Adventures in the Far West
One day there came a whisper to San Francisco, that the dream of sundry theorists was realized, and that the headquarters of gold had at last been brought to light--in a word, that a mountain headland washed by the waters of the Pacific, somewhere near Trinity, a city on the coast, some 290 miles north of San Francisco, was found to be composed of pure virgin gold. No wonder that desperate excitement reigned in San Francisco. No wonder that every ship available in the harbor, seaworthy or unworthy, was immediately chartered to "the gold bluff." Who can blame them, if merchants forsook their offices, professional men their pursuits, and tradesmen their honest callings, to scramble one and all to the gold mountain? "And no wonder you yourself accompanied them," the far-seeing reader remarks. Well, I did, and I did not.
To explain this apparent anomaly, I must state that a short time before the "gold bluff sensation" made its appearance, I had joined a band of adventurers of all nations, who were leagued together to form a new settlement on a river named by the Indians "Umpqua," and supposed to exist somewhere on the Oregon coast, about midway between Trinity city [Trinidad] and the Columbia River. Could this design be effected, it was thought that, as the river was reported to be well wooded, a lucrative lumber trade might be commenced with San Francisco.
In pursuance, therefore, of this scheme, a company had chartered the fore-and-aft schooner Rafter, and forty adventurers were found, each to contribute their fifty dollars passage money; the company engaging to find, on their side, the stores etc., necessary to set the infant colony going. In addition to the payment of fifty dollars, each adventurer was required to be well armed, as the Indians were extremely hostile, and it was even said that more than one expedition to Umpqua had been cut off by them.
Now, our expedition touched at Trinity city, and it is needless to say we found the gold bluff simply a canard. Otherwise, of course, we should have made off, and abandoned the colonial scheme. A few days afterwards, we were off the mouth of a river, but whether it was the Umpqua or not, the pilot could not say. So nine men, in addition to the pilot, volunteered to man a boat and cross the bar, and of this number I made one. After a dangerous pull of about five miles, we entered the estuary of a river, which our pilot immediately pronounced to be Elk River, a stream much inferior, and more to the southward than the Umpqua [probably September 1850].
As we lay on our oars, a crowd of natives appeared on the north bank of the river, who made signs for us to approach them, holding up some fish as an inducement, which, no doubt, they wished to barter with us. The pilot advised us strongly to pull back to the schooner, and by no means to land, as the Elk River Indians bore anything but a good character; but the sight of the fish was too much for our salt-beef-and-pork-fed appetites, and the sage advice of the pilot was overruled. A few minutes saw us standing on shore, the center of a large crowd of Indians. I shall defer a personal description of these worthies for the present, as I shall shortly bring the Umpqua Indians, whom they resembled in almost every particular, under the reader's notice.
Having purchased a quantity of fish through the medium of bartering, giving on our side, by way of exchange, a few trifling articles, such as nails, brass buttons, etc., the pilot was urgent for us to go on board again. But we refused, having made up our minds to indulge in a long stroll on the beach. Perceiving that it was of no avail to contend against our headstrong folly, he contented himself with insisting upon one man remaining with him in the boat, in order to assist him in pulling out a little way from shore, to guard it from the Indians.
Having agreed to this arrangement, the remaining eight of us, well armed, and making light of the pilot's caution, set off in high glee along the beach, accompanied by a number of Indians. When we had thus promenaded for about the length of a mile, it began to be perceptible that the Indians got somewhat troublesome and pertinacious in crowding upon us, and on being remonstrated with, to our surprise the majority of them produced arms, which hitherto they had kept concealed about their persons. Now, though these arms consisted only of rude knives, bows and arrows, and spears, we were so completely outnumbered that it was evident if a fracas should ensue, the advantage we possessed in our superior weapons was pretty well counterbalanced.
However, we promptly ordered our unpleasant associates to quit us, which in high dudgeon they accordingly did, but only to take up a position on the shore between us and our boat, where they were joined by a number of others, with every hostile demonstration of attacking us on our return. In haste a council of war was called, in which Philip, a Missourian hunter, one of the members of my mess, and a particular friend of mine, took a prominent part, and was by general vote elected our leader.
With great tact, which proved him worthy of our confidence, Philip, instead of turning back and instantly provoking a contest with the enemy, led us straight ahead for a quarter of a mile, till the turning of a headland concealed us, when he plunged into the wood that skirted the shore, and, thus screened, we countermarched with the view of making a détour round the Indians.
In this we were perfectly successful, and we did not debouch from the cover till well in the rear of the enemy, and opposite to our boat, which the wary pilot, who had marked the strait we were in, pulled rapidly to meet us. The Indians, on perceiving their error, hastened to intercept us; but, though they reached us ere we embarked, the surprise we had given them, which always cows a savage, prevented them from attacking us, and shoulder to shoulder, with cocked revolvers, drawn bowie knives and rifle at the ready, we slowly and steadily proceeded down to the beach. A tall Indian insolently threw himself in the way of our brave leader, and, pointing his knife against his face as a menace, dared him to proceed. The former could have easily shot his opponent, but, knowing that the first blood drawn would instantly have precipitated a simultaneous attack from all sides, he coolly struck up the knife, and saluted the Indian with a smart kick which sent him flying. In a few minutes afterwards we were safe in the boat, pulling on board.
In about a couple of days more we found ourselves off the coast, where, faintly through the morning mists, a valley seemed to break the mountain belt, and our pilot recognized the Umpqua. As we approached nearer inland it became evident that a bar defended the mouth of the river, on which successive walls of rollers, extending in apparently continuous length for above a mile, broke with a dull heavy "thud," heard miles away. The pilot, however, explained to us that, though invisible till close upon it, being obscured by foam, the true channel to the harbor led through this wall of waters, as in reality there were two bars lying in nearly parallel lines to each other. He did not, however, attempt to conceal from us that the navigation of this passage was extremely intricate and dangerous. Slowly we approached the channel. Just as we were entering it, to our horror, the schooner lost steerage way, broached suddenly to, and the next moment we were thrown bodily onto the north bar. Then a moving wall of water rose behind us, and, dark, threatening, and seemingly of the height of our crosstrees, advanced upon us. The schooner made no effort to rise to meet it. I expect she was aground, and the warning cry of "hold on!" went, fore and aft, as the waters closed above our heads. In the darkness that ensued I felt the mast lay over us if we were about to be capsized; my legs were taken away clean from under me, and I held on by the forestay, to which I clung only by my hands. This lasted like a good long dive, and then, to my surprise--for I never expected to see daylight again--the blinding water passed away, and the schooner righted. Three similar rollers passed over us, carrying away men, boats, helm, and galley, and at last we were washed fairly over the bar. Then, abandoning their comparatively safe positions, some brave men were found to answer the appeal of the mate, and lend a hand to get up a square sail forward, by means of which, though the rudder was carried away, the vessel's head was pointed shorewards, and after a weary hour's exertion, sometimes afloat and sometimes aground, we blundered at length into the proper channel, and let go our anchor.
