the third night one of their fires was seen from the Henry. Standing in for it, by daylight the missing men were seen making for us in an old yawl. Behind, full of water, was towed the shattered whaleboat. The yawl had been found on the beach, probably left there by former sealers. By stuffing all the clothes they could spare in its sun-warped cracks and constant bailing they managed to keep afloat long enough to reach us.
They crawled on board--a pale, haggard, famished lot--and I was kept very busy for a time ministering to their wants. They ate steadily for an hour. Even with this rescue a greater catastrophe than all came near happening. Becalmed and by means of a treacherous current we were being rapidly carried toward an enormous rock which towered sentinel-like alone a mile or more from the north end of the island. It reached full 500 feet toward the clouds. Its perpendicular sides seemed built up in artificial layers. Toward this the Henry seemed helplessly drifting, and the "Old Man," under the influence of combined anger and despair, jumped up and down in his tracks and howled on the quarterdeck as he saw the voyage approaching such an unfortunate termination. Fortunately a providential or accidental breeze came off the land just in time to give us steerageway.
We trifled no more with Guadalupe, but sailed straight away.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Yorkville Enquirer, Yorkville, South Carolina, May 13, 1891, page 1
THE CALIFORNIA GOLD FEVER.
PRENTICE MULFORD TELLS ABOUT LIFE ON THE TUOLUMNE.
Women Were Scarce, but Black Beauties and Fun Were Plentiful--
A Legislator Who Served the State and Brought Home
a Blue Coat with Brass Buttons on It.
(Copyrighted by the Author.)
I think and hope that these attempts of mine to portray the history of the camps on one California gold-bearing river will touch a responsive chord in the hearts of some old Californian, for the life and incident of the bars I describe reflect, in certain respects, the life, history, and incident of hundreds and thousands of places settled in "'49,'' and perhaps abandoned by "'60," which have now no name or place on the later maps of the state. Your genuine old miner likes to revisit the camp where first he dug for gold, in thought if not in person. It was no common affection they entertained for these places.
If the "boys" moved away to other diggings, they had always to make a yearly pilgrimage back, so long as the camp lasted. So, yearly from Vallecito, thirty miles distant, used Jake Yager to revisit Swett's, and he tramped the whole distance, too. What was it that so drew them back? Perhaps the memory of the new and exciting life they experienced from "'49" say till '"58" or "'60," with its "ups and downs," its glittering surprises in the shape of "strikes," its comradeship so soon developed among men who, meeting as strangers, so soon found out each other's better qualities, its freedom from the restraints of older communities, its honesty and plainness in the expression of opinion, engendered by such freedom. All these thought over and over again during absence brought about that strong desire to see the old bar again, the scene of so much experience and private history. Then the visitor always met a hearty welcome. He was an old "residenter." Cabin owners contended for the pleasure of entertaining him. No wives or families were in the way. Conviviality was uninterrupted.
If a black bottle could be produced it could be worshipped undisturbed until long past midnight. And such was always produced on the return of the old acquaintance. When the "boys" at last tumbled into their bunks and smoked a nightcap pipe abed there was no wife in special charge of husband to molest or make them afraid or disturb their internal peace by reason of her near presence. Those were the golden seasons of masculine domestic tranquillity on the banks of the Tuolumne. Woman never disturbed the bar proper with her presence. It was always a masculine bar, at least on the right bank of the river. On the left, at a later date, on a flat, where I enjoyed the privilege of digging for next to nothing for two years, there did live for a time three foreign households glorified by woman's presence. But this was after the palmy days of Swett's Bar proper, right bank.
I have heard that Swett's Bar was named after John Swett, once Superintendent of Public Instruction in California. If so, he never there left any relics or reminders of himself—not even a grammar. Swett's lies equidistant from Hawkins' and Indian bars. When last I passed through it the floods had washed out every trace of man's presence on one side of the river, leaving there an enormous heap of logs and brushwood. The bar proper had been smoothed down by the flood, every hole or boulder heap, or heap of "headings" or "tailings," or the deep pits dug and laboriouly kept free of water by machinery, or heavily rock-freighted crib of logs, the work of miners in the river's bed, had been planed away. The pebbles and boulders had all been rearranged, the sands were smooth, white, and glistening as though "fresh from the Creator's hands;" and none save those conversant with the river's history could have guessed that every foot of the bank adjoining the river had been turned over and over again in the search for gold.
We elected one member of the Legislature from Swett's. When he left the bar he distributed his cabin, blankets, and household effects among the remaining miners. He confidently thought never to need these articles again. That was as great a miscalculation as when a Swett's Bar or any other bar miner would resolve and swear violently that never again would he "strike a pick" in the river. We came to regard such an oath with a superstitious credulity that he certainly would strike such pick again, for never did such a case occur in my recollection but that the mad resolver was back next season, ignoring his vow and striking his pick on some claim generally poorer than the one he worked the season previous. So at the end of four months, after cumbering the law books of the state of California with statutes, whose very existence was forgotten eight months after their passage, our Swett's Bar legislator was seen one evening coming down the hill, bearing in one hand two whiskey bottles tied together by one string—one being empty and the other full.
"Silver and gold have I none," said he, as he came to my cabin door, "but what I have give I unto thee," which he did. Next day came his trunk. The principal accession to the legislative wardrobe were three new shirts and a blue coat with brass buttons. That--the session I think of 1859--was known as the "legislature of 10,000 drinks." Our lawmaker said it had been the "star winter" of his existence, and he never expected to see such another. Three days after his arrival at the bar he borrowed a pair of blankets, "cabined" with a chum and contentedly resumed his pick and shovel. Did Cincinattus do more when he buckled once more to the plow? But our Swett's Bar Cincinattus was never hunted for to save his country. There were too many other country savers on hand, even in our immediate locality.
Generally speaking, Swett's was divided in two portions. There was the old bar on the right bank of the river, settled in "'49," and there was the flat on the other side, whose golden store was not discovered until 1859. Attempts were made to give this flat a distinct name. Various settlers and miners craved the immortality which they supposed might thus be conferred. For a time it was called "Fraser's Flat," from a diabolical Scotchman of that name who lived there. Only one of these names would stick, and finally everybody settled down on the old appellation, "Swett's." I do not believe that John Swett, if he did confer his name on this bar, ever realized the local fame and reputation of his name. When first we struck the diggings at Swett's left bank we had great expectations. It was a later discovery, a "back river channel." Consequent on the discovery of pay ground 1,000 feet back of the river, and the definite fixing of the boundary lines between the various claimants, there ensued the usual series of disputes, rows, bad blood, assaults, and threatened shootings. Nobody was shot. Not even a mining lawsuit came of it.
A local capitalist threw a flume across the river and brought to bear on the flat the upland muddy water, which came down from Columbia diggings, twenty-five miles away, through Wood's Creek. That flume was being talked of, being planned, being hoped for and very gradually being erected, during the years of '59 and '60, while the rest of the nation was agitated by "Bleeding Kansas," "John Brown," "Squatter Sovereignty," "The Douglas Party," "The Little Giant" and all that foreboding series of watchword and motto which preceded "The War." But the Swett's Bar mind, the Swett's Bar hope, the Swett's Bar expedition, was concentrated principally on a wire cable, two uprights on either side of the river, and some 400 feet of rough wooden flume thereby supported, all of which was to bring us water to wash out the expected gold. At last the suspension flume was finished. We had water. We commenced washing. The dirt did not pay as we expected. We averaged week in and week out about three dollars per day, and one dollar of this went for water money.
After the suspension flume was finished and water was on the Flat our claim cleaned up for the first week's work about fifty dollars a piece. We used quicksilver plentifully in the sluices; and the amalgam was taken to my cabin in a gold pan and put on the hot coals to drive off the mercury, which it did, and salivated the four of us besides. The sublimated mineral covered walls, tables and chairs with a fine, frost-like coating, and on rubbing one's finger over any surface a little globule of quicksilver would roll up before it. Then we went to Chinese camp and gave the doctor about half our individual week's dividends to get the mercury out of us. Three weeks of sore mouths and loosened teeth followed this intelligent exposure. It was through such experiences as these that we became in California practical mineralogists. However, it's an easy way of taking "blue mass."
The claim from which great gains had been expected eventually settled down to an average of $2.50 to $3 per day. Breakdowns of the flume, failure of water from upcountry, very stormy weather, building and repairing reservoirs, cutting tail races through rock—all caused numerous delays, and every such delay lessened the average per diem. It was necessary to build reservoirs, to store the water for washing, and these reservoirs broke with the ease and facility of a Bowery savings bank.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Yorkville Enquirer, Yorkville, South Carolina, May 20, 1891, page 1
THE CALIFORNIA GOLD FEVER.
PRENTICE MULFORD'S UPS AND DOWNS AS A STOCK RAISER.
Bovines, Mad for Salt, Wrought Widespread Havoc--
Swine that Marched Home at Night to Roost,
and that Incidentally Aroused the Miners' Ire.
(Copyrighted by the Author.)
About this time (1861) a cow fever began to rage throughout the state. It got hold of people, and impressed them with a burning idea that the road to fortune was a cow path, and that fortunes lay in keeping cattle. The cow fever reached the seclusion of Swett's Bar. We invested all our spare cash in cows and waited for results. Cattle were spoken of as a sure card for fortune. Keep cattle. Buy improved breeds. Raise them. "Cross" them. Feed them for nothing on the native grass. Buy cows. Cows give milk. People can live on milk. Milk then to us was a luxury.
It paid no milkman to travel up and down the rough and rocky ledges of the Tuolumne ringing his bell at miners' cabins half a mile apart. Indeed he could not so travel without carrying his milk a la pannier on a donkey's back, and by the time it had reached its place of destination it would have been agitated to butter. So all of us miners went in for cows. Improved cows. We bought each an improved cow. We hauled this cow by ropes across the raging, eddying, furious river to our side. Frequently she arrived more dead than alive. Then came a season of hope and expectation as to fortunes through cows.
We arose at 5 in the morning, built the fire for breakfast, went out and sought our cows, generally feeding or reposing a mile or more from our cabins, caught these cows, milked them, returned to the cabin, finished the cooking of either a burned or cold breakfast, went forth and labored in the claim till noon, came home, cooked dinner, went forth again, at 1 p.m., labored till 6, went back to the cabins, chopped wood for fuel, traveled 500 feet or yards to the spring for water, returned, mixed our bread, put it in the oven, went out and milked the cow, then bent over the hot stove for an hour until bread was baked, and then, heated, flushed, perspiring, exhausted from the day's labor, and with nerves quivering by reason of such exhaustion, we arranged the miner's table, sat down to the meal, and wondered why we had so little appetite.
Keeping cows proved laborious work for miners. When, in addition to kindling the fire in the morning, cooking your own breakfast, coming home at night wet and tired after working all day in the ground sluice, then hacking away at some old stump to get wood enough to cook the supper, traveling maybe an eighth of a mile to the nearest spring for a pail of water, and bending and bothering with meat-frying and bread-making, you add chasing night and morn, milk pail in hand, some contrary cow all over the flat in order to milk her, you pile too heavy a load on any man's back, because in the matter of housekeeping we had ceased the cooperative system. We dwelt all apart, each a hermit in his own cabin. We were diverse in habit, and could not get along with each other's peculiarities. The neat man couldn't abide the slovenly man. The economical man couldn't sit patiently by and see his partner cut potato parings a quarter of an inch in thickness. The nervous man was exhausted by his partner's whistling or snoring, and all these and numberless other opposing peculiarities at last caused each man, hermit-like, to retire into his own cell.
We had other trouble with our cows, for they were ravenous after salt. We neglected to "salt them." Result: If any article containing the least encrustation of salt was left outside our cabins, the entire herd would gather about it at night, lick it, fight for its possession and keep up a steady grunting, stamping, lowing, and bellowing. They would eat clothing left out overnight on the clothesline to dry. In such manner and for such reason also would they eat through the cotton walls of our houses. Once, when away for three days attending a county convention at Sonora, on returning to my lone cabin I found it a scene of ruin and desolation. A cow had eaten through the cloth wall on one side, and eaten her way out at the other, and had stopped long enough inside to eat up all my flour, rice and vegetables. Once, when moving my household effects from one cabin to another on a wheelbarrow, I left it near the middle of the flat for a few minutes.
On returning I saw a cow making off with my best coat. She held it in her mouth by one sleeve, On seeing me she started off on a run, still thus holding the sleeve in her mouth and making violent efforts to eject it. The coat sleeve was a ruin when I did get it. She had chewed it for salt's sake to the likeness of a fish net. Keeping cows did not make our fortunes at Swett's. Then everybody said: "Keep hogs. They will feed on acorns and increase very rapidly. In a few years the plains and hills will groan under the burden of your pork." So I bought hogs. I bought a sow and seven pigs. They gave me much to think of.
Before I had owned them a week complaints concerning them came from neighboring miners, who owned no hogs. These pigs of mine broke through the cloth walls of the cabins and would consume the miner's entire weekly stock of provisions in a few minutes. Then they would go outside and root from out the hot coals--his "Dutch oven," wherein his bread was baking while he labored afar in his claim, and this bread when cooled they would also devour. I had, on buying these animals, engaged that they should "find themselves."
There was no reasoning with the suffering miners in this matter. I argued that my pigs had a right to run at large, and that they should make their houses more secure. The miners argued that, right or not right, they would shoot my pigs even if found near their cabins. If that was not sufficient, they might shoot me. Their positiveness in this matter was of an intense and violent character. There was no such thing as discussion with them on legal or equitable grounds. I think now that I and the pigs had law and right on our side, but the miners were in the majority and had might. Nor was this all. These pigs, seemingly recognizing my ownership, came home at night to sleep. They slept in a pile just outside my cabin door, and as the night air wafted down from the higher Sierra summits became cooler the pigs on the outside of the pile became uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable they tried to get inside the pile. This the warm pigs inside resisted. The resistance was accompanied with squealing and grunting, which lasted all night long and disturbed my sleep.
The pig pile consisted of a rind of cold and uncomfortable pigs and a core of warm and comfortable pigs, and there was a continual effort on the part of the cold porcine rind to usurp the places of the warm and comfortable porcine core. They gave me no rest, for when, with the warm morning sun, this uproar ceased, there came the season of complaint and threat from my plundered neighbors. Finally a cold storm chilled half of these pigs to death. I sold the remainder as quickly as possible to a ranchman who better understood the hog business.
During the receding of the waters after one of the annual spring freshets I saw several hundred dollars in gold dust washed out near the base of a pine tree on the river's bank, between Hawkins' and Swett's Bar, where probably it had years before been buried by some unknown miner. That is, I saw it after it had been washed out and found by another more fortunate miner. In all probability there are many thousands of dollars in dust so dug by hard-working hands and so buried in California, there to remain until the last day, perhaps longer. Where's the utility of resurrecting the "root of all evil" on the last day, just at the time when people in heaven or elsewhere are presumed to be able to get along without it? Yet it is a mysterious Providence that impels any poor fellow to dig his pile, bury it for safekeeping, and then go off and die in some out-of-the-way place without being able to leave any will and testament as to the exact hole where his savings lay.
Regarding buried treasure, there is a hill near Jamestown concerning which, years ago, there hovered a legend that it held somewhere thousands of dollars in dust, buried in the early days by a lone miner who was, for his money's sake, murdered in his cabin. They said that by the roots of many trees on that hillside it had been unsuccessfully dug for. Anyway, the miner left a memory and a hope behind him. That's more than many do. If you want to leave a lasting recollection of yourself behind drop a hint from time to time ere you depart for "the bright and shining shore" that you have interred $10,000 somewhere in a quarter section of land; you will then long be remembered and your money dug for.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Yorkville Enquirer, Yorkville, South Carolina, May 27, 1891, page 1
THE RED MOUNTAIN BAR.
IT IS GRAPHICALLY DESCRIBED BY PRENTICE MULFORD.
An Unappreciated Paradise--A Settlement in Numbers Small,
in Individuality Large--Some Queer Characters
and Events--"Old Mac" and Bloody Bill.
(Copyrighted by the Author.)
The California mining camp was ephemeral. Often it was founded, built up, flourished, decayed, and had weeds and herbage growing over its site and hiding all of man's work inside of ten years. Yet to one witnessing these changes it seemed the life of a whole generation. Of such settlements, Red Mountain Bar was one. Red Mountain lay three miles above Swett's Bar, "upriver." I lived "off and on" at the "bar" in its dying days. I saw it decay gently and peacefully. I saw the grass, trees, and herbage gradually creep in and resume their sway all over its site as they had done ere man's interruption.
I lived there when the few "boys" left used daily, after the close of an unsuccessful river season, to sit in a row on a log by the river's edge, and there, surveying their broken dam, would chant curses on their luck. The bar store was then still in existence. Thompson was its proprietor. The stock on hand had dwindled down to whiskey. The bar and one filled bottle alone survived. On rainy nights, when the few miners left would gather about the stove Thompson would take down his fiddle, and fiddle and sing, "What can't be cured must be endured," or, "The king into his garden came; the spices smelt about the same"--a quotation of unknown authorship. Of neighbors, living in their cabins strung along the banks for half a mile above the store, there was Keen Fann, an aged mercantile and mining Chinaman, with a colony about him of lesser and facially indistinguishable countrymen of varying numbers. Second, "Old Harry," an aged negro, a skilled performer on the bugle and a singer who offered at times to favor us with what he termed a "little ditto." He was the Ethiopic king of a knot of Kanakas gathered about him. Third, "Bloody Bill," so called from his frequent use of the sanguinary adjective, and, as may be guessed, an Englishman. Fourth, an old Scotchman, one of the Bar's oldest inhabitants, who would come to the store with the little bit of gold dust, gathered after a hard day's "crevicing," complaining that gold was getting as scarce as "the grace of God in the heelands of Scotland." Fifth, McFarlane, a white-bearded old fellow, another pioneer, who after a yearly venture into some strange and distant locality to "change his luck," was certain eventually to drift back again to the Bar, which he regarded as home. Down the river, nestled high up in a steep and picturesque gulch, stood the buckeye-embowered cabin of old Jonathan Brown, the ditch tender, a great reader of weekly "story papers," who lived like a boy in the literature of the western frontier penny awful, and who, coming to the store and perching himself on the counter, would sometimes break out in remarks about how "Them thar Indians got the better of 'em at last," to the astonishment of the "boys," who imagined at first that he referred to Indians in the locality, suggesting possibilities of a repetition of the great Oak Flat uprising of 1850.