"Nine men lost overboard," said one of our fellows, coming down into the cabin, where the members of our mess were congratulating each other on their narrow escape--"thank God, it's none of our lot!" But as he ended, a scared expression came over the speaker's face. "Where is Philip?" he demanded quickly. "On deck, I suppose," somebody replied. There was a hurried rush, up the companion ladder, a glance round the deck, and for us there were no more congratulations. Philip was gone. The pitiless waters had claimed the best of all of us. Philip! though no grave dug by human hands holds thy remains, and the dark waters of the Umpqua alone sang thy requiem, and after years have passed away, this page is wet with a tear for thy memory!
The sad calamity which inaugurated our advent to the Umpqua so depressed me that I took very little interest in the first view of the new land, destined for some time at least to be my home. The river, when we had dropped down from its estuary, seemed to be about the width of the Thames at Greenwich. The southern bank was mountainous, thickly fringed with lofty trees, the majority of which were pine, while a sandy peninsula, made by the ocean on one side, and the river on the other, represented the north bank. On the latter there grew but scanty herbage, and a sprinkling of dwarf trees, mostly of white oak; but for all this it appeared to be the only spot sufficiently flat and cleared on which to form a settlement. On this not very desirable locality was planted the Indian village, which consisted, as far as we could see, of a few long, low huts, clustered irregularly together. Soon, some of the inhabitants put off in their canoes to inspect us, and the chief, or "tyee," as he was called, with a few others, was allowed to come on board. The "tyee," whom some of our republican haters of king's craft immediately christened "Old Jimmy," and by which familiar and unroyal cognomen he was always afterwards known, was a true type of his people. He had nothing in any respect superior to distinguish him from them, so that, in describing him, I describe his nation. In his squat, clumsy, and fleshy appearance, I seemed to recognize, in conjunction with a peculiar squareness of build, a certain cousin-german relationship to the Eskimos. There were here also the tawny skin, the small sunken eye, the black elfin locks, the depressed nose and wide mouth of him of the Arctic regions. In stature, however, and in fact in all points, the Umpqua chief was much the superior of his brother Fish-eater.
His chieftainship was very scantily dressed: an old shirt was the principal article of his attire. His possession of this shirt, and an old gun, rather surprised us, as we fancied that these Indians had never before had intercourse with white men; but the mystery was explained by discovering, some time afterwards, that a fort of the Hudson's Bay Company was only some four or five days' journey distant in a southeastern direction.
Leaving Old Jimmy and his people for a time, I must revert to our own affairs. Having "prospected" the sandy peninsula, it was determined that the principal settlement of the infant colony should be there planted; and accordingly, our stores having been transported ashore, we erected the few frame houses we had brought with us, and in a few days the American flag was hoisted on a tall flagstaff made of a young pine tree, saluted with the only piece of artillery we possessed, and behold, the city of Umpqua was an accomplished fact!
Such was the first germ of a new land, that, from its contiguity to California, its commanding position on the Pacific, the paucity of harbors on the coast, its climate, soil, vegetation, fertility, and extent, is destined one day to become rich and populous, and no unworthy rival of the thriving Columbia.
Manning a boat, a party of us started up the river on on exploring expedition, and discovered the mouth of a river which falls into the Umpqua. It was afterwards named Smith's River, in consequence of a legend that a trapper of that name had there been slain by the Indians. As we proceeded, we found that the character of the scenery did not change, the river always running through a mountainous valley, thickly wooded, and extremely little flat land to be seen; what there was is represented on the map by the small settlements of Providence, Gardiner, Middleton, and Scottsburg. Scottsburg represents the head of the navigation of the river, and is about thirty miles from Umpqua.
To several of the localities we passed we gave names: for instance, "the Echo Rocks" to a mountainous range opposite Middleton, where, when one's voice is raised to a high pitch, the sound reverberates near, far off, and near again, in a most surprising manner; while a perpendicular rock, rising from the river a few miles below Scottsburg, on whose giant face nature has sculptured whimsical arabesques, columns, and arches, that bears, especially on a moonlight night, a grotesque resemblance to the facade of a crumbling and moss-covered relic of monastic ages, we named "the Abbey."
No incident of importance occurred to our boating party, who were absent two days. Our report of the principal object of our expedition--namely, timber--was considered highly satisfactory; for we had seen whole forests of pine trees, interspersed with spruce, red cedar, cottonwood, and oak, in abundance--enough, in fact, to supply the California market with lumber for years to come. When we were fairly settled down in our new home, we were told off into working parties, and went to work felling trees to freight the schooner with "piles" (trunks of trees of a certain length and thickness used for wharves), and to get a supply in readiness for other vessels that would soon follow us. This "chopping" I found at first desperately hard work, the American ax, which alone is used, taking some time to handle properly. At first, like an amateur in rowing, one relies too much on the sinews of the arm, instead of throwing the weight of the body into the stroke, and allowing the muscles fair play.
It was necessary that I should be for some little time a settler on the Umpqua before I fully appreciated the resources of this magnificent region, whose rivers are filled with fish, whose prairies, commencing about ten miles above Scottsburg, abound with game, and whose soil and climate are the finest in the world. What a piscatory paradise would not that river have been to the eminent naturalist and fisherman, F. T. Buckland, Esq.! would that he could have reveled in it; but no: once there he would have squatted for life, and the Society for the Preservation of Fish would have lost the most energetic and enthusiastic of secretaries, and the readers of The Leisure Hour the most pleasantly instructive of writers. In that river I have caught fish, from herrings up to seal. Never was river more prolific in the scaly brood.