At the "top of the hill," a mile and a half away, stood the "Yankee ranch," kept by a bustling, uneasy, and rather uncomfortable man from Massachusetts, aided by his good-natured, easy-going son-in-law. One rainy winter's day the "boys" congregated about Thompson's store became seized with a whim for the manufacture of little pasteboard men turning grindstones, which, fastened to the stove, were impelled to action by the ascending current of hot air. So they smoked their pipes, and wrought all day until the area of stovepipe became thickly covered with little pasteboard men busily turning pasteboard grindstones. Then, George M. G., the son-in-law of the Yankee ranch, came down the hill to borrow an ax.
George was of that temperament and inclination to be of all things charmed with a warm stove on a cold, rainy day, a knot of good fellows about it, a frequent pipe of tobacco, maybe an occasional punch and the pleasing manufacture of hot-air-driven little pasteboard men turning pasteboard grindstones. He forgot his ax--sat down and began with the rest the manufacture of pasteboard men and grindstones. And he kept on till a late hour of the night, and stayed at the Bar all night and all the next day and that next night, until the stovepipe was covered to its very top with little men, all working away for dear life turning grindstones; and on the second day of his stay the exasperated father-in-law suddenly appeared and delivered himself in impatient invective with regard to such conduct on the part of a son-in-law sent forty-eight hours previously to borrow an ax. Such was the circle oft gathered on the long, rainy winter's eve about the Thompson store stove. All smoked. Keen Fann frequently dropped in. He stood respectfully, as a heathen should in such a Christian assemblage, on its outer edge, or humbly appropriated some unoccupied keg, and for the rest--grinned. From his little piggy eyes to his double chin Keen's face was a permanently settled grin.
Keen Fann had learned about twenty words of English and would learn no more. In his estimation, these twenty words, variously used, after a sort of grammatical kaleidoscopic fashion, seemed adequate to convey everything required. One of his presumed English expressions long puzzled the boys. Asking the price of articles at the store he would say: "Too muchee pollyfoot." At last the riddle was correctly guessed. He meant: "Too much profit."
For protection Keen Fann built his house opposite the store. The Mexicans were then attacking and robbing isolated bands of Chinamen. At one bar a few miles below, then deserted by the whites, the Chinese had enclosed their camp with a high stockade of logs. Yet one night they were attacked. The Mexicans besieged their fortress for hours, peppering them from the hillside with revolvers, and at last they broke through the Mongolian works and bore off all their dust and a dozen or more revolvers. Keen Fann's castle was in dimensions not more than 12 by 15 feet, and in height two stories. Within it was partitioned off into rooms not much larger than dry goods boxes. The hallways were just wide enough to squeeze through, and very dark. It was intensely labyrinthine, and Keen was always making it more so by devising new additions. No white man ever did know exactly where the structure began or ended. Keen was a merchant, dealing principally in gin, fish, and opium. His store was involved in this curious dwelling, all of his own construction.
In the store was a counter. Behind it there was just room for Keen to sit down, and in front there was just room enough for the customer to turn around. When Keen was the merchant he looked imposing in an immense pair of Chinese spectacles. When he shook his rocker in the bank he took off these spectacles. He was a large consumer of his own gin. I once asked him the amount of his weekly allowance. "Me tink," said he," one gallun, hap" (half). From the upper story of the castle protruded a huge spearhead. It was made by the local blacksmith, and intended as a menace to the Mexican bandits. As they grew bolder and more threatening, Keen sent down to San Francisco and purchased a lot of old pawn shop revolvers. These being received, military preparation and drill went on for several weeks by Keen and his forces. He practiced at target shooting, aimed at the mark with both eyes shut, and for those in its immediate vicinity with a most ominous and threatening waver of the arm holding the weapon. It was prophesied that Keen would kill somebody with that pistol. None ever expected that he would kill the proper person. Yet he did.
One night an alarm was given. Keen's castle was attacked. The "boys," hearing the disturbance, grabbed their rifles and pistols, and sallied from the store. The robbers, finding themselves in a hornets' nest, ran. By the uncertain light of a waning moon the Bar was seen covered with Chinamen gabbling and wildly gesticulating. Over the river two men were swimming. Keen, from the bank, pointed his revolver at one, shut his eyes and fired. One of the men crawled out of the water and tumbled in a heap among the boulders. The "boys" crossed, and found there a strange white man, with Keen's bullet through his backbone.
I experienced about the narrowest escape of my life in a boat during a freshet on the Tuolumne crossing. I counted myself a good river boatman, and had just ferried over a Swett's Bar miner. He had come to purchase a gallon of the native juice of the grape, which was then grown, pressed and sold at Red Mountain Bar. When he crossed with me he was loaded with it. Some of it was outside of him in a demijohn and some of it was inside. Indeed it was inside of us both. I set him across all right. On returning, by taking advantage of a certain eddy, one could be rushed upstream counter to the current coming down for a quarter of a mile, and at a very rapid rate. It was very exciting thus to be carried in an opposite direction, within ten feet of the great billowy swell coming down. It was a sort of sliding downhill without the trouble of drawing one's sled up again. So I went up and down the stream. The Red Mountain wine meantime was working. Night came on, a glorious moon arose over the mountaintops, and I kept sliding up and down the Tuolumne. I became more daring and careless, so that suddenly in the very fury of the midstream billows I slipped off the stern sheets at a sudden dip of the boat and fell into the river. I was heavily clad in flannels and mining boots.
Of my stay under water I recollect only the thought, "You're in for it this time. This is no common baptism." The next I knew I was clinging to a rock half a mile below the scene of the submergence. I had been swept under water through the Willow Bar, the walls of whose rocky channel, chiseled by the current of centuries, were narrower at the top than on the river bed, and through which the waters swept in a succession of boils and whirlpools. Wet and dripping, I tramped to the nearest cabin, a mile and a half distant, and stayed there that night. Red Mountain Bar, on seeing the mishap, gave me up for lost--all but one man, who was negative on that point for the reason, as he alleged, that I was not destined to make the final exit by water. I reappeared the next morning at the Bar. When I told the boys that I had been swept through the Willow Bar they instituted comparisons of similarity in the matter of veracity betwixt myself and Ananias of old. It was the current impressions that no man could pass through the Willow Bar alive.
Chinese Camp, five miles distant, stood as the metropolis for Red Mountain Bar. It contained but a few hundred people. Yet, in our estimation at that time it bore the same relative importance that New York does to some agricultural village a hundred miles way. Chinese Camp meant restaurants, where we could revel in the luxury of eating a meal we were not obliged to prepare ourselves, a luxury none can fully appreciate save those who have served for years as their own cooks. Chinese Camp meant saloons, palatial as compared with the Bar groggery; it meant a daily mail and communication with the great world without; it meant hotels, where strange faces might be seen daily; it meant, perhaps above all, the nightly fandango. When living for months and years in such out-of-the-way nooks and corners as Red Mountain Bar, and as were thousands of now forgotten and nameless flats, gulches, and bars in California, cut off from all regular communication with the world, where the occasional passage of some stranger is an event, the limited stir and bustle of such a place as Chinese Camp assumed an increased importance and interest.
Chinese Camp justice presided at our lawsuits. Chinese Camp was the Mecca to which all hands resorted for the grand blowout at the close of the river mining season. With all their hard work what independent times were those after all! True, claims were uncertain as to yield; hopes of making fortunes had been given over. But so long as $1.50 or $2 pickings remained on the banks men were comparatively their own masters. There was none of the inexorable demand of business consequent on situation and employment in the great city, where, sick or well, the toilers must hie with machine-like regularity at the early morning hour to their posts of labor. If the Red Mountaineer didn't "feel like work" in the morning he didn't work. If he preferred to commence digging and washing at 10 in the morning instead of 7, who should prevent him? If, after the morning labor, he desired a siesta till 2 in the afternoon, it was his to take.
Of what Nature could give there was much at the Bar to make pleasant man's stay on earth, save a great deal of cash. We enjoyed a mild climate--no long, hard winters to provide against; a soil that would raise almost any vegetable, a necessity or luxury, with very little labor; grapes or figs, apples or potatoes; land to be had for the asking; water for irrigation accessible on every hand; plenty of pasture room; no crowding. A quarter of a section of such soil and climate within forty miles of New York City would be worth millions. Contrast such a land with the bleak hills about Boston, where half the year is spent in a struggle to provide for the other half. Yet we were all anxious to get away. Our heaven was not at Red Mountain. Fortunes could not be dug there. We spent time and strength in a scramble for a few ounces of yellow metal, while in the springtime the vales and hillsides covered with flowers argued in vain that they had the greatest rewards for our picks and shovels. But none listened. We groveled in the mud and stones of the oft-worked bank. Yearly it responded less and less to our labors. One by one the "oldtimers" left.
The boarding house of Dutch Bill at the farther end of the Bar long stood empty, and the meek-eyed and subtle Chinaman stole from its sides board after board; the sides skinned off, they took joist after joist from the framework. None ever saw them so doing. Thus silently and mysteriously, like a melting snowbank, the great, ramshackle boarding house disappeared, until naught was left save the chimney. And that also vanished brick by brick. All of which material entered into the composition and construction of that irregularly built, smoke-tanned conglomerate of Chinese huts clustered near the Keen Fann castle.
"Old Grizzly" McFarlane wen t away. So did Bloody Bill. So the Bar's population dwindled. Fewer travelers, dot-like, were seen climbing the steep trail o'er Red Mountain. Miller, the Chinese Camp news agent, who, with mailbags well filled with the New York papers, had for years cantered from Red Mountain to
Morgan's Bar, emptying his sack as he went at the rate of fifty and twenty-five cents per sheet, paid the Bar his last visit and closed out the newspaper business there forever. Then the county supervisors abolished it as an election precinct, and its name no longer figured in the returns. No more after the vote was polled and the result known did the active and ambitious partisan mount his horse and gallop over the mountain to Sonora, the county seat, twenty miles away, to deliver the official count, signed, sealed and attested by the local Red Mountain election inspectors. Finally the Bar dwindled to Thompson, Keen Fann and his Mongolian band. Then Thompson left. Keen Fann grieved at losing his friend and protector. He came on the eve of departure to the dismantled store. Tears were in his eyes. He presented Thompson with a basket of tea and a silver half dollar, and bade him farewell in incoherent and untranslatable words of lamenting polyglot English.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Yorkville Enquirer, Yorkville, South Carolina, June 3, 1891, page 1
ANNALS OF JIMTOWN.
PRENTICE MULFORD'S DESCRIPTION OF A MINING CAMP IN THE SIXTIES.
The Transition from Mining to Musing. Happy "Tilter Backs"
of the Bella Union--Brown's Theory of Heaven--
How a Rich Vein of Character Was Developed.
(Copyrighted by the Author.)
On those hot July and August afternoons, when the air simmered all along the heated earth, and I was trying to keep awake in my seminary on the hill, and wrestling with the mercury at 100 degs. and my sixty polyglot pupils (for teaching school was among my numerous occupations in California), the grown-up "boys" would be tilted back in their chairs under the portico and against the cool brick wall of the Bella Union. They did not work, but they spun yarns. How half the boys lived was a mystery--as much a mystery, I do believe, to themselves as anyone else. Some owned quartz claims, some horses, and all ran regularly for office. They belonged to the stamp of men who worked and mined in earlier times, but come what might, they had resolved to work in that way no longer.
And when such resolve is accompanied by determination and an active, planning, inventive brain, the man gets along somehow. It is speculation that makes fortunes, and plan, calculation, and forethought for speculation require leisure of body. A hard-working, ten-hour-per-day-digging, delving miner works all his brains out through his fingers' ends. He has none left to speculate with. When I was mining at Swett's Bar, there came one day to my cabin a long, lean, lank man looking for a lost cow. The cow and the man belonged near Jacksonville, twelve miles up the Tuolumne. I dined that man principally off some bread of my own making, and I had the name then of making the best bread of anyone in the house, where I lived alone.
After dinner the man sat himself down on one boulder and I on another, and I asked him if he had a good claim. That roused him to wrath. He had, it seems, just reached the last point of his disgust for hard work and mining. Said he: "Don't talk to me of a good claim; don't. It sounds like speaking of a good guillotine, or a beautiful halter, or an elegant rack you're about to be stretched on." He had gone through his probation of hard work with his hands and had just resolved to let them rest and give his head a chance to speculate. So he did. I don't know that he ever met the cow again, but eight or nine years after I met him in the legislature of California. He sat in the biggest chair there, and was lieutenant governor of the state.
In 1860 the certain class of men of whom I speak were in a transition state. They had left off working with their hands, and they were waiting for something to turn up on which to commence working with their heads. While thus waiting they became boys and played. The climate and surroundings were eminently favorable to this languid, loading condition of existence, no long, sharp winters forcing people to bestir themselves and provide against its severities; little style to keep up; few families to maintain; no disgrace for a man to cook his own victuals; houses dropping to pieces; little new paint anywhere to make one's eyes smart; gates dropping from their hinges; few municipal improvements, with accompanying heavy taxes, and that bright summer sun for months and months shining over all and tempting everybody to be permanently tired and seek the shade. The boys forgot their years; they dreamed away their days; they gossiped all the cool night; they shook off dignity; they played; they built water wheels in the ditch running by the Bella Union door; they instituted ridiculous fictions and converted them into realities; they instituted a company for the importation of smoke in pound packages into Jamestown; Muldoon was president and the. "Doctor" secretary.
It was brought by a steamer up Wood's Creek; the steamer was wrecked on a dam a mile below town; the company met day after day in old Nielsen's saloon to consult; the smoke was finally taken to Jamestown and sold; the proceeds were stored in sacks at the express office; there was an embezzlement consequent on the settlement; the money, all in 10-cent pieces, was finally deposited in the big wooden mortar over Baker's drug store; this the "Doctor" was accused of embezzling, having time after time climbed up the mortar and abstracted the funds dime after dime and spent them for whiskey. Then came a lawsuit. Two mule teams freighted with lawyers for the plaintiff and defendant were coming from Stockton, and the Pound Package Smoke Company met day after day in preparation for the great trial.
This fiction lasted about four months, and amused everybody except Captain James S------, an ex-sheriff of the county, who, being a little deaf, and catching from time to time words of great financial import regarding the Pound Package Jamestown Smoke Company as they dropped from Muldoon's and the "Doctor's" mouths, and being thereby time after time misled into a temporary belief that this fiction was a reality, and so often becoming irritated at finding himself ridiculously mistaken, burst out upon these two worthies one day with all the wrath becoming the dignity of a Virginia gentleman, and denounced them profanely and otherwise for their frivolity and puerility.
Another specimen thinker and speculator of that era was Carroll. He, too, had forever thrown aside pick and shovel, and when I met him he was a confirmed "tilter-back" under the Bella Union portico. Carroll was the theorist of Jamestown. He broached new ones daily; he talked them to everybody in Jamestown, and after making clean work of that hamlet would go up to Sonora and talk there, and lastly published them in the Union Democrat. Said Carroll one Monday morning to the Presbyterian domine: "Mr. H------, I heard your sermon yesterday on 'Heaven.' You argue, I think, that heaven is really a place. I think it ought to be a place, too. I've been thinking about it all night. I'm satisfied not only that it is a place, but that I've got at the locality, or at least have approximated to it. I've reasoned this out on purely scientific data, and here they are. We have an atmosphere, and they say it is from thirty-three to forty-five miles high. Angels only live in heaven, and angels have wings. If angels have wings, it's proof that they' must have an atmosphere to fly in. Now, the only atmosphere we are sure of is that around the earth. Therefore, putting all these facts and conclusions together, I've proved to myself that heaven must be from thirty-three to forty-five miles from the ground we stand on."
On commencing my pedagogical career, I rented a room of Carroll. He owned at that time a quantity of real estate in Jamestown, some of which, including the premises I occupied, was falling rapidly and literally on his hands. The house I lived in was propped up several feet from the ground. The neighbors' chickens fed under this house from the crumbs swept through the cracks in the floor. It was an easy house to sweep clean. Rumor said that during my landlord's occupancy of these rooms many chickens had strangely disappeared, and that pistol shots had been heard from the interior of the house. The floor cracks did show powder marks, and there was an unaccountable quantity of feathers blowing about the yard. In a conversation with my landlord he admitted that his boomerang could beat a six-shooter in fetching a chicken.
Then he showed me his boomerang, which was of accidental construction, being the only remaining leg and round of an oaken armchair. Properly shied, he said, it would kill a chicken at twenty yards. French Joe kept the grocery next to Keefe's saloon, and it was in "Jimtown" a current report that Carroll and Joe had once invited the Catholic priest, Father A------, from Sonora, to dinner; that the backbone of this dinner was a duck; that at or about this time Mrs. Hale, five doors down the street, had missed one of her flock of ducks; that on the morning of the dinner in question a strong savor of parboiling duck permeated all that part of Jamestown lying between Joe's and Mrs. Hale's; that Mrs. Hale smelt it; that putting two and two--cause and effect and her own suspicions--together, she armed herself with her bun tormentor fork and going from her back yard to the little outdoor kitchen in Joe's back yard found a pot over a fire and her presumed duck parboiling in it; and that, transfixing this duck on her tormentor, she bore it home, and the priest got no duck for dinner.