When first we arrived at the Umpqua it was February, and flatfish were in season; then came other species, including herring in vast shoals, and in June salmon made their appearance, and continued till the end of the year, while all species of shellfish abound.
The game on the prairies is plentiful and varied. Vast herds of elk (or wapiti) abound, and there are also found the fallow deer, antelope, hares, prairie hen, quail, etc., while the forests are the retreat of the black and grizzly bear, the panther, the wolf, and the coyote, or native dog. In addition to most of these, I have shot the river pelicans, bald-headed eagles, wild geese and ducks, sand cranes, and a great variety of "divers." It will hardly be believed that, with all this endless variety of food at our command, we white men, especially at first, fared very badly, and lived chiefly on salt pork and bread. There were several reasons for this. In the first place, we had not much time from our legitimate money-making pursuit of "chopping" to hunt and fish. The prairies were too far off to resort to for the former purpose, and we were short of tackle for the latter. With regard to the birds on the river, they soon got shy. We were, therefore, principally at the mercy of the Indians for our supply of fish, and sometimes they were excessively churlish and would not barter.
The mode of catching fish was unique in its way: I never heard it anywhere described. The tide rises in the river to the height of several feet, but at ebb tide several mud banks opposite to the Indian village came above water. Along the seaward edges of these banks the Indians would place willow wands side by side in a semicircle, so that, as the tide ebbed and the fish ran down, many in passing over the mud banks would find themselves stopped by this species of twig net, and, not having the sense to swim back against tide, to windward of the semicircle, they would remain till the tide ran out and left them high and dry. All that it was then necessary for the Indians to do was to paddle off to the bank and pick up their prey. In this manner they would sometimes have great takes of fish. Superstition had something to do with the churlishness which made the Indians decline sometimes to trade with us. When the herrings, for instance, first made their appearance in the river, though our savage friends caught them in canoeloads at a time, we could not get one; and very exasperating it was to see them a short distance off with large heaps of the fish, engaged in divesting them of their scales, as a preparative for the operation of drying. This they managed by holding the herring in one hand, and drawing it through the other, which had been previously dipped in sand--strange to say, the "right" way of the scales. Meanwhile, we were munching our invariable salt pork and bread. This arose from the belief of the Indians that if a herring is cut with a knife, the protecting genius of the fish, who, inconsistently enough, will allow his protégé to be caught and devoured, objects to the dissecting process, and immediately raises a vast storm of wind and rain to avenge the sacrilegious deed, by spoiling all the Indians' herrings that are drying in the sun for winter stores. Now, as the Indians knew we always cut up our food with a knife, they would not part with a single herring to us, for fear we should offend the "great medicine" of the fish. An unusually high tide, however, befriended us in this emergency, causing the river to overflow its boundaries, and one morning we rose to find the banks glittering with herring, high and dry, on which a squadron of bald-headed eagles were ravenously preying. Speedily all kinds of bags, boxes, and baskets were in requisition, and in a short time we had made a razzia of herrings sufficient to last us for weeks.
This was all very well; but one day, as I was sitting in my hut, oblivious of the Indian tradition of opening a herring with a knife, an Indian passed the open door. When he saw how I was engaged, he became a tawny statue of dismay, and rushed off to inform his people of the transgression. A terrible hubbub was the consequence. On my own side I felt abashed, for I was aware of what a great faux pas I had been guilty in Indian eyes. I was still more annoyed with myself when, shortly afterwards, strange to say, the weather actually did become very stormy, causing the Indians to lose a great quantity of fish, and we white men to abandon our labor. And all this bouleversement arose from my forgetting that fingers were made before knives.
Spite of the hard fare, I never experienced the same glow of health and elasticity of spirits as I did in Oregon. My companions were the same; we all got fat and lazy. It was some time before I became a fair sample of a backwoodsman. Paddling a canoe by myself in rough water, and cooking, were my great rocks ahead.
Apropos of cooking: even in California it was seen I was not much of a cook; the want of this accomplishment got me into great disgrace in Oregon. One day my turn came to cook the dinner for my comrades, who were away up the river chopping. I undertook the office with the reluctance of a man who has not much confidence in his own powers, I will say that. The fare that day was damper, pork, and pea soup--at least it ought to have been. I made the damper, which is a flat cake of flour and water, and, having prepared a place amongst the embers of the fire, I then deposited it, and raked the embers over it, secundum artem, as I had seen my companions do. Then I put the peas and pork into our large iron pot, poured the water in, and hung it over the fire. With the conscious pride of a man who believes he has performed a duty, I now busied myself about some other affairs, and forgot all about the dinner, till I saw our boat coming round the bend of the river. In haste I rushed to the big pot to see how we were going on. Shade of Soyer! the pot was red hot, and the peas and pork a cinder! Not being aware that peas swell, I had not put sufficient water in the pot: they had absorbed it all: hence this calamity. With great misgivings I now seized the spade, and went to take up my damper. In my trepidation I forgot its exact geographical position in the embers. Wildly I dug about for it. Ha! what is this lump that adheres to the point of my spade? A rigid analysis of it convinces me that, though a great portion of its elements are sand and ashes, it is in reality no more or less than a piece of my damper in a half-raw state. I have to remark that I never found the other portion.
Shortly afterwards, my comrades arrive as hungry as a pack of wolves, and, finding there is no dinner, become translated into a band of bears. With ignominy I am discarded forever from the rôle of cook. Meekly I accept this decision, and, truth to tell, am not sorry for it.
Very little have I to say of the good qualities of the Indian of the Umpqua, but I could write many pages on the subject of his bad ones. Like all his brothers of the Fish-eating tribes, he is low in the scale of civilization. Physically and morally, he is greatly the inferior of the prairie Indian. But though the Fish-eating Indian's condition is frequently brought forward as an argument against a fish diet, from my own observations I am not disposed to accept this conclusion. On the contrary, I am inclined to believe that much, if not all, his inferiority is owing to another, and very simple circumstance, viz. the remarkably easy manner in which he obtains his daily bread, or rather fish. This cause makes him lazy, dirty, and inert. Who ever saw a savage exert himself if he could help it? I never did. The prairie Indian is compelled to resort to the chase to procure the game on which he lives, and this health-giving pursuit it is which imparts intelligence to his features, strength and comeliness to his body, and courage to his heart.
Red chivalry of the plains! methinks I see ye now, as with plume and lance, rifle and bow, bestriding the noble mustang, ye sweep along in hot pursuit of the gigantic bison or lordly stag. Look at the other picture--the Indian of the coast. We have seen how easily the common species of fish are caught by him; but salmon is his chief food, and to obtain it he seeks the rapids at the head of the river; and there, from June to August, by means of spear and net, with the greatest facility he helps himself to a store of the finest salmon in the world. Then, till the end of the year, a second-class salmon makes its appearance, called the dog, or dog-toothed species, whose flesh is of a coarser and redder description than our own fish at home. Of these the Indian always smokes and dries a sufficient store for his winter consumption. His squaws assist in the fishing, and invariably perform all the duties of the household, while the lazy male lounges in the sun in summer, and in the winter, ensconced in his smoky hut, in alternate eating, drinking, and sleeping, dreams away his life.
It will thus be seen that the occupation of the fish-eating Indian becomes almost a sinecure. Can we wonder, then, that he is a fat, idle voluptuary, of deteriorated constitution, as his bad, irregular teeth--those almost invariable ornaments in a savage--plainly discover?
The hut of the Umpqua Indian is half sunk in the ground, and there is a kind of attic story to it, in which he keeps his stores of dried fish. It is built of a number of long planks, to each of which the owner attaches great value. Black with age and dirt, they have descended from father to son as heirlooms; and no wonder they are considered valuable, from the labor that has been bestowed upon them, for each of these planks was cut out of the solid tree by means of stone axes and other primeval instruments, long before the use of iron was known in the tribe. The dress of these people--of both sexes--is very scanty. When not possessed of an old shirt or blanket, the men generally have a species of matting, which partially covers them, and the women wear a skirt made from the fibers of bark. As a rule, a prolonged intimacy with these people was excessively undesirable, and to be tolerated but on business only, in consequence of their dirty habits and the peculiar odor of stale fish, which exhaled from their persons and habitations. Their demonstrations of memory and respect for their dead kindred was the only pleasant and amiable feature about them, in my estimation.
In the long solitary rambles which I took sometimes in pursuit of game, I noticed that any pleasant little glade of the forest was generally appropriated for the burial place of an Indian. Many are the times I have rested in these little oases of the wilderness, which, screened on all sides, and partially overhung by giant trees, were carpeted by the greenest and softest of moss; and in the center of this fairy area would be the grave, designated by a hillock, over which was piled the property of the departed, in the shape of his canoes and paddles, his weapons, fishing paraphernalia and domestic utensils. But these relics were all more or less shattered; for the mourners, wise in the midst of their sorrow, took good care that they should not be worth appropriation by the sacrilegious hands of strangers. Then again, it was the Umpqua custom to bewail their long-departed dead, as we read the eastern nations of old used to do, from the housetops; and for hours and hours, on a fine summer's evening, from these positions they would join together in a deep monotonous dirge, which had an effect in the distance peculiarly plaintive and mournful.
Having made honorable mention of these post mortem customs, all interest and romance in these Indians ceases; for even the poetical imagination of the author of "Hiawatha" would recoil, dead beat, in an attempt to extract matter for sentiment amongst the Umpquaists. Unmasked they stand forth, lazy, worthless wretches, petty larcenists and prevaricators, inhospitable to a degree, and, though excessively mean themselves, most unscrupulous and greedy in asking favors of others. Cowardice also is inherent to them. If these coast tribes quarrel with each other, and even meet on a field of battle, they do not dare to close in fair fight, but the opposing forces are drawn up such a distance apart that very little mischief is done by the missiles they direct against each other.
Cowardice is always linked to cruelty, and the coast Indians form no exception to the rule; as in the case of Elk River, which I have detailed, when they have a great numerical preponderance on their side, they will not hesitate to make a dastardly attack, and, if successful, will torture and put to death every remnant of the party. When I was in Umpqua, we despised the Indians too much to fear them, and really carried this feeling to the verge of foolhardiness; for though we numbered about thirty, with a good stock of arms and ammunition, the Indians greatly outnumbered us, and our men were often scattered up and down the river in small parties, that could easily have been cut off in detail. In addition, we often neglected to carry firearms about with us. I believe we principally owed our safety to the cupidity of Old Jimmy, who no doubt had the sense to perceive that, in slaughtering us, he would only be killing the goose for its golden eggs, as thereby his trading with us would be at an end.
Another reason, which appealed strongly to his fears, stayed his hand, and that was that we had always a ship in the harbor, as one arrived from San Francisco ere the Rafter departed, and after that they came in quick succession. Old Jimmy would often slyly cross-examine us on this point; but, understanding his motives, we made him suppose that the ships came to take care of us, and if anything should happen to us at the hands of his tribe, a whole fleet would arrive that would destroy every Indian on the river. On the receipt of this intelligence, Old Jimmy would appear to be excessively perplexed and disappointed, and would retire to the beach and ponder over it, and scratch his head for hours together. At such periods we were generally aware that deputations from neighboring tribes had visited ours, begging them to be allowed to aid them in a general massacre of the white men; and elderly James was much harassed by his feelings of personal interest and safety on the one side, and the gratification of his Indian instincts on the other. However, there was too much danger in adopting the last line of conduct to please his chieftainship, and beyond committing paltry little thefts upon us, principally of provisions, which we overlooked, we were left unmolested, and perhaps not the less so, that one of the tribe who passed the Rubicon of discretion in his conduct met with a prompt and terrible punishment.