Carroll's mortal aversion was the hog. His favorite occupation for ten days in the early spring was gardening, and his front fence was illy secured against hogs, for Carroll, though a man of much speculative enterprise, was not one whose hands always seconded the work of his head. There was not a completed thing on his premises, including a well which he had dug to the depth of twelve feet and which he had then abandoned forever. The hogs would break through his fence and root up his roses, and the well, caving in about the edges, became a yawning gulf in his garden, and during the rainy season it partly filled up with water, and a hog fell in one night and, to Carroll's joy, was drowned.
Men did their best in the dead of a rainy night to get the poor animal out, but a hog is not a being possessed of any capacity for seconding or furthering human attempts at his own rescue. So he drowned, and was found the morning after a grand New Year's ball at the Bella Union hall hanging by Joyce's clothesline over the middle of the street between the Bella Union and the Magnolia. The next night they put him secretly in the cart of a fish peddler who had come up with salmon from the lower San Joaquin, and this man unwittingly hauled the hog out of town.
Carroll unfortunately allowed his mind to wander and stray overmuch in the maze of theological mysteries and its (to him) apparent contradictions. He instituted a private and personal quarrel between himself and his Creator, and for years he obtruded his quarrel into all manner of places and assemblages. He arrived at last at that point where many do under similar circumstances--a belief in total annihilation after death--and this serving to make him more miserable than ever, his only relief was to convert others to the same opinion and make them as wretched as himself. Occasionally he succeeded. He came to me one day and on his face was the grin of a fiend. "I've got Cummings," said he. "Cummings thought this morning he was a good Methodist, but I've been laboring with him for weeks. I've convinced him of the falsity of it all. I knocked his last plank of faith from under him today. He hasn't now a straw to cling to, and he's as miserable as I am."
"But with Mullins," he remarked afterward, "I've slipped up on him. I wrought three weeks with Mullins; took him through the Bible, step by step--unconverted him steadily as we went along--got him down to the last leaf in the last chapter of the last book of Revelations, and there, fool-like, I let up on him to go home to supper. And do you know when I tackled him next morning, to close out Mullins' faith in the religion of his fathers, I found Mullins, in my absence, had got scared. He'd galloped in belief way back to Genesis, and now, I've got all that job to do over again."
There was a great deal of life in those little mining camps in Tuolumne County like Jamestown. They might not have the population of a single block in New York City, but there was a far greater average of mental activity, quickness, and intelligence to the man, at least so far as getting the spice out of life was concerned.
The social life of a great city may be much more monotonous through that solitude imposed by great numbers living together. Everybody at these camps knew us, and we knew everybody, and were pretty sure of meeting everybody we knew. In the town one is not sure of meeting an acquaintance socially, save by appointment. There are few loafing or lounging resorts; people meet in a hurry and part in a hurry. Here in New York I cross night and morning on a ferry with 500 people, and of these 495 do not speak or know each other.
Four hundred of these people will sit and stare at each other for half an hour, and all the time wish they could talk with someone. And many of these people are so meeting, so crossing, so staring, and so longing to talk year in and year out. There is no doctor's shop where the impromptu symposium meets daily in the back room, as ours did at Doc Lampson's in Montezuma, or Baker's in Jamestown, or Dr. Walker's in Sonora. There's no reception every evening at the camp grocery as there used to be at "Bill Brown's" in Montezuma. There's no lawyer's office, where he feels privileged to drop in as we did at Judge Preston's in Jamestown, or Judge Quint's in Sonora. There's no printing office and editorial room all in one on the ground floor whereinto the "Camp Senate," lawyer, judge, doctor, merchant and other citizens may daily repair in the summer's twilight, tilted back in the old hacked arm chairs on the front portico, and discuss the situation as we used to with A. N. Francisco of the Union Democrat in Sonora, and as I presume the relics of antiquity and '49 do at that same office today.
These are a few of the features which made "camp" attractive. These furnished the social anticipations which lightened our footsteps over those miles of mountain, gulch, and flat. Miles are nothing, distance is nothing, houses a mile apart and "camps" five miles apart are nothing when people you know and like live in those camps and houses at the end of those miles. An evening at the Bella Union saloon in "Jimtown" was a circus. Because men of individuality, character, and originality met there. They had something to say. Many of them had little to do, and, perhaps, for that very reason their minds the quicker took note of so many of those little peculiarities of human nature, which when told, or hinted, or suggested, prove the sauce piquant to conversation.
When Brown, the lawyer, was studying French and read his Telemaque aloud by his open office window in such a stentorian voice as to be heard over a third of the "camp," and with never a Frenchman at hand to correct his pronunciation, which he manufactured to suit himself as he went along, it was a part of the Bella Union circus to hear "Yank" imitate him. When old Broche, the long, thin, bald-headed French baker, who would never learn one word of English, put on his swallow-tailed Sunday coat, which he had brought over from la belle France, and lifted up those coat tails when he tripped over the mud puddles as a lady would her skirts, it was a part of the Bella Union circus to see "Scotty" mimic him.
When John S------, the Virginian, impressively and loudly swore that a jackrabbit he had killed that day leaped twenty-five feet in the air on being shot, and would then look around the room as if he longed to find somebody who dared dispute his assertion, while his elder brother, always at his elbow in supporting distance, also glared into the eyes of the company, as though he also longed to fight the somebody who should dare discredit "Brother John's" "whopper," it was a part of the circus to see the "boys" wink at each other when they had a chance. When one heard and saw so many of every other man's peculiarities, oddities, and mannerisms, save his own, set off and illustrated while the man was absent, and knew also that his own, under like circumstances, had been or would be brought out on exhibition, it made him feel that it was somewhat dangerous to feel safe on the slim and slippery ice of self-satisfaction and self-conceit. People in great cities haven't so much time to make their own fun and amusement, as did the residents of so many of those lazy, lounging, tumbling-down, ramshackle "camps" of the era of 1863 or thereabouts.
People in the city have more of their fun manufactured for them at the theaters of high and low degree. Yet it was wonderful how in "camp" they managed to dig so many choice bits and specimens out of the vein of varied human nature which lay so near them. Whenever I visited "Jimtown" my old friend Dixon would take me into his private corner to tell me "the last" concerning a character who was working hard on an unabridged copy of Webster's Dictionary in the endeavor to make amends for a woeful lack of grammatical knowledge, the result of a neglected education. "He's running now on two words," Dixon would say, "and these are 'perseverance' and 'assiduity.' We hear them forty times a day, for he lugs them in at every possible opportunity, and, indeed, at times when there is no opportunity. He came to business the other morning a little unwell, and alluded to his stomach as being 'in a chaotic state.' And, sir, he can spell the word 'particularly' with six i's. How he does it I can't tell; but he can."
PRENTICE MULFORD.Yorkville Enquirer, Yorkville, South Carolina, June 10, 1891, page 1
THE WEDDING OF AH SAM.
A MONGOLIAN MADRIGAL IN PROSE, BY PRENTICE MULFORD.
Abduction of the Blushing Lady in the Case and Her Rescue
from a Hen Coop. The Groom Backs Out, but Is
Backed In Again--Marriage Rites at Jimtown.
(Copyrighted by the Author.)
The culminating events of the following tale occurred in "Jimtown" during my pedagogical career, and I was an indefatigable assistant in the details as below stated.
Ah Sam loved Miss Hi Sing. Ah Sam was by profession a cook in a California miners' boarding house and trading post combined, at a little mining camp on the Tuolumne River. Following minutely the culinary teachings of his employer, having no conception of cooking, save as a mere mechanical operation--dead to the pernicious mental and physical effect which his ill-dressed dishes might have on the minds and stomachs of those he served--Ah Sam, while dreaming of Hi Sing, fried tough beef still tougher in hot lard, poisoned flour with saleratus, and boiled potatoes to the last extreme of soddenness, all of which culinary outrages promoted indigestion among those who ate; and this indigestion fomented a general irritability of temper--from whence Swett's Camp became noted for its frequent sanguinary moods, its battles by midnight in street and bar room, with knife and six-shooter, and, above all, for its burying ground, of which the inhabitants truthfully boasted that not an inmate had died a natural death.
Hi Sing was the handmaid of old Ching Loo. Her face was broad, her nose flat, her girth extensive, her gait a waddle, her attire a blue sacque reaching from neck to knee, blue trousers, brass rings on wrist and ankle, and wooden shoes, whose clattering heels betrayed their owner's presence, even as the shaken tail of the angry rattlesnake doth his unpleasant proximity. She had no education, no manners, no accomplishments, no beauty, no grace, no religion, no morality; and for this and more Ah Sam loved her. Hi Sing was virtually a slave, having several years previously, with many other fair and fragile sisters, been imported to California by Ching Loo; and not until meeting Ah Sam did she learn that it was her right and privilege in this land of occasional laws and universal liberty to set up for herself, become her own mistress and marry and unmarry whenever opportunity offered.
But Ching Loo had noticed, with a suspicious eye, the growing intimacy between Ah Sam and Hi Sing; and arguing therefrom results unprofitable to himself, he contrived one night to have the damsel packed off to another town, which happened at that time to be my place of residence; and it is for this reason that the woof of my existence temporarily crossed that of Ah Sam and Hi Sing.
Ah Sam following up his love, and discovering in me an old friend who had endured and survived a whole winter of his cookery at Swett's Bar, told me his troubles; and I, resolving to repay evil with good, communicated the distressed Mongolian's story to my chosen and particular companion, a lean and cadaverous attorney, with whom fees had ceased to be angels' visits, and who was then oscillating and hovering between two plans--one to run for the next state legislature; the other to migrate to Central America and found a new republic. Attorney Spoke, on hearing Ah Sam's case, offered to find the maid, rescue her from her captors, and marry her to him permanently and forever in consideration of thirty American dollars; to which terms the Mongolian assenting, Spoke and myself, buckling on our arms and armor, proceeded to beat up the filthy purlieus of "Chinatown;" and about midnight we found the passive Hi Sing hidden away in a hen coop, whither she had been conveyed by the confederates of Ching Loo.
We bore Hi Sing--who was considerably alarmed, neither understanding our language nor our purpose--to Spoke's office, and then it being necessary to secure the services of a magistrate in uniting the couple, I departed to seek the justice of the peace, who was still awake--for justice rarely slept in camp at that hour, but was commonly engaged at the Bella Union playing poker, whilst Spoke sought after the groom, Ah Sam, whom he found in a Chinese den stupidly drunk from smoking opium, having taken such means to wear the edge off his suspense while we were rescuing his affianced. Not only was he stupidly but perversely drunk; but he declared in imperfect English that he had concluded not to marry that night, to which observation attorney Spoke, becoming profane, jerked him from the cot whereon he lay, and grasping him about the neck with a strangulating hold, bore him into the street and toward his office, intimating loudly that this business had been proceeded with too far to be receded from, and that the marriage must be consummated that night with or without the consent of the principals. Ah Sam resigned himself to matrimony. The office was reached, the door opened and out in the darkness bolted the bride, for she knew not what these preparations meant, or whether she had fallen among friends or enemies.
After a lively chase we cornered and caught her; and having thus at last brought this refractory couple together we placed them in position, and the justice commenced the ceremony by asking Hi Sing if she took that man for her lawful wedded husband, which interrogatory being Chaldaic to her, she replied only by an unmeaning and unspeculative stare. Spoke, who seemed destined to be the soul and mainspring of this whole affair, now threw light on the Mongolian intellect by bringing into play his stock of Chinese English, and translating to her the language of the justice thus: "You like 'um he, pretty good?" Upon which her face brightened, and she nodded assent. Then turning to the groom, he called in a tone fierce and threatening, "You like 'um she?" and Ah Sam--who was now only a passive object in the hands of Spoke, forced and galvanized into matrimony--dared not do otherwise than give in his adhesion, upon which the justice pronounced them man and wife; whereupon two Virginians present with their violins (all Virginians fiddle and shoot well) struck up the "Arkansas Traveler;" and the audience--which was now large, every barroom in Jamestown having emptied itself to witness our Chinese wedding--inspired by one common impulse, arose and marched seven times about the couple. Ah Sam was now informed that he was married "American fashion," and that he was free to depart with his wedded encumbrance.
But Ah Sam, whose intoxication had broken out in full acquiescence with these proceedings, now insisted on making a midnight tour of all the saloons in camp, and treating everybody to the deathly whiskey vended by them, to which the crowd--who never objected to the driving of this sort of nails in their own coffins--assented, and the result of it was (Ah Sam spending his money very freely) that when daylight peeped over the eastern hills the Bella Union saloon was still in full blast; and while the justice of the peace was winning Spoke's thirty hard-earned dollars in one corner, and the two Virginians still kept the "Arkansas Traveler" going on their violins in another, Stephen Scott (afterward elected to Congress) was weeping profusely over the bar, and on being interrogated as to the cause of his sadness by General Wyatt, ex-member of the state senate, Scott replied that he could never hear played the air of "Home, Sweet Home" without shedding tears.
Ah Sam departed with his bride in the morning, and never were a man's prospects brighter for a happy honeymoon until the succeeding night, when he was waylaid by a band of disguised white men in the temporary service and pay of old Ching Loo; and he and Hi Sing were forced so far apart that they never saw each other again.
Ah Sam returned to the attorney, apparently deeming that some help might be obtained in that quarter; but Spoke intimated that he could no longer assist him, since it was every man's special and particular mission to keep his own wife after being married; although he added, for Ah Sam's comfort, that this was not such an easy matter for the Americans themselves, especially in California.
Upon this Ah Sam apparently determined to be satisfied with his brief and turbulent career in matrimony; and betaking himself again to Swett's Bar cooked in such a villainous fashion and desperate vigor, finding thereby a balm for an aching heart, that in a twelvemonth several stalwart miners gave up their ghosts through indigestion, and the little graveyard on the red hill thereby lost forever its distinctive character of affording a final resting place only to those who had died violent deaths.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Yorkville Enquirer, Yorkville, South Carolina, June 17, 1891, page 1
SERVING ON A JURY.
Prentice Mulford Tells of an Interminable Lawsuit.
(Copyrighted by the Author.)
Year after year, and term after term, the great case of Table Mountain Tunnel vs. New York Tunnel used to be called in the court held at Sonora, Tuolumne County. The opposing claims were on opposite sides of the great mountain wall, which here described a semicircle. When these two claims were taken up, it was supposed the pay streak followed the mountain's course; but it had here taken a freak to shoot straight across a flat formed by the curve. Into this ground, at first deemed worthless, both parties were tunneling.
The farther they tunneled, the richer grew the pay streak. Every foot was worth a fortune. Both claimed it. The law was called upon to settle the difficulty. The law was glad, for it had then many children in the county who needed fees. Our lawyers ran their tunnels into both of these rich claims, nor did they stop boring until they had exhausted the cream of that pay streak. Year after year, Table Mountain vs. New York Tunnel Company was tried, judgment rendered first for one side and then for the other, then appealed to the Supreme Court, sent back, and tried over, until at last it had become so encumbered with legal barnacles, parasites, and cobwebs, that none other than the lawyers knew or pretended to know aught of the rights of the matter.
Meantime, the two rival companies kept hard at work, day and night. Every ounce over the necessary expense of working their claims and feeding and clothing their bodies went to maintain lawyers. The case became one of the institutions of the county. It outlived several judges and attorneys. The county town throve during this yearly trial. Eventually jurors competent to try this case became very scarce. Nearly everyone had "sat on it," or had read or heard or formed an opinion concerning it, or said they had.
The sheriff and his deputies ransacked the hills and gulches of Tuolumne for new Table Mountain vs. New York Tunnel jurors. At last, buried in an out-of-the-way gulch, they found me. I was presented with a paper commanding my appearance at the county town, with various pains and penalties affixed, in case of refusal. I obeyed. I had never before formed the twelfth of a jury. In my own estimation, I rated only as the twenty-fourth. We were sworn in; sworn to try the case to the best of our ability. It was ridiculous that I should swear to this, for internally I owned I had no ability at all as a juror. We were put in twelve armchairs. The great case was called. The lawyers, as usual, on either side, opened by declaring their intentions to prove themselves all right and their opponents all wrong. I did not know which was the plaintiff, which the defendant. Twenty-four witnesses on one side swore to something, to anything, to everything; thirty-six on the other swore it all down again. They thus swore against each other for two days and a half. The court was noted for being an eternal sitter. He sat fourteen hours per day. The trial lasted five days.
Opposing counsel, rival claimants, even witnesses, all had maps, long, brilliant, particolored maps of their claims, which they unrolled and held before us and swung defiantly at each other. The sixty witnesses testified from 1849 up to 1864. After days of such testimony as to ancient boundary lines and ancient mining laws, the lawyers on either side, still more to mystify the case, caucused the matter over and concluded to throw out about half of such testimony as being irrelevant. But they could not throw it out of our memories.
The "summing up" lasted two days more. By this time, I was a mere idiot in the matter. I had, at the start, endeavored to keep some track of the evidence, but they managed to snatch every clue away as fast as one got hold of it. We were "charged" by the judge and sent to the jury room. I felt like both a fool and a criminal. I knew I had not the shadow of an opinion or a conclusion in the matter. However, I found myself not alone. We were out all night. There was a stormy time between the three or four jurymen who knew or pretended to know something of the matter. The rest of us watched the controversy, and, of course, sided with the majority. And, at last, a verdict was agreed upon.