By experience, I found that the Indian of real life, and lie of the drama, or the poetical romances of Cooper, are entirely different animals; for whereas the latter seldom opens his mouth save to give utterance to some beautiful trope or metaphorical sentence, in the former his mode of converse is extremely sententious, brief, and to the point. His ideas incline entirely to matter-of-fact, and he cannot understand aught beside. Thus, in an agreement with an Indian, you must carry it out to the letter, or he is discontented, and fancies himself wronged. A ludicrous, yet annoying instance of this redskin idiosyncrasy occurred to me at Umpqua. An Indian had performed a certain service for me, and as, of course, money is of no use to his color, who do not know the value of it, he demanded a pair of pantaloons, which I agreed to give. Finding, however, when he came to claim his reward, that my wardrobe was somewhat deficient in specimens of the particular portion of attire, in an evil hour I presented him with a coat instead. Now, the coat was more valuable than the pantaloons; and, with regard to the relative utility of the two articles as clothing, one was just as good as another; for if an Indian can only obtain some portion of a white man's clothes to flourish about him--literally, to astonish the natives--it is quite a secondary consideration to him how he puts it on. Thus, a coat may do duty for pantaloons, or vice versa, pantaloons for a coat. Apparently satisfied with this arrangement, the Indian went away, but only to return next day, to make me understand, by signs, etc., that he wanted the pantaloons I had promised him. As he had not brought back the coat, I was not disposed to agree to this, so I gave him, in addition, a waistcoat and some beads; and now, having paid him about thrice the value of what he was originally promised, reckoned according to the terms of barter we had arranged with the Indians, I felt assured that he would be perfectly satisfied. But I had reckoned without my host. Shortly afterwards the Indian again presented himself, and coolly demanded the fulfillment of my original promise. Of course this was not to be borne, and I tried to argue with him, stating that he had been trebly paid already, but that, if he must have his original demand, the other articles must be restored. But this view of the question my friend could not, or would not, understand, and we parted mutually dissatisfied. But I had the worst of the argument ultimately. Of all duns, protect me from an Indian one. My self-created creditor haunted me. If he was not in my hut, squatting by the fire, gazing at me unmeaningly, with an injured and anxious countenance by the hour together, my eye was sure to light on his discontented figure if I looked out of the window, and when I went out shooting or fishing he followed moodily at a distance. This silent dogged persistency wore out my patience; if the fellow had spoken, or even threatened me, I could have reasoned or threatened in return. It was the old tale of Peter Schemel reversed; Peter's trouble was, that he had lost his shadow, whereas I could not get rid of mine. In this state of affairs I asked the advice of a friend well skilled in backwoods lore, and had the consolation of finding that the Indian was right and I was wrong; and that, whatever I had given to the former had nothing to do with my first promise, which must be redeemed, unless I wished for a feud with the whole tribe to which the Indian belonged. So with much grudging I made over the pantaloons; but, as may be imagined, I was very careful in my future dealings with Indians always to act strictly according to the letter of an agreement.
The month of July had now arrived, and that passion for moving, which grows upon one very strongly when abroad, began to urge me to leave Umpqua and "make tracks" to the mines. Already one party from California, bound for the northern mines, had arrived at Umpqua, and pushed on from thence to their destination, thus saving a long toilsome land journey by way of Sacramento. This was not a very difficult feat to accomplish, as, by heading in a southeastern direction after leaving Scottsburg, the traveler must eventually strike the great Columbian trail, which led across the Siskiyou Mountains, somewhere about what is now denominated Winchester on the map. So, in conjunction with four other of my comrades, we set about making preparations for the start by purchasing an Indian pony apiece of some Indians who owned a few cattle on a small prairie above Scottsburg.
Soon our preparations were complete, and, amid the hearty good wishes of our brother colonists, with whom we had for half a year shared danger, privation, and toil, we mounted our "mustangs," and turned our back upon the Umpqua.
It was not without regret I bade farewell to this promising settlement, of which I had been one of the first pioneers. When we left, emigrants were rapidly arriving and taking claims on the river, and there were no less than four vessels in the harbor loading with "piles." The bar was now better understood, and soon it would pay to keep a tug-steamer for the purpose of towing sailing vessels through the dangerous channel, as at the Columbia, and it would then be no obstacle to the commerce of the country. Though I never returned to Umpqua, I always had intended to do so, and for that purpose, like the rest, I had taken a claim, built a log house, and planted a little ground. The squatter laws of the state were very simple. Each squatter on the prairies is allowed to take a certain number of acres--112, I think--and an additional number if he has a wife, and so many for each of his children. If it is a river claim, he is allowed a certain admeasurement of river frontage. If the squatter is an alien, to share in these privileges he must pay ten dollars for declaring his intention to become a subject of the United States. When the new country becomes populous enough, the government surveyor comes and surveys the land, and each squatter must pay out of his own pocket for his claim being surveyed and mapped.
In addition to this, it is necessary that the squatter remain upon his claim for four years ere he can legally sell or barter it. An absence of six months at one time, during this period of four years, invalidates his rights, and anyone else may seize the claim. The squatter is also called upon by government to expend, I believe, 100 dollars at least during the four years in improvements on his land. This latter clause is almost a dead letter, because if the squatter erects a small log hut, rails in a few rods of land, and plants them, he can put his own value on his work.
As I looked around on our small party as we took the road, I could hardly repress a feeling of the ludicrous. The Indian ponies on which we were mounted were much undersized, while their riders were generally the other way, and the long beards and hair of the one, and the highly developed, unkempt tails and manes of the other, together with the extraordinary substitutes we had invented in the place of legitimate saddles and bridles, gave our cavalcade a tout ensemble at once grotesque and wild.
In other respects we were well provided for the arduous journey that lay before us. Each man was armed to the teeth with rifle, revolver, and bowie knife, and possessed a pair of blankets, which generally did duty as saddles on the march; and each had in front of him a lasso and a bag of provisions, while behind him he bore his apportioned share of the cooking utensils--the frying pan, kettles, kneading tin, etc. In spite, however, of our bizarre appearance, I felt, and felt truly, that a small compact body like ours, in which each man knew, and could depend upon his fellow, could pass through the hostile Indian country which lay before us with greater safety than a larger party composed of more incongruous materials. The result proved I was right. We only made a short journey the first day, and camped on a small prairie, fifteen miles above Scottsburg. Our camping rules at night were as strictly conformed to as the Romans were when their army was on a campaign. Hunters' and trappers' lore has constituted these prairie rules; and while an adherence to them prevents an Indian night surprise, and consequent attack--for an Indian will never attack without a surprise--the neglect of them has led to the massacre of many and many a careless party of white men.
Grass, water, and wood are essentials for camping ground; but, in addition to those, it is necessary that the camp should be pitched in a locality free from any cover within gunshot distance, from behind which a lurking Indian might fire with fatal effect. When these requisites are found, the animals are relieved of their caparisons, with the exception of the lasso, which being fastened round their neck is allowed to trail on the ground, so that they are easily caught, and then turned out to graze. Then the fire is lighted, and the supper cooked, and as soon as the twilight begins to darken, the horses are driven in, and either fastened with a picket pin and allowed to graze to the extent of their lasso, or, if the locality is very dangerous, tied to a tree near at hand, so that a stampede is almost an impossibility. After this, every spark of the fire is extinguished, as it might prove a guide to the enemy; and the party, having set a guard, roll themselves in their blankets and go to sleep.
The guard crawls out from camp some fifty yards or so, towards the point from which he apprehends danger is most to be expected, and lying flat, with his ear to the ground, he keeps on the alert, his orders being never to challenge anything that approaches the camp, but to fire at it point blank. Above all, no Indian, however friendly, is allowed to sleep in camp. At the first streak of day in the east, the guard arouses the sleepers, the horses are turned out to feed till breakfast is over, when the march is again resumed till evening, with the exception sometimes of a short halt at midday. But travelers of the prairie are like masters of ships: they will never lose a moment's time if it can be avoided.
Our route lay through a country of widely diverse features: sometimes we crossed a little prairie, or scrambled through wooded and broken ground; then we ascended and descended huge mountains, and anon forded rapid streams, in some of which horse and man were put to it to swim. These little prairies were inexpressibly beautiful in their appearance, being overgrown with a vegetation almost tropical in the profuseness of its luxuriance. Sometimes our horses were half buried in wild oats and clover, through which it was difficult to get them, from their desire to stop and feed. Wildflowers, too, of the most variegated shapes and hues, which methought were not unfamiliar to me through the medium of English hothouses, spotted the plain, while in the wooded regions strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, currants, and cranberries grew in great quantities, but in their wild state did not attain the size of our own cultivated specimens. On the third day a flock of antelopes was descried disporting themselves on a distant hillside. A halt was immediately called, and a young American of the name of Butler, and myself, as being the best shots, were selected to stalk them. Keeping well to leeward, we got within shooting distance, and both fired together. One of the antelopes sprang into the air, and then fell to the ground, where it lay; the rest vanished with the speed of thought. We picked up our game, which was a beautiful and elegant specimen of the antelope tribe, of a light dun-colored skin, with white spots, and the pretty head adorned with small horns. While the flesh was scarcely cool, some of it frizzled away in our frying pan. Ah! 'tis very well to sigh for the golden age, and its vegetable diet. Let such dreamers try a prolonged abstinence from fresh meat, as I had been forced to do: I think they would recant. For myself, I know nothing ever tasted so sweet to my palate as that bit of over-fresh, badly cooked venison.
As from day to day we continued our journey, the indomitable pluck and stamina of our little "mustangs" pleased and astonished us greatly. It would seem as if the appliances of civilization, which render horses handsome and swift, detract from their hardiness, for certainly no English horse could have kept up his condition on the scanty fare and hard work that these little animals, who were quite unaccustomed to "hard" food, had never worn shoes, felt a currycomb or slept in a stable, encountered with apparent ease. Of course we gave them a respite when it was practicable, and dismounted when the road was bad or mountainous.
It was over a week ere we struck the great Columbian trail, somewhere about Winchester. I see there is now a "military road" from Scottsburg to the former point; but it must be remembered there was nothing of the kind in my time to direct us--not even an Indian trail; and we traveled entirely by compass and "the lay of the country." No wonder we were so long a time on the march. I was terribly disappointed when we did strike the aforesaid "great Columbian trail," for I had expected to see a wide, beaten road; but, on the contrary, it was by no means so well defined as a sheep track, though now and then there were marks of wheels. Soon we overtook a cattle train from Columbia, with three or four wagons drawn by oxen.
The manner in which these Oregon men get their two-wheeled wagons through streams and mountain passes is truly wonderful. Where even a perambulator would be in danger, these wagons are fearlessly taken. The indomitable perseverance of their conductors is wonderful. When the trail gets so bad that the oxen can no longer draw the laden wagon, it is the commonest of incidents for them to "hump" their load, piece by piece, for perhaps half a mile. Sometimes they are compelled to hew a way through a forest, now to construct a "corduroy" road over a morass. It is done without a grumble. At first I used to be surprised by seeing the mark of only one tire along the sloping crest of a precipice, and in spite of the cattle tracks accompanying it, imagined it must be a wheelbarrow, as the idea of taking a wagon along a slope at an angle sharp as the roof of a house seemed too incredible. Yet such was really the fact; for I found afterwards that it was quite usual for these energetic voyagers to uphold, by main force, the outer wheel of the wagon, while the inside wheel alone touched the ground for long distances at a time, along the edge of a precipice, when one slip must have consigned wagon, driver, and oxen, to destruction.
There was, however, one part of the trail we had yet to pass, which even these hardy men dreaded. This was the passage of the Great Cañon Creek. Indeed, so much was said about it by all the travelers we met or overtook, that it became my bête noir, and I longed yet feared to arrive at it.
Meanwhile we journeyed on from day to day over vast tracts of land on which not a sign of civilization appeared, and yet, in all the elements of wood, water, and pasture, admirably adapted for the support of man. I could not but realize the force of the song--"There's room enough for all"--as I cast my regards over this beautiful region, unexceptional in climate and fertility, now lying fallow, while we are struggling with each other for elbow room, only two or three months' journey distant. To prate of the waterless, burnt-up Australia, the bitter Canada, or the torrid Cape, in comparison with Oregon, is absurd. New Zealand alone of our colonies approximates to it, but is in every way inferior. Not from "guide books" do I inscribe these opinions, but from personal experience; for I have penetrated into the interior of all the countries I have named. Often in Oregon have I ridden for hours and hours at a time through a gently undulating district covered with short green grass, sparsely sprinkled with fine oak trees, and I have been so carried away with its extraordinary similitude to an English gentleman's well-kept park that I have begun to wonder when I should come to the park palings. Oh, sad and shortsighted policy of English statesmen, who lost possession of this delightful region, and ended by consenting to fix the boundary line as far north as Vancouver! Lame and impotent conclusion! I declare--and someday my words shall be verified--that we have lost a pearl of invaluable price, which coming generations shall appreciate and deplore. Already, in addition to its wonderful resources, gold has been discovered in vast quantities by its streams. Even the Umpqua has now its diggings.