It has made so little impression on my mind that I forget now whom it favored. It did not matter. Both claims were then paying well, and this was a sure indication that the case would go to the supreme court. It did. This was in 1860. I think it made these yearly trips up to 1867. Then some of the more obstinate and combative members of either claim died, and the remainder concluded to keep some of the gold they were digging instead of paying it out to fee lawyers. The Table Mountain vs. New York Tunnel case stopped. All the lawyers save two or three emigrated to San Francisco or went to Congress. I gained but one thing from my experience in the matter--an opinion. It may or may not be right. It is that juries in most cases are humbugs.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Yorkville Enquirer, Yorkville, South Carolina, June 24, 1891, page 1
ABOUT PIONEER COOKING.
PRENTICE MULFORD'S INTERESTING CULINARY REMINISCENCES.
Unbalanced Cooks, Hurried Cooks, Flurried Cooks, Literary Cooks,
Neat Cooks and Slovenly Cooks--A Strange
Adventure with a Mess of Rice.
(Copyrighted by the Author.)
I lived once with an unbalanced cook. Culinarily he was not self-poised. He lacked judgment. He was always taking too large cooking contracts. He was for a time my partner. He was a lover of good living and willing to work hard for it over a cook stove. He would for a single Sunday's dinner plan more dishes than his mind could eventually grasp or his hands handle. And when he had exhausted the whole of the limited gastronomical repertoire within our reach he would be suddenly inspired with a troublesome propensity to add hash to the programme. In cooking, as I have said, he lost his balance. His imagination pictured more possibilities than his body had strength to carry out. So busied in getting up a varied meal, he would in a few minutes' leisure attempt to shave himself or sew on shirt or pantaloon buttons. This put too many irons in the fire.
A man who attempts to shave while a pot is boiling over, or a roast requiring careful watching is in the oven, will neither shave nor cook well. He will be apt to leave lather where it is not desirable, as he sometimes did. Trousers buttons are not good in soup. I do not like to see a wet shaving brush near a roast ready to go into the oven. The aesthetic taste repudiates these hints at combination. Then sometimes in the very crisis of a meal he became flurried. He rushed about in haste overmuch, with a big spoon in one hand and a giant fork in the other, looking for missing stove covers and pot lids seldom found until the next day, and then in strange places. Nothing is well done which is done in a hurry, especially cooking. Some argue that men and women put their magnetic and sympathetic influences in the food they prepare. If a man kneading bread be in a bad temper he puts bad temper in the bread, and that bad temper goes into the person who eats it, or if he be dyspeptic he kneads dyspepsia in his dough. It is awful to think what we may be eating. I think the unbalanced cook puts flurries in his stews, for I felt sometimes as if trying to digest a whirlwind after eating this man's dinners. He ruled the house. I was his assistant. I was his victim. I was the slave of the spit, and the peon of the frying pan.
When his energies culminated and settled on hash, when already the stovetop was full of dishes in preparation, I was selected as the proper person to chop the necessary ingredients. We had neither chopping knife nor tray. The mining stores then did not contain such luxuries. This to him made no difference. He was a man who rose superior to obstacles, circumstances, and chopping trays. He said that hash could be chopped with a hatchet on a flat board. He planned; I executed. He theorized and invented; I put his inventions in practice. But never successfully could I chop a mass of beef and boiled potatoes with a hatchet on a flat board. The ingredients during the operation would expand and fall over the edge of the board. Or the finer particles would violently fly off at each cut of the hatchet and lodge on the beds or other unseemly places.
I do not favor a dinner of many courses, especially if it falls to my lot to prepare these courses. Few cooks enjoy their own dinners, for two reasons--first, they eat them in anticipation; this nullifies the flavor of the reality; second, the labor of preparation fatigues the body and takes the keen edge from the appetite. Having kept my own house for years I know whereof I speak. Two hours' work about a hot stove exhausts more than four hours' work out of doors. Americans in Europe are shocked, or pretend to be, at sight of women doing men's work in the fields. They are much better off than the American woman, five-sixths of whose life is spent in the kitchen. The outdoor woman shows some blood through the tan on her cheeks. The American kitchen housewife is sallow and bleached out.
I once lived near a literary cook. It was to him by a sort of natural heritage that fell the keeping of the Hawkins Bar library, purchased by the "boys" way back in the A.D. eighteen hundred and fifties. The library occupied two sides of a very small cabin, and the man who kept it lived on or near the other two sides. There, during nights and rainy days, he read and ate. His table, a mere flap or shelf projecting from the wall, was two-thirds covered with books and papers, and the other third with a never-cleared-off array of table furniture, to wit: A tin plate, knife, fork, tin cup, yeast powder can, pepper box, ditto full of sugar, ditto full of salt, a butter plate, a bottle of vinegar and another of molasses, and maybe, on occasions, one of whiskey. On every book and paper were more or less of the imprint of greasy fingers or streaks of molasses. The plate, owing to the almost entire absence of the cleansing process, was even embedded in a brownish, unctuous deposit, the congealed oleaginous overflow of months of meals.
There he devoured beef and lard, bacon and beans and encyclopedias, Humboldt's Cosmos and dried apples, novels and physical nourishment at one and the same time. He went long since where the weary cease from troubling, and the wicked, let us hope, are at rest. Years ago, passing through the deserted Bar, I peeped in at Morgan's cabin. A young oak almost barred the door, part of the roof was gone, the books and shelves had vanished; naught remained but the old miner's stove and a few battered cooking utensils. I had some thought at the time of camping for the night on the Bar, but this desolate cabin and its associations of former days contrasted with the loneliness and solitude of the present proved too much for me. I feared the possible ghost of the dead librarian, and left for a populated camp. Poor fellow! While living, dyspepsia and he were in close embrace. A long course of combined reading and eating ruined his digestion. One thing at a time; what a man does he wants to do with all his might.
Eggs in the early days were great luxuries. Eggs then filled the place of oysters. A dish of ham and eggs was one of the brilliant anticipations of the miner resident in some lonesome gulch when footing it to the nearest large camp. A few enterprising and luxurious miners kept hens and raised chickens. The coons, coyotes, and foxes were inclined to "raise" those chickens too. There was one character on Hawkins Bar whose coop was large and well stocked. Eggs were regularly on his breakfast table, and he was the envied of many. Generous in disposition, oft he made holiday presents of eggs to his friends. Such a gift was equivalent to that of a turkey in older communities. One foe to this gentleman's peace and the security of his chickens alone existed. That foe was whiskey. For whenever elevated and cheered by the cup which does inebriate, he would in the excess of his royal nature call his friends about him, even after midnight, and slay and eat his tenderest chickens.
Almost so certain as Kip got on a spree there came a feast and consequent midnight depletion of his chicken coop--a depletion that was mourned over in vain when soberer and wiser counsels prevailed. The pioneer beefsteaks of California were in most cases cut from bulls which had fought bull fights all the way up from Mexico. Firm in fiber as they were, they were generally made firmer still by being fried in lard. The meat was brought to the table in a dish covered with the dripping in which it had hardened. To a certain extent the ferocity and combativeness of human nature peculiar to the days of '49 were owing to obstacles thrown in the way of easy digestion by bull beef fried to leather in lard. Bad bread and bull beef did it. The powers of the human system were taxed to the uttermost to assimilate these articles. The assimilation of the raw material into bone, blood, nerve, muscle, sinew and brain was necessarily imperfect. Bad whiskey was then called upon for relief. This completed the ruin. Of course men would murder each other with such warring elements inside of them.
The ideas of our pioneer cooks and housekeepers regarding quantities, kinds, and qualities of provisions necessary to be procured for longer or shorter periods, were at first vague. There was an Argonaut who resided at Truett's Bar, and, in the fall of 1850, warned by the dollar-a-pound-for-flour experience of the past winter, he resolved to lay in a few months' provisions. He was a lucky miner. Were there now existing on that bar any pioneers who lived there in '49 they would tell you how he kept a barrel of whiskey in his tent on free tap. Such men are scarce and win name and fame. Said he to the Bar trader when the November clouds began to signal the coming rains, "I want to lay in three months' provisions." "Well, make out your order," said the storekeeper. This troubled G----. At length he gave it verbally thus: "I guess I'll have two sacks of flour, a side of bacon, ten pounds of sugar, two pounds of coffee, a pound of tea, and--and--a barrel of whiskey."
My own experience taught me some things unconsidered before. Once, while housekeeping, I bought an entire sack of rice. I had no idea then of the elastic and durable properties of rice. A sack looked small. The rice surprised me by its elasticity when put on to boil. Rice swells amazingly. My first pot swelled up, forced off the lid and oozed over. Then I shoveled rice by the big spoonful into everything empty which I could find in the cabin. Still it swelled and oozed. Even the washbasin was full of half-boiled rice. Still it kept on. I saw then that I had put in too much--far too much. The next time I tried half the quantity. That swelled, boiled up, boiled over and also oozed. I never saw such a remarkable grain. The third time I put [on] far less to cook. Even then it arose and filled the pot. The seeds looked minute and harmless enough before being soaked.
At last I became disgusted with rice. I looked at the sack. There was the merest excavation made in it by the quantity taken out. This alarmed me. With my gradually decreasing appetite for rice, I reflected and calculated that it would take seven years on that Bar ere I could eat all the rice in that sack. I saw it in imagination all boiled at once and filling the entire cabin. This determined my resolution. I shouldered the sack, carried it back to the store and said: "See here! I want you to exchange this cereal for something that won't swell so in the cooking. I want to exchange it for something which I can eat up in a reasonable length of time."
The storekeeper was a kind and obliging man. He took it back. But the reputation, the sting of buying an entire sack of rice, remained. The "boys" had "spotted" the transaction. The merchant had told them of it. I was reminded of that sack of rice years afterward.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Yorkville Enquirer, Yorkville, South Carolina, July 1, 1891, page 1
LIFE AS A COPPER MINER.
PRENTICE MULFORD DESCRIBES THE EXCITEMENT OF 1862.
A Fiercely Raging Fever--Search for a Lead--Sudden Development of Mineralogic and Geologic Wiseacres--Time, Labor, Health and Life Sunk in the Shafts.
(Copyrighted by the Author.)
In 1862-63 a copper fever raged in California. A rich vein had been found in Stanislaus County. A "city" sprang up around it and was called Copperopolis. The city came and went inside of ten years. When first I visited Copperopolis, it contained 3,000 people. When I last saw the place, 100 would cover its entire population.
But the copper fever raged in the beginning. Gold was temporarily thrown in the shade. Miners became speedily learned in surface copper indications. The talk far and wide was of copper "carbonates," "oxides," "sulphurets," "gosson." Great was the demand for scientific works on copper. From many a miner's cabin was heard the clink of mortar and pestle pounding copper rock, preparatory to testing it. The pulverized rock placed in a solution of diluted nitric acid, a knife blade plunged therein and coming out coated with a precipitation of copper was exhibited triumphantly as a prognosticator of coming fortune from the newly found lead. The fever flew from one remote camp to another. A green verdigris stain on the rocks would set the neighborhood copper crazy. On the strength of that one "surface indication" claims would be staked out for miles, companies formed, shafts in flinty rock sunk and cities planned. Nitric acid came in great demand. It was upset. It yellowed our fingers and burned holes in our clothes, but we loved it for what it might prove to us. A swarm of men learned in copper soon came from San Francisco.
They told all about it, where the leads should commence, in what direction they should run, how they should "dip," what would be the character of the ore, and what it would yield. We, common miners, bowed to their superior knowledge. We worshiped them. We followed them. We watched their faces as they surveyed the ground wherein had been found a bit of sulphuret or a green-stained ledge, to get at the secret of their superior right under ground. It took many months, even years, for the knowledge slowly to filter through our brains that of these men nine-tenths had no practical knowledge of copper or any other mining. The normal calling of one of the most learned of them all, I found out afterward to be that of a music teacher.
Old S------, the local geologist of Sonora, who had that peculiar universal genius for tinkering at anything and everything from a broken wheelbarrow to a clock, and whose shop was a museum of stones, bones and minerals collected from the vicinity, "classified," and named, some correctly and some possibly otherwise, took immediately on himself the mantle of a copper prophet, and saw the whole land resting on a basis of rich copper ore. He advised in season and out of season, in his shop and in the street, that all men, and especially young men, betake themselves to copper mining. It was, he said, a sure thing. It needed only pluck, patience, and perseverance. "Sink," he said, "sink for copper. Sink shafts wherever indications are found. Sink deep. Don't be discouraged if the vein does not appear at twenty, thirty, sixty or an hundred feet."
And they did sink. For several years they sank shafts all over our county and in many another county. In remote gulches and canyons they sank and blasted and lived on pork and beans week in and week out and remained all day underground, till the darkness bleached their faces. They sank and sank and saw seldom the faces of others of their kind, and no womankind at all. They lived coarsely, dressed coarsely, and no matter what they might have been, felt coarsely and in accordance acted coarsely. They sank time and money and years and even health and strength, and in nineteen cases out of twenty found nothing but barren rock or rock bearing just enough mineral not to pay.
I took the copper fever with the rest. In a few weeks I became an "expert" in copper. I found two veins on my former gold claim at Swett's Bar. I found veins everywhere. I really did imagine that I knew a great deal about copper mining, and being an honest enthusiast was all the more dangerous. The banks of the Tuolumne became at last too limited as my field for copper exploration and discovery. I left for the more thickly populated portion of the county, where there being more people there was liable to be more copper, and where the Halsey claim was located. The "Halsey" was having its day then as the king claim of the county. It had really produced a few sacks of ore, which was more than any other Tuolumne copper claim had done, and on the strength of this, its value was for a few months pushed far up into high and airy realms of finance.
I told some of my acquaintances in Sonora that I could find the "continuation" of the Halsey lead. They "staked" me with a few dollars, in consideration of which I was to make them shareholders in whatever I might find. Then I went forth into the chaparral to "prospect." The Halsey claim lay about a mile east of Table Mountain near Montezuma, a mining camp then far in its decline. Table Mountain is one of the geological curiosities, if not wonders of Tuolumne and California. Through Tuolumne it is a veritable wall, from 250 to 600 feet in height, flat as a floor on the top. That top had an average width of 300 yards. The "table" is composed of what we miners call "lava." It is a honeycombed, metallic-looking rock, which on being struck with a sledge emits a sulphurous smell. The sides to the ungeological eye seem of a different kind of rock. But parts of the sides are not of rock at all--they are of gravel.
On the eastern slope you may see from the old Sonora stage road two parallel lines, perhaps 200 feet apart, running along the mountainside. Mile after mile do these marks run, as level and exact as if laid there by the surveyor. Climb up to them and you find these lines enlarged to a sort of shelf or wave-washed and indented bank of hard cement, like gravel. You may crawl under and sit in the shade of an overhanging roof of gravel, apparently in some former age scooped out by the action of waves. Not only on the Table Mountain sides do you find these lines, but where Table Mountain merges into the plains about Knight's Ferry will you see these same water marks running around the many low conical hills.
A geological supposition. That's what water seems to have done outside of Table Mountain. Were I a geologist I should say that here had been a lake--maybe a great lake--which at some other time had suddenly from the first mark been drained down to the level of the second, and from that had drained off altogether. Perhaps there was a rise in the Sierra Nevada, and everything rising with it, the lake went up too suddenly on one side and so the waters went down on the other. Inside of Table Mountain there is an old river bed, smoothly washed by the currents of perhaps as many if not more centuries than any river now on earth has seen, and this forms a layer or core of gold-bearing gravel. In some places it has paid richly; in more places it has not paid at all.
I said to myself: "This Halsey lead, like all the leads of this section, runs northeast and southwest." (N.B.--Three years afterward we found there were no leads at all in that section.) "The Halsey lead must run under Table Mountain and come out somewhere on the other side." So I took the bearings of the Halsey lead, or what I then supposed were the bearings, for there wasn't any lead anyway, with a compass. I aimed my compass at a point on the ledge of the flat summit of Table Mountain. I hit it. Then I climbed up over the two water shelves or banks to that point. This was on the honeycombed lava crags. From these crags one could see afar north and south. South, over Tuolumne into Mariposa, the eye following the great white quartz outcrop of the Mother or Mariposa lead. North was Bear Mountain, the Stanislaus River and Stanislaus County.
This view always reminded me of the place where one very great and very bad historical personage of the past as well as the present showed another still greater and much better being all the kingdoms of the earth. For the earth wasn't all laid out, preempted and fenced in those days, and its kingdoms were small. Then I ran my lines over the flat top of Table Mountain, southeast and northwest. So they said ran all the copper leads, commencing at Copperopolis. So then we believed, while tossing with the copper fever. Certainly they ran somewhere, and ran fast too, for we never caught any paying copper vein in Tuolumne County, at least any that paid--except to sell.
I aimed my compass down the other side of the mountain. There, when the perpendicular lava rock stopped pitching straight up and down, sometimes fifty, sometimes two hundred feet, was a dense growth of chaparral--the kind of chaparral we called "chemisal." I got into the chemisal. Here the compass was of no more use than would be a certificate of Copperhead copper stock to pay a board bill. It was a furry, prickly, blinding, bewildering, blundering, irritating growth, which sent a pang through a man's heart and a pricker into his skin at every step. At last, crawling down it on all fours, for I could not walk, dirty, dusty, thirsty, and perspiring, I lit on a rock, an outcrop of ledge. It was gray and moss-grown. It hid and guarded faithfully the treasure it concealed. Like Moses, I struck the rock with my little hatchet. The broken piece revealed underneath a rotten, sandy-like, spongy formation of crumbling, bluish, greenish hue. It was copper! I had struck it! I rained down more blows! Red oxides, green carbonates, gray and blue sulphurets! I had found the Copperhead lead! I was rich. I got upon that rock and danced! Not a graceful, but an enthusiastic pas seul. I deemed my fortune made. I was at last out of the wilderness! But I wasn't.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Yorkville Enquirer, Yorkville, South Carolina, July 8, 1891, page 1
FOUNDED AND LAID OUT IN CALIFORNIA BY PRENTICE MULFORD.