Look at the Oregon men--coming of the finest state, they are the finest men of the States. Ardently do they love the beautiful country in which they have thriven; and in that affection, which amounts to a proverb, I join them heartily, for did I not also thrive there? Can I ever ungratefully forget that while I was in Oregon, in spite of mean fare I was a stone heavier than I ever was before or have been since? Seriously, in my enthusiastic admiration of that country, had I represented our government in the Oregon boundary question, I would almost have ingloriously winked at the annexation of Cuba, and given up a slice of Canada, to gain this fairest region of the West.
After three days traversing the devious trail, much intersected by streams, that caused great delay in fording, we came to a halt on a prairie close to the Cañon Creek, which was represented, as far as I could see, by a gloomy mountain range. On this prairie we found several horse, mule, and cattle trains camped, as it is usual to attempt this dangerous pass in company with other parties, so that each can render the other assistance when required. As the morrow was Sunday, it was agreed by all that it should be a day of rest for man and horse, to recruit their strength for the work before them.
Long before daylight on Monday morning everybody was up, getting breakfast and making preparations for the start, in order to take advantage of every minute of daylight, which is absolutely required for the passage of the great Cañon. My heart beat faster with anxiety, as our party, having the least encumbrances, led the way into the deep, gloomy mountain gorge, which is the mouth of the Cañon. A rapid stream ran at our right hand; but as we advanced, the mountain's sides got higher and more precipitous, and seemed closing in upon us. At last we came to a dead standstill, for there was an end of terra firma, and before us there lay nothing but a deep stream, fiercely and noisily tearing along, throwing its spray over the huge boulders of rocks which studded its bed and appeared above the current.
"Hallo!" sung out one of "ours" to those behind, "which way now?"
"Right away upstream," was the reply.
Right away upstream! I began to believe in the Cañon Creek. It was evident there was an end of equestrianship for some time to come; so, dismounting, we drove our animals into the water and followed ourselves, and thus, half swimming, half wading, our painful journey began. How am I to describe the scene that ensued! As I have said before, our party was the lightest, having neither pack animals nor wagons; yet we had quite enough to do to push on, for the bed of the rapid stream was very irregular, and every now and then a deep pool occurred, into which man and horse would flounder. But whenever, through this or other obstacles, a slight halt took place, "forward" was the hoarse cry that arose, and staggering, tumbling, scrambling, and splashing, on we pressed. Now, a pack mule or horse would fall under its load, and was drowned ere it could be released: load and animal were left to lie together. Then, a wagon would break down, and the wreck and its contents were abandoned; for, with hostile Indians at hand, no one cared to linger. The passage must be accomplished ere nightfall. So, as vehicles and animals gave out, the struggling, fighting, tumultuous and desperate crowd swept over them.
This fierce struggle was rendered all the more gloomy by the shade which the high mountain walls on either hand cast over us. Half the day and half the passage were accomplished about the same time, and, the ordeal of water being at an end, that of mud commenced. In a word, having arrived at the end of the stream, the remaining portion of six miles lay through a deep sea of thick liquid mud. In making this change, we only got from bad to worse, for the opaque, oleaginous semifluid liquid through which we now floundered concealed deep and treacherous holes, which it was impossible to avoid, and in a short time men and animals had all the appearance of animated plaster casts. Many animals were lost in these quagmires, in which they would get mired down, in some cases with only their poor mud-bedaubed heads and ears above the surface. The Spanish muleteers, of which one or two were generally attached to the large trains, in these emergencies upheld their name as the best muleteers in the world. When a mule or horse was mired down, they would strip to the skin, dive unhesitatingly into the pool of mud, knife in hand, and cut away loads and saddles; then ropes would be attached to the unencumbered animals, and they would be dragged from their perilous position. If, however, the pack animals once lost their footing in the quagmires, it was all over with them; and, as if they were aware of their danger, the piteous looks and cries of those that found themselves gradually succumbing was heartbreaking in the extreme.
It was quite nightfall when, weary and exhausted, our mud-stained cavalcade emerged from the Cañon, and camped on a little prairie beyond. On counting losses, it was found that five wagons and about thirty head of cattle had been left behind. My own party had passed scathless. The next day we halted, while a fatigue party retraced their steps to try to save some of the property that had been abandoned; but they returned, I believe with very bad success. That day, by the camp fire, I heard many a curious legend of the Great Cañon Creek.
In company with the different trains, we crossed the Rogue River by a ferry established by a number of white men. Here I saw the first specimen of a Rogue River Indian. He was only a boy of fourteen, but was the son of a powerful chief, under whose protection the men at the ferry lived. This was an Indian of a very different stamp from our friend of the Umpqua. He of the prairie had a red skin, his eye was well opened, and his pleasing features gleamed with the light of intellect. He was attired in dressed deerskin, and in the chaplet around his head were placed the feathers of an eagle. On his feet he wore moccasins beautifully embroidered with beads, and necklaces of teeth and bands of wampum encircled his neck and crossed and recrossed his chest. The young chief was well armed, with a long rifle with flint lock, and a knife and tomahawk rested in his girdle. As we sat round our camp fire that night, chatting to a number of strangers, a tall Yankee with an immense rifle, dressed in an old hunting shirt and deerskin trousers, stalked into our circle, and without the least preface said, "Lookee h'yar, gents, I wish some of ye would jist shoot down yon young spy of an Injun--he hadn't orter to be here nohow." Perceiving no encouragement of his proposal, he continued, "If ye don't, gents, ye'll have 'trouble,' take this hos's word for't, sure as shooting. Now, do shoot him, gents"; and, with the same impassable face and cry, he went the round of the camp fires.
I could not refrain from smiling at the cool, bloodthirsty appeal of the man to put to death the unoffending young Indian chief; but my American companions did not quite coincide with me. "Maybe old Dave's right," said one. "He knows Injun nature, he does; so, if 'trouble' comes, look out for your scalps, boys." With these prophetic words ringing in my ears, I went to sleep that night, but was aroused about midnight by an alarm in camp, caused by the report of a shot or two, which proceeded from some distance off in the direction of where our horses were feeding; for, as there were so many trains assembled, none of them had taken the usual precautions to extinguish fires, or place separate guards, but all the cattle were allowed to feed near the camp, under the surveillance of two or three armed men. In an instant we all flew to arms, and it was discovered that a stampede had been tried, and partly succeeded, by two or three Indians, who had been fired at, but had escaped. Amongst the horses lost by this stampede were unfortunately included the gallant little "mustangs" which had carried myself and companions so far and so well, and we were thus reduced to the condition of pedestrians--a very great calamity on the prairie--as, of course, it necessitates the transport of one's provisions and blankets. How we abused the Rogue River Indians! Well do they deserve their dishonest appellative, which was given to them originally by the Hudson's Bay people, who found it impracticable to bring this tribe of Indians alone under their sway, from their inherent fierceness and utter intractability. It is a striking proof of these characteristic traits, that, at the time of which I write, hardly a single train passed through their country but lost men or cattle, or suffered some annoyance at their hands.