The Majority of the Citizens Were, However, Skunks and Snakes, Not Men.
Rapid Rise and Fall of the Stock--The Death of the Boom.
(Copyrighted by the Author.)
I trudged back nine miles to Sonora, my pockets full of "specimens" from the newly discovered claim, my head a cyclone of copper-hued air castles. I saw the "boys." I was mysterious. I beckoned them to retired spots. I showed them the ores. I told them of the find. They were wild with excitement. They were half crazed with delight. And in ten minutes some of them went just as far into the domains of unrest and unhappiness for fear someone might find and jump the claim ere I got back to guard it. The Copperhead Company was organized that night.
The "Enthusiast," a man who lived in the very top loft of copper insanity, was sent down with me to superintend the sinking of the shaft. The secret was soon out. Shares in the vein were eagerly coveted. I sold a few feet for $500 and deemed I had conferred a great favor on the buyer in letting it go so cheaply. I lived up, way up, in tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars. The "company" in Sonora met almost every night to push things while the Enthusiast and myself blasted and burrowed in the rock. By day they exhausted their spare cash in horse hire, riding down to the claim in hope of being on hand when the next blast should reveal a bed of ore, immense in breadth and unfathomable in depth.
My company was made up chiefly of lawyers, doctors, politicians and editors. They never realized how much they were indebted to me. For four months I made them feel rich, and if a man feels rich what more should he want? For a millionaire can do no more than feel rich.
Feeling certain that the Copperhead was a very rich claim, and that other rich claims would be developed from the "extensions," and that a bustling town would be the result, I preempted a section of the land which I deemed most valuable, on which it was intended that "Copperhead City" should be built. This "city" I partly laid out. I think this was the third city I had laid out in California.
There is a sepulchral and post-mortem suggestion in the term "laid out" which is peculiarly applicable to all the "cities" which I attempted to found, and which "cities" invariably foundered. Actuated, also, at that time, by those business principles so largely prevalent in most Christian communities, I "claimed" the only spring of good drinking water in the neighborhood of my "city." My intent in this was in time to realize a profit from the indirect sale of this water to such of the future "city's" population as might want water--not to sell it by the glass or gallon, of course; but if there was to be a "city" it would need water works. The water works would necessarily lie on my land. I would not be guilty of the inhumanity of selling water to parch-tongued people, but I proposed that the "city" should buy of me the ground out of which came the water.
But one house was ever erected in Copperhead City proper, and that had but one room. But three men ever lived in it. Yet the city was thickly populated. It was located in a regular jungle, so far as a jungle is ever attained in California, and seemed the head center and trysting place of all the rattlesnakes, coons, skunks, owls, and foxes on the west side of Table Mountain. When the winter wore off and the warm California spring wore on and merged into the summer heat of May, and the pools made by the winter rains dried up, I think all the rattlesnakes and copperheads for miles around went for my preempted spring of pure water.
The "city"--I mean the house--was located within a few feet of the spring. Returning thither at noon for dinner, I have started half a dozen snakes from the purlieus and suburbs of that spring. Snakes get dry like human beings. Snakes love water. Snakes, poor things, can't get anything else to drink, and must fill up on water. These were sociable snakes. When startled at our approach they would not run away from our society. No. They preferred to remain in the "city," and so, in many instances, they ran under the house. It is not pleasant at night to feel that you are sleeping over a veteran rattler four feet long, with a crown of glory on his tail in the shape of fourteen or fifteen rattles. You won't crawl under your house to evict such a rattlesnake, either. Skunks inhabited our "city," also. Skunks know their power--their peculiar power.
The evening gloaming seems the favorite time for the skunk to go abroad. He or she loves the twilight. There must be a vein of sentiment in these far-smelling creatures. I have in the early evening traveled up the only street our "city" ever laid out--a trail--and ahead of me on that trail I have seen a skunk. I was willing he should precede me. In the matter of rankness I was perfectly willing to fall a long way behind him. Now, if you have studied skunks you will know that it is far safer to remain in the skunk's rear than to get ahead of him, because when he attacks with his favorite aromatic means of offensive defense he projects himself forward (as it were). I have then, in my city, had a skunk keep the trail about fifty feet ahead of me at a pace which indicated little alarm at my presence, and, do my best, I could not frighten the animal, nor could I get ahead of him or her. If I ran he ran; if I walked he concurred in rapidity of pace. I dared not approach too near the animal. I would rather break in upon the "sacred divinity" which, they say, "doth hedge a king" than transgress the proper bounds to be observed with reference to a skunk. Let a king do his best, and he cannot punish an intruder as can a skunk.
The skunk is really a pretty creature. Its tail droops over its back, like the plumes of the Knight of Navarre. It is an object which can really be admired visually at a distance. Do not be allured by him to too near approach. "Beware! he's fooling thee!"
At last it dawned upon the collective mind of the Copperhead Company that their superintendent, the Enthusiast, was digging too much and getting down too little. They accepted his resignation. It mattered little to him, for by this time his mind was overwhelmed by another stupendous mining scheme, to which the Copperhead was barely a priming. He had the happy talent of living in these golden visions which, to him, were perfect realities. He held the philosophy that the idea, the hope, the anticipation of a thing is sometimes more "the thing" than the thing itself.
The Enthusiast's rich mines lay principally in his head, but his belief in them gave him as much pleasure as if they really existed. It was like marrying, sometimes. The long-sought-for, longed-for, wished-for wife or husband turns out, as a reality, a very different being from what he or she was deemed while in process of being longed and sought for. The long-longed-for may have been estimated an angel. The angel, after wedlock, may prove to have been a myth. The reality may be a devil, or within a few shades or degrees of a devil.
So the shaft was sunk, as they said, properly and scientifically, by the new Superintendent. The rock got harder as we went down, the ore less, the vein narrower, the quantity of water greater, the progress slower, the weekly expenses first doubled and then trebled, the stock became less coveted, and as to reputed value, reached that fatal dead level which really means that it is on its downward descent. The shareholders' faces became longer and longer at their weekly Sunday afternoon meetings in the Sonora courthouse.
The Copperhead claim and Copperhead City subsided quietly. The shareholders became tired of mining for coin to pay assessments out of their own pockets. They came at last to doubt the ever-glowing hopeful assertion of the Enthusiast that from indications he knew the "ore was forming." The inevitable came. Copperhead City was deserted by its human inhabitants. The skunk, the snake, the squirrel, the woodpecker and the buzzard came again into full possession, and I bitterly regretted that I had not sold more at ten dollars a foot when I found the stock a drug at ten cents.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Yorkville Enquirer, Yorkville, South Carolina, July 15, 1891, page 1
COMMENCEMENT OF PRENTICE MULFORD'S ORATORICAL CAREER.
He Tried His First Lecture on a Selected Audience in a Country Court House,
and Next on the County--The County Survived--
Characteristics of the Audience.
(Copyrighted by the Author.)
On reaching Sonora, Tuolumne County, I went to work and dug post holes for a living. Inspired by the posts or the holes, I wrote what I called a lecture. This I learned by heart. Next I practiced its delivery in the woods, behind barns, and sometimes at early morn in the empty courthouse--for the temple of justice in Sonora stood open night and day, and he that would might enter and sleep on the benches, or even in the bar itself, as many did in those days.
Many weeks I drilled and disciplined this lecture, addressing it to rocks, trees, barns, and sometimes to unseen auditors wandering about, whose sudden appearance would cover me with confusion and send me blushing home.
At last I concluded to risk myself on an experimental audience. I borrowed one for the occasion. Going into the main street of Sonora one evening, I collected half a dozen appreciative souls and said, "Follow me to the courthouse; I would have a few words with you." There was a county clerk, his deputy, a popular physician and saloonkeeper, and an enterprising carpenter. They followed me wonderingly. Arrived at the courthouse I seated them, marched myself to the judge's bench, stuck two candles in two bottles, lit them, and then informed the crowd that I had brought them hither to serve as an experimental audience to a lecture I proposed delivering. After which I plunged into the subject, and found that portion of the brain which with a speaker always acts independent of the rest, wondering that I should be really talking to live auditors.
There is a section of a man's faculties, during the operation of speaking in public, which will always go wandering around on its own hook, picking up all manner of unpleasant thoughts and impressions. Apparently it is ever on the watch to find something which shall annoy the other half. It seems to me that no one can become a very successful speaker or actor until this idle, vagrant part of the mind is put down altogether, total forgetfulness of all else save the work in hand be established, and self-consciousness abolished. However, I spoke half the piece to my borrowed audience, and then, feeling that I could really stand fire, told them they could go home.But Dr.------, constituting himself spokesman, rose and declared that having served as hearers for half the lecture they thought they were entitled to the other half. Being thus encored, I gave them the other half.
A great apprehension was now taken from my mind. I could speak to a crowd without forgetting my lines, and deemed myself already a lecturer if not an orator. I did not then realize how vast is the difference between mere speaking and the properly delivering of words and sentences to a multitude, be it large or small; how unfit are the tone, pitch, and manner of ordinary converse to public speaking; how a brake must be put on every word and syllable, to slow down its accentuation and make it audible in a hall; how great the necessity for deliberation in delivery; how the force and meaning of entire sentences may be lost by a gabbling, imperfect, and too rapid enunciation; how the trained speaker keeps perfect control of himself, not only as to his delivery, but the mood underneath it; which should prompt how much depends on the establishment of a certain chain of sympathy betwixt speaker and audience, and how much the establishment of such chain depends on the speaker's versatility to accommodate himself to the character, intelligence, moods, and requirements of different audiences.
I state this, having since my debut in the Sonora courthouse learned these things, and learned also that nature has not given me the power to surmount all these difficulties. I am not a good speaker, as many doubtless discovered before I did. However, my friends whom I consulted said by all means give the lecture in public, knowing, of course, that I wanted them to encourage me, and feeling this to be the best way of getting rid of me. So I had posters printed and commenced public life on a small field. I hired a hall, admittance twenty-five cents. I felt guilty as I read this on the bills. I read one alone furtively by moonlight, because after they were posted and the plunge taken I was ashamed to appear by daylight on the streets. It seemed so presumptuous to ask respectable, God-fearing citizens of that town to sit and hear me. This was a result of the regular oscillations of my mental and temperamental seesaw.
I was always too far above the proper scale of self-esteem one day and too far below it the next. The real debut was not so easy as the preliminary, borrowed, bogus one. There were the hard, stern, practical people present, who counted on receiving their regular "two bits" worth of genuine, solid fact, knowledge and profitable information, who discounted all nonsense, didn't approve of it and didn't understand it. I felt their cold and withering influence as soon as I mounted the platform: Not many of such hearers were present, but that was enough to poison. I saw their judgment of my effort in their faces. I weakly allowed those faces, and the opinions I deemed shadowed forth on them, to paralyze, psychologize and conquer me. I allowed my eyes, numberless times, to wander and meet their stony, cynical gaze, and, at each time, the basilisk orbs withered up my self-assertion and self-esteem. Becoming more and more demoralized, I sometimes cowardly omitted or forgot what I deemed my boldest matter and best hits. However, the large majority of the audience, being kindly disposed toward me, heard, applauded and pronounced the lecture a "success."
Some ventured, when it was over, to advise me that the subject matter was much better than the manner of its delivery. Of that there was not the least doubt. In speaking, I had concentrated matter enough for two hours' proper delivery into one, and a part of the mental strain and anxiety during the lecture was to race my words so as to finish within the limits of an hour on time. I feared wearying the audience, and so took one of the best methods of doing so. The next day, self-esteem going up to fever heat, and my comparative failure not being so bad as the one I had anticipated when my estimates of myself were at zero, I determine on pressing my newly found vocation and "starring" Tuolumne County. Carried by this transient gleam of self-conceit beyond the bounds of good judgment, and overwhelmed with another torrent of composition, I wrote still another lecture, and advertised that. The curiosity, complaisance, and good nature of my friends I mistook for admiration. Indeed, during the fever, I planned a course, or rather a constant succession, of lectures which might, if unchecked, have extended to the present time. But on the second attempt, I talked largely to empty benches--a character of audience I have since become accustomed to, and with whom I am on terms of that friendship and sympathy only begotten of long acquaintance. The benches were relieved here and there by a discouraged-looking hearer who had come in on a free ticket, and who, I felt, wanted to get out again as quickly as possible. Then, I knew that my friends did not care to hear me any more. This was bitter, but necessary and useful.
I next gave the lecture at Columbia. Columbia, though but four miles distant, was then the rival of Sonora as the metropolis of Tuolumne County, and it was necessary to secure a Columbian endorsement before attempting to star it through the provincial cities of Jimtown, Chinese Camp, Don Pedro's, and Pine Log. I billed Columbia, hired the theater for $2.50, and, after my effort, had the satisfaction of hearing from a friend that the appreciative and critical magnates of the town had concluded to vote me a "success." Then I spoke at Jamestown, Coulterville, Mariposa, Snelling's and other places, with very moderate success.
Perhaps I might have arisen to greater distinction or notoriety than that realized on the Tuolumne field had I better known that talent of any sort must be handled by its possessor with a certain dignity to ensure respect. Now, I traveled from town to town on foot. I was met, dusty and perspiring, tramping on the road, by people who knew me as the newly arisen local lecturer. I should have traveled in a carriage. I posted my own bills. I should have employed the local bill sticker. I lectured for ten cents per head, when I should have charged fifty. Sometimes I dispensed with an admittance fee altogether and took up contributions. In Coulterville, the trouser buttons of Coultervillians came back in the hat, mixed with dimes. Looking back now on that experience, I can sincerely say to such as may follow me in any modification of such a career, "Never hold yourself cheap." If you put a good picture in a poor frame, it is only the few who will recognize its merit.
Once in New York I spoke to a fair audience in a hall on the ground floor. Things went on beautifully till 9 o'clock, when a big brass band struck up in the bigger hall over my head and some fifty couples commenced waltzing. It was an earthquake reversed. It ruined me for the night.
On another fearful occasion I was speaking at Bridgehampton, Long Island, on the subject of temperance. I lectured on temperance occasionally, though I never professed teetotalism--for any length of time. One can lecture on temperance just as well without being a total abstainer--and perhaps better. Now, I was born, and they attempted to bring me up properly near Bridgehampton. Everyone knew me and my ancestors, immediate and remote. I had not spoken over ten minutes when a man well-known in the neighborhood and much moved by the whiskey he had been drinking all day arose and propounded some not very intelligible queries. I answered him as well as I could. Then he put more. Nay, he took possession of the meeting. No one ventured to silence him.
They are a very quiet, orderly people in Bridgehampton. Such an interruption of a meeting had never before been heard of there, and the people seemed totally unable to cope with the emergency. The wretch delivered himself of a great variety of remarks, but ever and anon recurred to the assertion that "he'd vouch for my character, because he not only knew me, but my parents before me." "He was present," he said, "at their wedding, which he remembered well from the fact of wine being served there, as well as rum, gin, and brandy." That for me was a laborious evening. Sometimes I spoke, and then the inebriate would get the floor and keep it. He rambled about the aisles, allayed a cutaneous disturbance in his back by rubbing himself against one of the fluted pillars and, when I had at last finished, made his way up to the choir and, interpolating himself between two damsels, sang everything and everybody out of tune from a temperance hymn book.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Yorkville Enquirer, Yorkville, South Carolina, July 22, 1891, page 1
LOOKING FOR OFFICE.
PRENTICE MULFORD'S ASPIRATIONS TO BE A LEGISLATOR.
He Forgot What Side He Was On, and the Results Were Disastrous--Canvassed the County with a Non-Political Comic Lecture--Horseback Oratory.
(Copyrighted by the Author.)
This is the confession of a political villain; not, however, a perjured political villain. I never swore to run for office for my country's good. I did run once for an office for my own good. I was unsuccessful. Virtue has its own reward; so has vice. The wicked do not always flourish like green bay trees. Indeed, judging from a home experience, I am not prepared to say that they flourish at all. The fall political campaign of 1866-7 came on while I was carrying my comic lecture about the camps of Tuolumne, Stanislaus, and Mariposa. A thought one day took possession of me, "Why not run for the legislature?"
I consulted with one of the pillars of our party. He belonged to Oak Flat. I took the pillar behind Dan Munn's store on Rattlesnake Creek and avowed my intention. The pillar took a big chew of tobacco, stared, grinned, and said: "Why not?" I consulted with another pillar behind Bob Love's store in Montezuma. He was throwing dirt from a prospect hole with a long-handled shovel. He leaned on the shovel, blew his nose au naturel without artificial aid, grinned, and after some deliberation said: "Why not?" I found another pillar of our party slumming out a reservoir near Jamestown. He was enveloped in yellow mud to his waist, and smaller bodies of mud plastered him upward. A short pipe was in his mouth and a slumgullion shovel in his hand. He said: "Go in for it and win."
With less assurance and more fear and trembling I consulted with other and more influential party pillars in Sonora, the county town. Some hesitated; some were dignified; some cheered me on; some said, "Why not?" I made the same remark to myself, and replied, "Why not?" The assembly was a good gate for entering the political field. My ideas of its duties were vague. Of my own qualifications for the post I dared not think. They may have been about equal to those with which I entered the Henry's galley as a sea cook. But what matter? Other men no better qualified than I had gone to Sacramento, received their $10 per diem and came back alive. I could do that. They seemed to stand as well as ever in the estimation of their constituents. Then "Why not?" The die was cast. I announced myself in the county paper as a candidate for the state assembly.
The county convention assembled at Sonora. It was a body distinguished for wisdom and jurisprudence. Judge Ferral, of our city, was there. He was then a bright-eyed, active, curly-haired youth, and had already given much promise of his successful career. Judge Leander Quint was there. H. P. Barber presided. Tuolumne County had not then been shorn of its brightest lights by the necessities of the rest of the state and the world. Somebody nominated me. I arose and paid somebody else five dollars. This was the first price of ambition. Then I found myself making my nominating speech. It was a very successful speech. I left out politics altogether, made no pledges, discussed no principles and talked no sense. At first the audience stared. Then they laughed immoderately. So did I. Then they nominated me by acclamation. It was one of the proudest moments of my life, although I did not know it at the time. Taken for all in all, it was no wonder they laughed. I was obliged to laugh myself.
It was the laugh of a fiend! I wanted the position for the per diem. I was buried in turpitude. My colleagues were all running on principle to save the country. It is singular that the motive of such a wolf in sheep's clothing as I was at that time was not detected. The great and good men, secure in their own rectitude and purity of purpose, by whom I was surrounded, never once guessed at the presence of the snake in their grass. Looking back at this occurrence after the lapse of nearly twenty-five years, I am more and more astonished that the party should have risked taking such a load as myself on its shoulders.
I had no position, no standing, next to no reputation, no property, no good clothes, no whole shoes, no fixed habitation and three sore toes. I had not nor did not realize the responsibilities of a citizen. I had no family, and could not realize the duties and responsibilities of those who were rearing young citizens for the great republic. Should such a man be sent to the state legislature? Of course not. Are such men ever sent? Of course not. I do not think now that at the period spoken of I was even incorruptible. Should a person who seldom saw over ten dollars in his possession at any one time be sent where he might be "approached" by designing men? Of course not. Was such a one ever sent? Never! The commonwealth of California ran a fearful risk in my nomination.
Few, probably none, suspected the mental misery I endured during this campaign. Because I knew and felt my turpitude.
Unlike my colleagues, I was untrue to my own convictions. They--but how I wished for their faith. It could move mountains of doubt. Mine couldn't. How I hated my conscience. It tormented me worse than a chronic colic. There I was standing shoulder to shoulder with patriots--battling bravely for a cause, a principle, while I--I cared for naught save a seat in the assembly at ten dollars a day.
It was a stirring campaign, that of 1866, in and about Tuolumne County. The antagonism was of the bitterest character. Political opponents reviled each other in print and sometimes peppered each other with pistols. Bullets flew about night and day. It was dangerous in Sonora to sleep in a clapboarded house in the average line of aim. The papers left nothing unsaid which could taunt and irritate. Editors went about the streets weighed down by masked batteries. It was calculated that 500 pounds of iron were daily packed about the streets in the shape of derringers, knives, and revolvers.
The champions of the opposing parties never met on the highway but that people peered and squinted from door and window for the bombardment to commence. Knives were bathed in gore. Barroom floors showed bloody stains. Men died with their boots on. Loaded shotguns lay in ambush behind front and back doors. The atmosphere smelled of blood and possible killing. Saloon plate-glass mirrors showed the track of pistol bullets. Mass meetings were assemblages of men from town and country, secretly armed. People spent most of their time hating each other. Ministers went behind the orthodox returns and preached sectional and partisan politics. The more vital tenets of religion were suspended for the time being with the writ of habeas corpus. I canvassed the county with my comic lecture. It took. It was popular with both parties. It was a pleasant relief from the heavier logic and argument used by heavier and more solid speakers. It was like the farce after the tragedy. It sent assemblies and mass meetings home in good humor.
They didn't want any more laws made. Everybody who had been sent to the legislature since California was created a state had been busy putting more laws on the statute books. There was an overplus. People couldn't keep count of the laws already made. Tuolumne then showed wisdom in its endeavor to send one man to the legislature of 1866-67 who, not being able to draw up a bill, could not have added a single new law to the mass already made. I gave my party a great deal of trouble.
Once in a private conversation with one I deemed a friend, although he belonged to the opposition, I committed myself in favor of greenbacks as a legal tender. Our party did not approve of greenbacks. Ours was the old-fashioned hard money dollar of our dads' party. I was hardly aware of this, through a lamentable ignorance of what we really did advocate. The county central committee, hearing of my treason, sent after me a messenger with a missive calling on me to explain. I saw then the horrible blunder I had made, and wished the earth would open and swallow me. Then I concluded to resign or to run away. But a man bolstered me up and advised me to deny the report, which I did in an open mass meeting.
Feeling that I had not done justice to the party in making an active canvass of the county, principally because I had no money to make a canvass with, by treating long lines of ever-ready patriots at every bar in Tuolumne, I concluded I would hold a series of private mass meetings in the daytime on horseback. I would do this on election day. I would gallop from poll to poll and make a speech at each poll. I had a route laid out embracing half the county. I made the initial equestrian speech at Jamestown. Thence I galloped to Shaw's Flat. Shaw's Flat upset me. The pillar of our party there, at whose saloon the polls were held, came to his door while I was speaking, took one look at me and walked off in disgust. I saw the disgust on his face an inch thick. It smote me. It threw a wet blanket over all this newly roused enthusiasm.
I started for Columbia, but all the way that man's face peered into mine. It robbed me of all courage and confidence. I had no further heart to continue the work. It was not at all the regular thing. It was an innovation on old party usages. The country even then was too old for such politico-equestrian heroics. I rode back to Jamestown, put the horse in his stable, and hid myself. The people did not agree to send me to Sacramento. Perhaps it was fortunate for them they did not. Probably it was for me. Whatever happens to a man in this life is probably the best thing for him, inasmuch as nothing else can happen to him.
Could the past but be recalled, with all its conditions, contingencies and accessories; could I once more renew this episode with the advantage of years of experience and accumulated wisdom, I might succeed and fill the post of legislator. But the future is apt to come too late. To be sure it was for me a period of folly and weakness. My soul even now squirms with shame to think of it. "And it should," I hear my fellow human judges saying. Of course it should. Man's first duty to himself is to hide his follies and bear himself as though he never committed any. Only I can afford to tell what a wretch I have been. Were I a candidate for office I could not. Someday, when the world is wiser, will men cease strutting about in their masks of propriety and wisdom, and publish their own past errors as freely as now they do those of their fellows? Is it a good preliminary previous to entrance into that world where "all things shall be revealed," where each action lies in its true nature, and where each one of us must "even to the teeth and forehead of our faults give in evidence." "Why not?"
PRENTICE MULFORD.Yorkville Enquirer, Yorkville, South Carolina, July 29, 1891, page 1
CANVASSING FOR VOTES.
DETAILS OF PRENTICE MULFORD'S POLITICAL CANVASS.
Ethics of Electioneering--A Linen Duster and a Bottle in Each Pocket--
Analysis of Some Politics--The Eagle in the Azure; Likewise the Buzzard..
(Copyrighted by the Author.)
Previous to this election, which did not elect me, Williams and I canvassed the county together. He aspired to the office of sheriff. We mounted our horses, and with long linen dusters on our backs and bottles of whiskey in our pockets, rode first to Spring Gulch, consisting of two groceries, six saloons, an empty hotel, twenty miners' cabins, a seedy schoolhouse, a seedier church, the hillsides around denuded of earth, torn and scarred by years of hydraulic washing, and showing great patches of bare yellow ledge covered with heaps of boulders. The few men met were in coarse, ragged, gray shirts and mud-stained duck pants, had a worn, worked-out look.
The few loungers about the Washington Saloon see William Saunders and myself riding down the hill. Our dusters and clean linen proclaim us as "candidates." Candidates means drinks. There is a gradual concentration of unemployed seediness at the Washington. We dismount; soon the coveted and cheering bottle is placed on the bar; a line of tumblers in skirmishing order forms behind it; everyone within sight and hearing is called up; a pause of glad anticipation ensues while the glasses are being filled; the precision of bar-room etiquette is strictly observed--that not a drop be swallowed until all are ready; then the dozen tumblers are simultaneously raised; the standing toast "Here's luck," and the reviving alcohol fulfills its mission. This is electioneering.
Sam White is the Bismarck of our interests in Spring Gulch. He is the standing delegate to the county convention from this precinct. He goes by virtue of a paying claim, a capacity for venturing among the rocks and shoals of saloons, gaming tables and innumerable calls to drink, without losing his head. He can drink deeply, quietly, and fearfully; he can drink himself into noise and turbulence and still keep a set of sober faculties in reserve underneath. We hold a short cabinet meeting with Sam behind the barn. He sees clearly the political complexion of Spring Gulch. Bob O'Leary is doubtful, but may be bought; Jack Shear and Tom Mead must be braced up to allegiance by whiskey; Miles and O'Gorman are mad because a favorite of theirs could not get the nomination for supervisor last year, and won't vote anyhow; Bob Jones is favorable to us, but wants to leave before the primary meeting comes off; the rest are sure for us or sure against us.
We visit the Franklin House, just opposite. The political candidate's money must not all be spent in one house. This is one of the fundamental principles in electioneering. Every saloon controls a few votes, or rather a few whiskey-sodden organizations, who are voted like machines. The solemn ordeal of an American treat is again witnessed. Jim Brown becomes affectionately and patriotically drunk, and as we ride away loudly proclaims himself a "white man and in favor of a white man's government."
We feel that Spring Gulch is secure. We carry it in our pocket. We ride a couple of miles over the ridge to Six-Bit Gulch. Red crags tower upward for hundreds of feet; a rivulet flows along, and on a little flat under a spreading live oak is an old log cabin.
Sam Lugar, gray and worn, resident in this gulch for the last sixteen years, sits outside the door smoking his evening pipe.
A hundred yards above is the residence of the "judge," another hard-working, whiskey-drinking hermit. A glance within shows the judge eating his evening meal. A child is playing about on the mud floor, whose creamy complexion and bright bead-like eyes indicate its Indian origin. Hanging above the fireplace are a gun, an Indian bow, a quiver full of glass-tipped arrows; on the shelf bits of gold-studded quartz, a bunch of crystals, petrifactions, and curiously shaped stones found by the "judge" from time to time in his diggings. There are boxes full of old magazines and newspapers; on the rude windowsill a coverless, well-worn copy of Shakespeare. The judge is tall, straight, and sallow in complexion. He has lived on this spot since 1849. Six-Bit Gulch was very rich. He has torn up virgin gold in the grass roots. He lives now on recollections of the flush times. Present failures and long-past successes form the staple of his conversation. His mining is merely secondary to another occupation--the great aspiration of his life--to beat a poker game over in Spring Gulch. He has been unsuccessfully trying this for the last seven years.
A bundle of aboriginal duskiness enveloped in a bright calico. gown, hanging about her adipose proportions, stirs as we enter. That is the judge's wife--a squaw. Her family down to the third generation are camped in the brush hard by. They visit the judge at stated intervals, and at such times the family expenses are trebled. The gray shirt and duck pants tied at the waist with a string constitute the judge's only dress suit. On the floor near him is a shapeless, wet mass of India rubber boots, shirt and pants, drenched and splashed with yellow mud. This man was once a spruce clerk in a New England store. At seventeen, the set and whiteness of his collars, the fit of his boots, the arrangement of hair and necktie were subjects of long and painful consideration before the mirror. He had his chosen one among the village girls; he saw her regularly home from the Sunday evening prayer meetings. The great gold fever of 1848 seized him. He saw a vision: A few months picking up nuggets in California; a triumphant return home; a wedding; a stylish mansion; a fast horse; a front pew; termination, a marble monument in the Terryville cemetery: "Beloved and respected by all who knew him, he sleeps in hope of a still brighter immortality."
We stop at the "judge's" for the night. Wife and child are sent off to the Indian camp in the chaparral. Sam Lugar drops in after supper. The judge is an incessant talker. The bottles and glasses are placed on the table. The judge becomes fatherly as to counsel and admonition against excess in drink. Also against gambling. He has peculiar theological views. Moses, he says, was a keen old miner. He and Aaron put up a plan to gain all the gold in the Israelites' possession. While Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the stone tablets, Aaron was counseling the making and worship of the golden calf. By such means did he concentrate in a lump all the Jews' jewelry. What then? Moses comes down, sees the calf, gets angry, breaks it into pieces, burns it up. But what becomes of the gold? Didn't Moses and Aaron sneak around that night and "pan it out" of the ashes?
The judge is his own theologian.
We visit Price, of Hawkins' Bar. Price is now the sole constituency of Hawkins'. He ran this bar in its golden infancy; he saw it in its youth; he is steadfast to it in its decay. Thirty-four years ago, eight hundred men lived here; the Tuolumne banks were lined with them, shaking their cradles.
Old Hawkins first discovered gold here. Price tells of the pickle jars full he had buried under the floor of his cabin. The secret could not be kept. They came trooping down the steep Red Mountain trail, blankets and tools on their backs, footsore, weary, thirsty, hungry--but hungrier still for gold. They put up tents and brush houses, or crept, slept and cooked under projecting rocks; they stood all day in ice-cold water; they overworked bodies hitherto unused to manual labor; they blistered delicate hands; they lived on bacon and heavy bread of their own making; they drank raw whiskey by the quart; they died, and were buried almost where they died, in nameless graves.
Up yonder, but a few yards in the rear of Price's cabin, is the old camp graveyard. The fence is rotting away and stands at various angles. The inscriptions on the headboards are half effaced by time and the elements. Some are split and have fallen down. Read "Jacob Peiser, aet. 27." He died close by in the gulch hard by, with a pistol bullet through him. A dispute over a claim. "Samuel Purdy, 31." Drowned trying to cross the river during a freshet. "John Wilkins, aet. 35." Killed by a cave in the bank claim about a hundred yards away. "Samuel Johnson, aet. 25." He dove with a sand bag to stop a great leak in the Ford Chann's headwall, and he stopped the leak in part with his own body, for the stream sucked him in the crevice and he never came up alive. "John Weddell, 35." Blown up by the premature explosion of a blast in the Split Rock quartz claim. "Abram Hewison, 45." Delirium tremens, stark mad at midnight, jumped into the river from the point yonder.
Price has seen all this. That was the climax of his life. Price's heaven is not in the future. It is in the past. It is embraced in a period about twenty-five years ago, when he made "an ounce per day." Those, he remarks, were times worth living for. Eight hundred souls then at Hawkins'; five gambling houses in full blast every night; music, dancing, and fandangos at either end of the bar.
The river roars unvexed toward the sea. It has burst through its dams and choked the races with sand. The scars and furrows on the hillsides are quite hidden by the thickly growing vegetation; young oaks and pines are coming up in the place of the old. Trail and road are overgrown with brush.
"Civilization" here put in a transient appearance. It scarred the hillsides with pits and furrows dug for gold. It cut down the wide-spreading symmetrical oaks. It forced the Tuolumne through race and flume from its channels. It built gaudy temples dedicated to the worship of Bacchus, resplendent with mirrors, pictures, and cut glassware, located on the very site where a few months previous stood the Indian's smoking wigwam. It brought toiling men, hard-fisted, awkward, ungainly, clumsy, with all grace and suppleness worked out of them and strong only to lift and dig. It brought all manner of men, educated and ignorant, cultivated and coarse, yet for whom Christian training, Christian Church, Christian Bible, Christian spire in city, town, and village pointing heavenward had failed to convince that gold was not the chief aim and end of all human effort.
By day there was labor drudging, labor spasmodic, a few prizes, many blanks, some hope, much more discouragement. By night, revelry, carousal, gambling, oaths, recklessness, pistol shots, knife thrusts, bloodshed, death. Bird and beast fled affrighted to lonelier and more secure retreats before the advent of the raging, cruel animal, man.
But now civilization has flown and nature seems easier and somewhat improved by its absence. Price is ours. He will walk nine miles on election day to Chinese Camp, the nearest precinct, to deposit a ballot for us. An order on the proprietor of the Phoenix Saloon for a generous supply of whiskey stimulates his devotion to his country. What a glorious land of liberty is this!
PRENTICE MULFORD.Yorkville Enquirer, Yorkville, South Carolina, August 19, 1891, page 1
SOME RECENT ANTIQUES.
PRENTICE MULFORD WRITES OF THE DESERTED MINING CAMP.
A Pilgrimage to Dry Bar Made Shortly Before the Return to the States.
Ghostlike Visions of the Past--Calling the Roll of the Old Crowd.
(Copyrighted by the Author.)
I was soon to leave for the Eastern states. When I realized that I was going, I found to my surprise that I had made a home in California, that it was an old home and about it clung all the memories and associations of an old home.
I wanted to visit the mines and take a farewell look at the camps where I had lived and worked in a period now fast becoming "old times," and I straightaway went.
The term antiquity is relative in its character. Twenty years may involve an antiquity as much as two hundred or two thousand. Indeed, as regards sensation and emotion, the more recent antiquity is, the more strongly is it realized and more keenly felt. Standing today on the hillside and looking down on the site of the camp where you mined twenty-five years ago, and then going down that hill and treading over that site, now silent and deserted, and you realize, so to speak, a live antiquity. So far as ancient Greece or Rome are concerned, their histories would make no different impression on us if dated six hundred years ago or six thousand. We are imposed upon by these rows of ciphers. They convey really no sense of time's duration. They are but mathematical sounds. We know only that these nations and these men and women lived, ate, slept, drank, quarrelled, coveted, loved, hated, and died along time ere we were born, and that of it all we have but fragments of their history, or rather fragments of the history of a few prominent individuals.
But when you stand alone at Dry Bar, where you mined when it was a lively camp in 1857, with its score of muddy sluice streams coursing hither and thither, its stores, its saloons, its hotel and its express office, and see now but one rotting pine log cabin, whose roof has tumbled in and whose sides have tumbled out; where all about is a silent waste of long-worked-off banks or bare ledge and piles of boulders in which the herbage has taken root; where every mark of the former houses and cabins has disappeared, save a mound here, or a pile of stone indicating a former chimney there, you have a lively realization of antiquity, though it be a recent one. You knew the men who lived here; you worked with them; you know the sites of the houses in which they lived; you have an event and a memory for every acre of territory hereabout. Down there, where the river narrows between those two high points of rock, once stood a rickety bridge. It became more and more shaky and dangerous, until one day Tom Wharton, the justice of the peace, fired by a desire pro bono publico and rather more than his ordinary quantity of whiskey, cut the bridge away with his axe and it floated downstream. Over yonder, on that sandy point, was the richest claim on the Bar.
Will you go down to Pot Hole Bar, two miles below? The trail ran by the river. But freshet after freshet has rushed over the bank and wiped out the track made by the footprints of a few years. There is no trace of the trail. The chaparral has grown over and quite closed it up. Here and there is a faint trace, and then it brings up short against a young pine or a buckeye, the growth of the last ten years. Yet in former days this path ranked in your mind of the importance of a town street. You had no idea how quickly nature, if left alone, will restore things to what we term "primitive conditions."
If a great city was deserted in these foothills, within twenty years' time the native growths would creep down and in upon it, start plantations of chaparral in the streets, festoon the houses with vines, while winged seeds would fill the gutters and cornices with verdure. It is a hard struggle through the undergrowth to Pot Hole Bar. No man lives there now. No man goes there. Even the boulder piles and bare ledges of fifteen years ago, marking the scarifying work of your race on mother earth's face, are now mounds overgrown with weeds. What solitude of ancient ruined cities equals this? Their former thousands are nothing to you as individuals; but you knew all the boys at Pot Hole. It was a favorite after-supper trip from Dry Bar to Pot Hole to see how the "boys" were getting on, and vice versa from Pot Hole to Dry Bar.
A cottontail rabbit sends a flash of white through the bushes. His family now inhabits Pot Hole. They came back after all of your troublesome race had left, and very glad were the "cottontails" of the riddance. There is a broken shovel at your feet, and nearby in the long grass you see the fragment of a sluice's false bottom, bored through with auger holes to catch the gold and worn quite thin by the attrition of pebble and boulder along its upper surface. This is about the only vestige of the miner's former work. Stop! On the hillside yonder is a moundlike elevation and beyond that a long green raised line. One marks the reservoir and the other the ditch.
It was the Pot Hole Company's reservoir, built after they had concluded to take water from the ditch and wash off a point of gravel jutting toward the river. They had washed it all off by 1856, and then the company disbanded and went their respective ways. Pot Hole lay very quiet for a couple of years, but little doing there save rocker washing for grub and whiskey by four or five men who had concluded that "grub and whiskey" were about all in life worth living for. A ''slouchy" crowd, prone to bits of rope to tie up their suspenders, unshaven faces, and not a Sunday suit among them.
They have long since gone. They are scattered for the most part you know not where. Two are living in San Francisco and are now men of might and mark. Another you have heard of far away in the Eastern states, living in a remote village whose name is never heard of outside the county bounds. One has been reported to you as "up north somewhere;" another down in Arizona "somewhere," and three you can locate in the county. That is but seven out of the one hundred who once dwelt here and roundabout. Now that recollection concentrates herself you do call to mind two others--one died in the county almshouse and another became insane and was sent to Stockton. That is all. Nine out of the one hundred that once resided at Dry Bar. It is mournful. The river monotonously drones, gurgles, and murmurs over the riffle. The sound is the same as in '58.
A bird on the opposite bank gives forth at regular intervals a loud querulous cry. It was a bird of the same species whose note so wore on the nerves of Mike McDonald as he lay dying of consumption in a big house which stood yonder, that, after anathematizing it, he would beseech his watcher to take a gun and blow the "cussed" thing's head off. Perhaps it is the same bird. The afternoon shadows are creeping down the mountainside. The outline of the hills opposite has not at all changed, and there, down by the bank, is the enormous fragment of broken rock against which Dick Childs built his brush shelter for the summer, and out of which he was chased by a sudden fall rise of the river. But it is very lonesome with all these people here so vivid in memory, yet all gone, and never, never to come back.
Here it is. The remains of your own cabin chimney, a pile of smoke-blackened stones in the tall grass. Of the cabin every vestige has disappeared. You built that chimney yourself. It was an awkward affair, but it served to carry out the smoke, and when finished you surveyed it with pleasure and some pride, for it was your chimney. Have you ever felt "snugger" and more cozy and comfortable since than you did on the long, rainy winter nights, when, the supper finished and the crockery washed, you and your "pard" sat by the glowing coals and prepared your pipes for the evening smoke? There were great hopes and some great strikes on Dry Bar in those days; that was in '52. Mining was still in the pan, rocker and long tom era; sluices were just coming in. Hydraulicking 100-foot banks and washing hills off the face of the earth had not been thought of. The dispute as to the respective merits of the long vs. the short-handled shovel was still going on. A gray or red shirt was a badge of honor. The deep riverbeds were held to contain enormous store of golden nuggets. River mining was in its wing and cofferdam phase.
Perhaps the world then seemed younger to you than now? Perhaps your mind then set little store on this picturesque spot, so wrapped were you in visions of the future? Perhaps then you wrote regularly to that girl in the States--your first heart's trouble--and your anticipation was fixed entirely on the home to be built up there on the gold you were to dig here? Perhaps the girl never married you, the home was never built and nothing approaching the amount of oro expected dug out. You held, then, Dry Bar in light estimation. It was for you only a temporary stopping place, from which you wished to get its gold as quickly as you could and get away from as soon as possible.
You never expected Dry Bar, its memories and associations thus to make for themselves a "local habitation and a name" in your mind. We live sometimes in homes we do not realize until much of their material part has passed away. A horned toad scuttles along the dry grass and inflates himself to terrify you as you approach. Those ratlike ground squirrels are running from hole to hole, like gossiping neighbors, and "chipping" shrilly at each other. These are old summer acquaintances at Dry Bar.
Is it with a feeling of curiosity you take up one of those stones handled by you thirty-one years ago and wonder how like or unlike you may be to yourself at that time? Are you the same man? Not the same young man, certainly. The face is worn; the eyes deeper set; the hair more or less gray, and there are lines and wrinkles where none existed then. But that is only the outside of your "soul case." Suppose that you, the John Doe of 1883, could and should meet the John Doe of 1853? Would you know him? Would you agree on all points with him? Could you "get" along with him? Could you "cabin" with him? Could you "summer and winter" with him?
Would the friends of the John Doe of '53, who piled up that chimney, be the friends of the present John Doe, who stands regarding its ruins? Are the beliefs and convictions of that J. Doe those of this J. Doe? Are the jokes deemed so clever by that J. Doe clever to this J. Doe? Are the men great to that J. Doe great to the present J. Doe? Does he now see the filmy, frothy fragments of scores of pricked bubbles sailing away and vanishing in air? If a man die shall he live again? But how much of a man's mind may die out and be supplanted by other ideas ere his body goes back to dust? How much of this J. Doe belongs to that J. Doe, and how much of the same man is there standing here?
PRENTICE MULFORD.Yorkville Enquirer, Yorkville, South Carolina, August 26, 1891, page 1
HOME FROM THE MINES.
PRENTICE MULFORD'S RETURN AFTER YEARS OF ABSENCE.
Some Phases of Steamer Life--From 'Frisco to the Isthmus, Across to
the Caribbean Coast and Thence to New York--Many Queer Characters.
(Copyrighted by the Author.)
After sixteen years of exile in California, I found myself rolling seaward and homeward through the Golden Gate in the Panama steamer Sacramento. The parting gun had been fired, the captain, naval cloak, cap, eyeglass and all, had descended from his perch of command on the paddlebox; the engine settled steadily to its work, Telegraph Hill, Meiggs' Wharf, Black Point, Alcatraz, Lime Point, Fort Point, one by one receded and crept into the depressing gloomy fog, the mantle in which San Francisco loves so well to wrap herself. The heave of the Pacific began to be plainly felt, and with it the customary misery.
The first two days out are devoted to sea- and homesickness. Everybody is wretched about something. No sooner is the steamer a mile beyond the Heads than we, who for years have been awaiting a blessed deliverance from California, are seized with unutterable longings to return. All at once we discover how pleasant is the land and its people. We review its associations, its life, its peculiar excitements, and the warm friendships we have made there. And now it is all fading in the fog: the Cliff House is disappearing, it is going, it is gone. Heart and stomach are contemporaneously wretched: we bury ourselves in our berths; we call upon the steward and stewardess; we wish ardently that some accident may befall the ship and oblige her to put back. No! Not more inexorable, certain and inevitable is the earth in its revolution, the moon in its orbit, or one's landlord when the rent is overdue, than is the course of the stately vessel south.
South, day after day, she plunges; the North Star sinks, the sky becomes fairer, the air milder, the ocean of a softer blue; the sunsets develop the tints of fairyland; the sunrise mocks all human ornamentation in its gorgeousness. Light coats and muslin dresses blossom on the promenade deck; the colored waiters develop white linen suits and faultless neckties. The sea air on the northern edge of the tropic zone is a balm for every wound, and forces us into content against our perverse wills.
We had a medley on board. There was a batch of sea captains going east, some with wives, some without. One of the maritime madams they said could navigate a vessel as well as her husband; she certainly had a sailor balance in walking the deck in rough weather. There was a tall, Mephistophelic-looking German youth, who daily took up a position on deck, fortified by a novel, a cigar, and a field glass, never spoke a word to anyone, and was reported to be a baron. There were a dogmatic young Englishman with a heavy burr in his voice, who seemed making a business of seeing the world; a stocky young fellow, one of Morgan's men during the war, and another who had seen his term of service on the federal side; a stout lady, dissatisfied with everything, sick of traveling, dragging about with her a thin-legged husband well stricken in years, who interfered feebly with her tantrums; and a young man who at the commencement of the trip started out with amazing celerity and success in making himself popular. This last was a cheery, chippery young fellow; his stock in trade was small, but he knew how to display it to the best advantage. It gave out in about ten days, and everybody voted him a bore. He took seriously to drinking brandy ere we arrived in New York. And then came the rank and file, without sufficient individuality as yet developed to be even disagreeable.
But there was one other, a well-to-do Dutchess County farmer, who had traveled across the continent to see "Californy," and concluded to take the steamer on his way home to observe as much as he might of Central America; a man who had served the Empire State in her legislature; a man mighty in reading. Such a walking encyclopedia of facts, figures, history, poetry, metaphysics and philosophy I never met before. He could quote Seward, Bancroft, Carl Schurz, Clay and Webster by the hour. His voice was of the sonorous, nasal order, with a genuine Yankee twang. I tried in vain to spring on him some subject whereof he should appear ignorant.
One might as well have endeavored to show Noah Webster a new word in the English language. And all this knowledge during the trip he ground out in lots to order. It fell from his lips dry and dusty. It lacked soul. It smelt overmuch of histories, biographies, and political pamphlets. He turned it all out in that mechanical way, as though it were ground through a coffee mill. Even his admiration was dry and lifeless. So was his enthusiasm. He kept both measured out for occasions. It is a pleasant sail along the Central American coast, to see the shores lined with forests so green, with palms and coconuts, and in the background dark volcanic cones; and this man, in a respectable black suit, a standing collar and a beaver hat, would gaze thereon by the hour and grind out his dusty admiration.
Among the steerage passengers was a bugler, who every night gave a free entertainment. He played with taste and feeling, and when once we had all allowed our souls to drift away in "The Last Rose of Summer," the Grinder, in the midst of the beautiful strain, brought us plumb to earth by turning out the remark that "a bewgle made abeout as nice music as any instrument goin', ef it was well played." Had he been thrown overboard he would have drifted ashore, and bored the natives to death with a long and lifeless story of his escape from drowning.
Dames Rumor and Gossip are at home on the high seas. They commence operations as soon as their stomachs are on sea legs. Everybody then undergoes an inspection from everybody else, and we report to each other. Mrs. Bluster! Mrs. Bluster's conduct is perfectly scandalous before we have been out a week; she nibbling around young men of one-half--aye, one-fourth--her age! The young miss who came on board in charge of an elderly couple has seceded from them, promenades the hurricane deck very late with a dashing young Californian; but then birds of a feather, male and female, will flock together. Mr. Bleareye is full of brandy every morning before ten o'clock; and the "catamaran" with the thin-legged and subjected husband does nothing but talk of her home in ------. We know the color and pattern of her carpets, the number of her servants, the quality of her plate, and yesterday she brought out her jewelry and made thereof a public exhibition in the saloon.
All this is faithfully and promptly borne per rail over the Isthmus, and goes over to the Atlantic steamer. I am conscientious in this matter of gossip. I had made resolutions. There was a lady likewise conscientious on board, and one night upon the quarterdeck, when we had talked propriety threadbare, when we were both bursting with our fill of observation, we met each other halfway and confessed that unless we indulged ourselves also in a little scandal we should die, and then, the floodgates being opened, how we riddled them! But there is a difference between criticism of character and downright scandal, you know; in that way did we poultice our bruised consciences.
On a voyage everybody has confidences to make, private griefs to disclose to everybody else. This is especially the case during the first few days out. We feel so lone and lorn; we have all undergone the misery of parting, the breaking of tender ties; we seem a huddle of human units shaken by chance into the same box, yet scarcely are we therein settled when we begin putting forth feelers of sympathy and recognition. There was one young man who seemed to me a master in the art of making desirable acquaintances for the trip. He entered upon his work ere the Golden Gate had sunk below the horizon. He had a friendly word for all. His approach and address were prepossessing. He spoke to me kindly. I was miserable and flung myself upon him for sympathy. The wretch was merely testing me as a compagnon de voyage. He found me unsuitable. He flung me from him with easy but cold politeness, and consorted with an "educated German gentleman." I revenged myself by playing the same tactics on a sea- and lovesick German carriagemaker. "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," you know.
We touched at Magdalena Bay and Punta Arenas. We expected to stay at Punta Arenas twelve hours to discharge a quantity of flour. Four times twelve hours we remained there. Everybody became very tired of Costa Rica. The Costa Rican is not hurried in his movements. He took his own time in sending the necessary lighters for that flour. A boatload went off once in four hours. The Costa Ricans came on board--men and women, great and small--inspected the Sacramento, enjoyed themselves, went on shore again, lay down in the shade of their coconut palms, smoked their cigarettes and slept soundly, while the restless, uneasy load of humanity on the American steamer fretted, fumed, perspired, scolded at Costa Rican laziness and ridiculed the Costa Rican government, which revolutionizes once in six months, changes its flag once a year, taxes all improvements, and acts up to the principle that government was made for the benefit of those who govern. Many of the passengers went on shore. Some came back laden with tropical flowers, others full of brandy. The blossoms filled the vessel the whole night with perfume, while the brandy produced noise and badly sung popular melodies.
The Grinder went on shore with the rest. On returning he expressed disgust at the Costa Ricans. He thought that "nothing could ever be made of them." He had no desire that the United States should ever assimilate with any portion of the torrid zone. He predicted that such a fusion would prove destructive to American energy and intelligence. We had enough southern territory and torpor already. The man has no appreciation of the indolence and repose of the tropics. He knows not that the most delicious of enjoyments is the waking dream under the feathery palm, care and restlessness flung aside, while the soul through the eye loses itself in the blue depths above. He would doom us to an eternal rack of civilization and progress work--grind, jerk, hurry, twist and strain, until our nerves, by exhaustion unstrung and shattered, allow no repose of mind or body; and even when we die our bones are so infected by restlessness and goaheaditiveness that they rattle uneasily in our coffins.
Panama sums up thus: An ancient, walled, red-tiled city, full of convents and churches; the ramparts half ruined; weeds springing atop the steeples and belfries; a fleet of small boats in front of the city; progress a little on one side in the guise of the Isthmus railroad depot, cars, engines, ferryboats, and red, iron lighters; a straggling guard of particolored, tawdry and most slovenly uniformed soldiers, with French muskets and saber bayonets, drawn up at the landing, commanded by an officer smartly dressed in blue, gold, kepi, brass buttons and stripes, with a villainous squint eye, smoking a cigar. About the car windows a chattering crowd of blacks, half blacks, quarter blacks, coffee, molasses, brown, nankeen and straw-colored natives, thrusting skinny arms in at the windows, and at the end of those arms parrots, large and small, in cages and out, monkeys, shells, oranges, bananas, carved work, and pearls in various kinds of gold setting; all of which were sorely tempting to some of the ladies, but ere many bargains were concluded the train clattered off, and we were crossing the continent.
The Isthmus is a panorama of tropical jungle; it seems an excess, a dissipation of vegetation. It is a place favorable also for the study of external black anatomy. The natives kept undressing more and more as we rolled on. For a mile or two after leaving Panama they did affect the shirt. Beyond this, that garment seemed to have become unfashionable, and they stood at their open doors with the same unclothed dignity that characterized Adam in the Garden of Eden before his matrimonial troubles commenced. Several young ladies in our car first looked up, then down, then across, then sideways; then they looked very grave, and finally all looked at each other and unanimously tittered.
Aspinwall! The cars stop; a black-and-tan battalion charge among us, offering to carry baggage. They pursue us to the gate of the P.M.S.S. depot; there they stop; we pass through one more cluster of orange, banana, and cigar-selling women; we push and jam into the depot, show our tickets, and are on board the Ocean Queen. We are on the Atlantic side!
We cross the Caribbean. It is a stormy sea. Our second day thereon was one of general nausea and depression. You have perhaps heard the air, "Sister, what are the wild waves saying?" On that black Friday many of our passengers seemed to be earnestly saying something over the Ocean Queen's side to the "wild, wild waves." The Grinder went down with the rest.
I gazed triumphantly over his prostrate form, laid out at full length on a cabin settee. Seward, Bancroft, politics, metaphysics, poetry, and philosophy were hushed at last. Both enthusiasm and patriotism find an uneasy perch on a nauseated stomach.
But steam has not robbed navigation of all its romance. We find some poetry in smoke, smokestacks, pipes, funnels, and paddles, as well as in the "bellying sails" and the "white-winged messengers of commerce." I have a sort of worship for our ponderous walking beam, which swings its many tons of iron upon its axis as lightly as a lady's parasol held 'twixt thumb and finger. It is an embodiment of strength, grace, and faithfulness. Night and day, 'mid rain and sunshine, be the sea smooth or tempestuous, still that giant arm is at its work, not swerving the fractional part of an inch from its appointed sphere of revolution.
It is no dead metallic thing; it is a something rejoicing in power and use. It crunches the ocean 'neath its wheels with that pride and pleasure of power which a strong man feels when he fights his way through some ignoble crowd. The milder powers of upper air more feebly impel yon ship; in our hold are the powers of earth, the gnomes and goblins, the subjects of Pluto and Vulcan, begrimed with soot and sweat, and the elements for millions and millions of years imprisoned in the coal are being steadily set free. Every shovelful generates a monster born of flame. As he flies sighing and groaning through the wide-mouthed smokestack into the upper air, he gives our hull a parting shove forward.
A death in the steerage--a passenger taken on board sick at Aspinwall. All day long an inanimate shape wrapped in the American flag lies near the gangway. At four p.m. an assemblage from cabin and steerage gather with uncovered heads. The surgeon reads the service for the dead; a plank is lifted up; with a last shrill whirl that which was once a man is shot into the blue waters; in an instant it is out of sight and far behind, and we retire to our staterooms, thinking and solemnly wondering about that body sinking, sinking, sinking in the depths of the Caribbean; of the sea monsters that curiously approach and examine it; of the gradual decay of the corpse's canvas envelope; and far into the night, as the Ocean Queen shoots ahead, our thoughts wander back in the blackness to the buried yet unburied dead.
The torrid zone is no more. This morning a blast from the north sweeps down upon us. Cold, brassy clouds are in the sky; the ocean's blue has turned to a dark, angry brown, flecked with whitecaps and swept by blasts fresh from the home of the northern floe and iceberg. The majority of the passengers gather about the cabin registers, like the houseflies benumbed by the first cold snap of autumn in our northern kitchens. Light coats, pumps and other summer apparel have given way to heavy boots, overcoats, fur caps and pea jackets. A home look settles on the faces of the North Americans. They snuff their native atmosphere; they feel its bracing influence. But the tawny-skinned Central Americans who have gradually accumulated on board from the Pacific ports and Aspinwall settle inactively into corners or remain ensconced in their berths. The air which kindles our energies wilts theirs. The hurricane deck is shorn of its awnings. Only a few old "shellback" passengers maintain their place upon it, and yet five days ago we sat there in midsummer moonlit evenings.
We are now about one hundred miles from Cape Hatteras. Old Mr. Poddle and his wife are traveling for pleasure. Came to California by rail, concluded to return by the Isthmus. Ever since we started Cape Hatteras has loomed up fearfully in their imaginations. Old Mr. Poddle looks knowingly at passing vessels through his field glass, but doesn't know a fore-and-aft schooner from a man-of-war. Mrs. Poddle once a day inquires if there's any danger. Mr. Poddle does not talk so much, but evidently in private meditates largely on hurricanes, gales, cyclones, sinking and burning vessels.
Last night we came in the neighborhood of the Gulf Stream. There were flashes of lightning, "mare's tails" in the sky, a freshening breeze and an increasing sea. About 11 old Mr. Poddle came on deck. Mrs. Poddle, haunted by Hatteras, had sent him out to see if "there was any danger;" for it is evident that Mrs. Poddle is dictatress of the domestic empire. Mr. Poddle ascended to the hurricane deck, looked nervously to leeward, and just then an old passenger salt standing by, who had during the entire passage comprehended and enjoyed the Poddletonian dreads, remarked, "This is nothing to what we shall have by morning." This shot sent Poddle below. This morning at breakfast the pair looked harassed and fatigued.
The great question now agitating the mind of this floating community is, "Shall we reach the New York pier at the foot of Canal Street by Saturday noon?" If we do, there is for us all long life, prosperity and happiness; if we do not, it is desolation and misery. For Monday is New Year's Day. On Sunday we may not be able to leave the city; to be forced to stay in New York over Sunday is a dreadful thought for solitary contemplation. We study and turn it over in our minds for hours as we pace the deck. We live over and over again the land journey to our hearthstones at Boston, Syracuse, and Cincinnati. We meet in thought our long-expectant relatives, so that at last our air castles become stale and monotonous, and we fear that the reality may be robbed of half its anticipated pleasure from being so often lived over in imagination.
Nine o'clock Friday evening. The excitement increases. Barnegat Light is in sight. Half the cabin passengers are up all night, indulging in unprofitable talk and weariness, merely because we are so near home. Four o'clock, and the faithful engine stops, the cable rattles overboard, and everything is still. We are at anchor off Staten Island. By the first laggard streak of winter's dawn I am on the hurricane deck. I am curious to see my native North. It comes by degrees out of the cold blue fog on either side of the bay. Miles of houses, spotted with patches of bushy-looking woodland--bushy in appearance to a Californian, whose oaks grow large and widely apart from each other, as in an English park. There comes a shrieking and groaning and bellowing of steam whistles from the monster city nine miles away. Soon we weigh anchor and move up toward it. Tugs dart fiercely about, or laboriously puff with heavily laden vessels in tow. Stately ocean steamers surge past, outward bound. We become a mere fragment of the mass of floating life.
We near the foot of Canal Street. There is a great deal of shouting and bawling and countershouting and counterbawling, with expectant faces on the wharf, and recognitions from shore to steamer and from steamer to shore. The young woman who flirted so ardently with the young Californian turns out to be married, and that business-looking, middle-aged man on the pier is her husband. Well, I never! Why, you are slow, my friend, says inward reflection. You are not versed in the customs of the East. At last the gangway plank is flung out. We walk on shore. It is now eighteen years since that little floating world society cemented by a month's association scattered forever from each other's sight at the Canal Street pier.
PRENTICE MULFORD.Yorkville Enquirer, Yorkville, South Carolina, September 9, 1891, page 1
A TALK WITH PRENTICE MULFORD.Prentice Mulford is a little old man with a small face, rapidly working eyes and a trifling sort of gray mustache. He used to be rather prominent here in early days as a writer for the newspapers and magazines. For twenty years past he has been knocking around the world, but has finally settled in New York, where he does business as a publisher of books. He came back to California by the Panama steamer a few days ago and is quartered at the Occidental. Mr. Mulford doesn't like to be interviewed. He is a timid little old gentleman, and is afraid that he may say something to offend the public--which is foolish, because the public really cares nothing about Mr. Mulford's opinions--at least does not care to the extent of getting mad about them if they don't happen to be complimentary.
----The time of Mr. Mulford's greatest literary activity was in the days of the old Overland, when Bret Harte was its editor, and the magazine had a worldwide fame. Mulford's best work consisted of descriptions of his adventures as a miner and whatnot. A sketch of his experience as a cook on a whaler was probably the most distinctive of his productions. Since those days he has appeared in type chiefly as a newspaper correspondent, his letters being mild disquisitions on social and religious topics, with a faint, very faint, flavor of Thackeray's good-natured benevolence in them.
----"I really have nothing to say," said Mr. Mulford last night. "Yes, of course there have been a good many changes in San Francisco since I saw it last. There used to be lots of sand here. Where is that sand now? That question, I suppose, embraces the story of the city's progress. But please don't quote me. The people might not like it, you know. I asked them to build a fire in my room this afternoon, and I asked them not to mention the circumstance. The people here are proud of the climate, you understand. Yet I was really cold. Don't say anything about that fire, I beg of you."
"You were with Joaquin Miller in London in the days of his early fame, weren't you?"
"Yes, indeed. Where is Miller, by the way? In Washington, living in a cabin, isn't he? Over at Fruitvale, eh? Yes, I remember lots of interesting things about Miller in London. When he was going upstairs one night to a reception at Lord Somebody or other's the butler--a fat, pompous, English butler, you know--stared at his long hair and his pants in his boots, and all that, and says to him: 'Hadn't you better arrange your dress before going up, sir!' And Miller says: 'Oh, no; that's all right.' Miller understood the English people perfectly. He said to me once: 'You must expect your landlady to cheat you three shillings a week. She doesn't regard three shillings as robbery, but if she cheated you four shillings a week she'd get down on her knees and ask God to forgive her for that extra shilling. Yes, indeed, life in London is very interesting to an American. It has a broadening effect upon the mind.'"
A gentleman unknown to fame who sat beside Mr. Mulford said:
"Miller's a queer chap. He reads scarcely anything. I was walking with him one Sunday in Oakland some years ago and found this out by trying to talk to him about books. I'd been reading Jef Davis' work on the Civil War. I said it was surprising that a man had cut so large a figure in the world's affairs who seemed to have the small, hard mind of a technical lawyer. 'Why,' said I, 'the man hasn't advanced an inch since 1861.' 'That's right,' said Miller. 'Jeff Davis has no right to advance. He ought to have died with his men fighting for the Confederacy. But as he didn't die with them it's his duty to be as dead as he can.'"
"Yes," said Mr. Mulford, "Miller's a strange fellow. He was of a great deal of use to me showing me around London, and so on."
----"I presume, Mr. Mulford," said the interviewer, "that you have many interesting recollections of the men who made California famous in a literary way in the old days?"
"Oh, yes; certainly; I knew them all. There was Bret Harte, you know, and Charles Warren Stoddard, and Mark Twain, and Jim Bowman. Bowman's dead, isn't he? I remember him very well. You know what a solemn sort of a man be was. His wife kept a high-toned boarding house, and one morning Bowman took me home to breakfast. He was as full as a tick, and he embarrassed me very much when we went into the breakfast room, for the first thing he did after introducing me was to fall on his hands and knees and begin to crawl under the table. You know what a dignified lady Mrs. Bowman was. Well, she protested, of course, and Bowman he got up with a hurt expression and says: 'I am sorry, madam, that you object to my crawling under the table from this side. Anything to oblige, and I will now proceed to crawl under it from the other,' which he did."
"Is that all you can recall of the literary activity of the later sixties and early seventies?"
"Oh no, indeed," said Mr. Mulford. "Calvin B. MacDonald, is he alive still? Well, Calvin was editor of the American Flag, you know, and the owner of the paper was a man named McCarthy, and MacDonald got full one day and told everybody in the office that there was going to be bloodshed. He said he was going to kill the proprietor. Most writers, you know, dislike proprietors. Well, Calvin hid behind the hall door with a big pistol, waiting for McCarthy to come along. Somebody must have told McCarthy, I guess, for when he arrived he just reached behind the door and caught MacDonald by the ear and put him out on the sidewalk, you know."
----Mr. Mulford does not think highly of current American literature. "What it lacks," he says, "is vigor. Take the Century and Harper's, for instance. There is an immense amount of literary skill, of course, but no vigor. It must be discouraging to young men who want to write. Parlor fiction is all the go. It lacks vigor. Yes, indeed, that's what's the matter with it. It hasn't any vigor. Out here in the old days that I have been telling you about we had lots of vigor."
"Do you look for a change in this respect?"
"Well, yes, I suppose so. Yes, I expect there will be a change."
"What will bring it about?"
"Oh, I suppose fellows will just keep on writing, and it'll come about naturally, you know."
"You look for more vigor, then?"
"Certainly. Of course there's bound to be more vigor. There's a demand for it, you see. At least I think so."
----Mr. Mulford does not know how long he will stay in California. He is here for pleasure, he says, and is quite interested in what he sees.
San Francisco Examiner, February 3, 1890, page 4
OF PRENTICE MULFORD.New York, June 8.--Prentice Mulford is dead, and in that death the world has lost one of the strangest of men. He might have been called a crank or a seer, a foolish man or one who was wise beyond the measure of most men's wisdom. Few knew him at all well, for he was shy almost beyond belief, yet he had the keenest and most vivid interest in the affairs of men.
IN HIS DEATH THE WORLD LOSES A BRILLIANT GENIUS.
In His Love of Nature He Was Much Like Thoreau--His Eccentric Life in California--
His Excessive Shyness--His Indifference Concerning Money.
In mental ability he was a chief among his fellows. He possessed vast knowledge, but of the most heterogeneous character. He was full of the most strange, out-of-the-way information, mingled with much that was practical to a degree. His humor was delightful, he saw the comic side of everything, yet was his humor most closely allied to pathos. His range of thought covered the wildest, and to many, the most absurd dreams, but he was full of hard common sense, which flashed out in his brief comment on the doings of a day with the shock of a douche of cold water. In literary work nothing is so difficult as the writing of epigrams, those short, pithy sentences which cover so much in so few words; yet to Mulford they seemed to be the easiest of all forms of composition.
In his love of nature Prentice Mulford reminded one of Thoreau. He was exceedingly fond of the water, and he lived on it for many years, cruising about alone in his boat. In San Francisco, when he was working for The Golden Era, a weekly paper edited by Colonel Lawrence, his home was in an old whaleboat he had picked up somewhere and made over to suit his needs. For quite a long time he wore the strangest clothes one can imagine--a knitted suit all in one piece, like a bathing suit. This had, I believe, originally been blue in color, but the wind, and the rain, and the strong sunlight had turned it to a rusty brown. Mulford declared it to be the only garment a man should wear, and was fond of expatiating on its many excellent qualities.
In his boat he had a place to sleep and an arrangement for cooking. It was his habit to land once in a day or two for the purpose of buying bread, papers, eggs, milk and butter, and to mail and receive his letters. At other times he cruised, sleeping at night with his boat anchored in the most lonely parts of the bay. But writing on a pad resting on his knee, with his arm over the tiller, he would pour out any quantity of the wittiest, most humorous, most common-sense matter that anyone ever read. Some of his articles literally laughed with the fun that bubbled through them; in others he struck deep notes of passion or of pain.
Colonel Lawrence, himself one of the queerest originals I ever met, was full of stories about Mulford. The Golden Era was the first paper Mulford wrote for, and he remained faithful to it so long as Colonel Lawrence had it. Mulford was under salary, but as he was utterly careless about money and never drew more than ten dollars at a time--which he preferred should be paid in silver quarters, as he thereby had plenty of small change--his money accumulated to his credit in the Era office. Many times Colonel Lawrence urged him to draw it out, but Mulford always replied he had no need of it. Then the colonel mentioned the savings bank, but Mulford, who at that time was a rank socialist, declared he considered banks immoral institutions which he refused to patronize.
Mulford was shy beyond the power of words to express. When for any cause he found it necessary to visit the Era office, then in Merchant Street, he used to stand on the sidewalk until someone he knew came along who would go up with him. Remember, the man was a favorite with everyone in the place, and was at that time one of the chief contributors to the paper. When alone with one person he knew well, or with two, or, perhaps, if he were in the mood, with three, he would talk at times most brilliantly, holding his audience spellbound by the beauty of his thoughts and words, or keeping them in paroxysms of laughter by his fun. Let someone he did not know join the circle, or let two more persons come up and Mulford became silent at once, nor was it long before he would break away to enjoy his beloved solitude once more. While he was able to face audiences at his lectures in after days, he never got over his shyness when brought into close companionship with men.
Mulford was a man who cared absolutely nothing about money. During the period of his married life, when he had a wife to support, he made greater efforts to earn it than at any other time, but ordinarily he was indifferent. His wants were few and of the simplest; his food was the plainest he could get, and his friends cared far more about his dress than he ever did. At one time he believed that men should not eat meat, for he held the blood was the life. His diet then was fish, vegetables, fruit and bread. I have heard him argue eloquently in favor of this regimen, and it is needless to say I agreed with him. No one ever disagreed with Mulford when he spoke in earnest, however much one might rebel afterward when the spell of the talk was no longer on him. But Mulford had strange ideas about the blood, and sometimes I have thought he then looked on it as a sacrament. This, however, is a part of his mysticism which no one, so far as I know, ever thoroughly understood.
Strange things became no longer strange to those who knew Prentice Mulford; he always did that which no one would expect. He had the most absolute disbelief in his own mental powers; he never realized the intense admiration felt for them by other men. He has in his time actually resigned a position on a paper because he was convinced he would be discharged; the fact being that no one in the office would have allowed him to go if it might be prevented. He hated flattery of all descriptions; "lionizing" drove him away at once. He liked people to admire his articles, but their admiration had to be expressed with extreme caution or he thought they were laughing at him. You could, however, praise his work if you sandwiched in a due proportion of criticism. Yet for all this he was quick to defend his beliefs. I remember an article be wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, which was devoted wholly to the play of light and shade on the sea. The humor, fun, pathos, wit, color introduced made it a marvel of words. Yet Mulford never thought very much of it.
Mulford lived the most lonely of lives, and he was an example of what contemplation may bring a man to. In many respects he was like those Hindoos who devote years to self-study. His mind became, under this training, mystical to a degree, yet was he able to evolve many ideas of striking force. He believed thought to be a tangible power. He wrote: "If you keep any idea, good or ill, in your mind from month to month and year to year, you make it a more enduring, unseen reality, and as it so becomes stronger and stronger, it must at last take shape and appear in the seen and physical." Again: "If you want to keep a secret from others, keep it as much as possible out of your own mind, save when it is absolutely necessary to recall it. For what you think you make or put out in the air, and as put out in the air, when you are much of the time thinking of it, it is all the more likely to fasten on some mind about you, in the form of a surmise, a passing thought, which at last, if you keep forcing it on them by thinking of it, ripens into a suspicion. All great successes depend on secrecy."
A great mind, not well understood and never fairly exploited for others, passed away when Prentice Mulford died.
ALFRED BALCH.Los Angeles Herald, July 16, 1891, page 10