Fortunately for us, the next day a light return horse train passed us, and our party were fortunate enough to secure each a mount at no very exorbitant prices. For example, I purchased a prime young American horse of good points, with saddle and bridle included, for 150 dollars. Once more mounted, we determined to leave the other trains, and push forward in advance, having every confidence in our rifles for the protection of ourselves and horses.
Early the next morning, ere the other trains were stirring, our party, in company with another composed of three strapping young Columbian men, all brothers, took up the trail. Our trio of fellow travelers, who were fine samples of their countrymen--for though the eldest was not much over twenty years of age, each of them stood above six feet in height--had left the old Columbian roof tree with a venture of flour packed on about ten fine mules. We had taken a great fancy to this stalwart "band of brothers," which feeling they had reciprocated, as their presence with us on the present occasion testified. A more guileless, frank, lighthearted lot I had never met before, and it was excessively refreshing to hear these brave simple giants detailing reminiscences of the "old folks at home"--of father and mother, and "little Archy," their youngest brother, who was taller than any of them--in the same breath that they recounted terrific narratives of "Injun" warfare, when, once upon a time, they joined the Columbian Rangers in an expedition to chastise a tribe of outlying redskin marauders.
An almost ludicrous family resemblance was seen in the comely features and robust forms of the young Columbians, from which a similarity of attire by no means detracted. Some portions of the national costume which they wore had something of the "Hibernian at home" about it; for instance, the long grayish-blue frieze coat, the low-crowned rough beaver hat, and gay silk neckerchief. Somewhat formidable scriptural names had been given to them by their progenitors; but, as they were invariably addressed by brief alliteratives, this did not much matter. Young braves sans peur et sans reproche [without fear or reproach], "Zeph," "Jess," and "Eph!" what, indeed, was in a name to such as ye, so good, so tender, and so true! No doubt, in the old Bible at home, in ancient calligraphic characters, that speak more of the plow than the plume, those patriarchal names are painfully written in full; but where are the young giants that bore them? Father, mother, and "little Archy," do ye yet live to answer? In mercy, perhaps, 'twere better not.
In the greatest accord our two parties rode along together; till on the second day, the sun being very hot, our "cavalcade" halted for a midday siesta; but our friends considering it best to push on and camp early in the evening, we separated. Most unfortunately, most fatally, as it turned out, our siesta lasted far longer than we had intended; for we slept between two and three hours, and though we hastened along the trail, darkness began to close upon us, and still no signs of our friends' campfire appeared. Under these circumstances, it only remained for us to camp alone, which we did with a certain feeling of disappointment; for, so accustomed had we grown to be enlivened by the company of the brothers, that we missed them greatly. A little gloom, therefore, hung over our evening repast, and everyone seemed somewhat silent and "distrait"; neither did the aspect of the night add to our cheerfulness, for it was intensely dark. So I, for one, was not sorry when, supper being over, the horses were brought in, the guard set, and we betook ourselves to our blankets.
After a very troubled sleep I was roused, at about 3 a.m., to take the last guard, which lasted till daybreak. As I armed myself for the purpose, the man whom I relieved told me that just before he awoke me, he had fancied that he had heard, very faintly, the report of a shot or two in a southerly direction, and advised me to outlie towards that point. Although not attaching much importance to my comrade's report--for he appeared half asleep--I did not neglect his advice, but crawled out of camp about one hundred yards, in the direction he indicated; but though I listened there most attentively, no sound, save the gentle night breeze and the mournful cry of the distant coyote, met my ear. I should think my guard must have lasted about twenty minutes, and I was impatiently wishing the two or three hours which would bring morning were passed away--for I felt cold and cheerless--when I fancied I distinguished a faint sound borne on the breeze, that blew from the south; but, as this lulled, I lost it. Unwilling to disturb my comrades by a false alarm, I bent my head down, and with suspended breath tried to catch the sound once more, when, as I was trying to convince myself that imagination had deceived me in the first instance, there it was again; and now, clearly and distinctly, I recognized a horse's gallop rapidly approaching.
It was time for action; so, with a hail to my party, in a minute they were all awake and under arms; and, falling back upon them, according to instructions, I first of all discharged my piece in the direction of the nocturnal visitor, but it was answered by an unmistakable English hail, and the next instant Zeph--the youngest of the three brothers--on a barebacked steed, followed by a young filly, burst into the midst of us. Bleeding and breathless, with his apparel hanging in tatters round his person, it became painfully apparent that he had just emerged from a death struggle, and we foreboded the worst.
"My brothers! my brothers!" he ejaculated, as soon as he could speak; "a rifle--quick--and follow me." Gathering round the excited youth, we gleaned from his hurried narrative that after his party had left us they had fallen in with two Indians, whose tribe they did not know, but who were very friendly, and bartered some venison against a portion of flour. In an evil hour they were allowed by the white men to sleep in their camp, though they were both armed with Hudson's Bay Company's muskets and an old pistol. The brothers, however, took the precaution to set a guard, and Zeph had undertaken the duty, and sat down by the fire, while the two brothers slept near the mules, some fifty yards off. As it seemed to Zeph, the greatest portion of the night had passed away, when there was a loud crash, and something grazed his forehead. In haste he sprung to his feet, and looked round for the Indians. They were gone. Half giddy with the blow he had received, and beset with the most terrible foreboding, he yet managed to rush to the spot where his brothers slept by the mules. The darkness was intense, and the outline of the bed on the ground was alone perceptible. Kneeling beside it, he distinguished low moans proceeding from its occupants, whose forms seemed to writhe, and whose hands beat the air in a strange unnatural fashion. Then a warm slimy semi-fluid encountered his touch, and the horrible thought struck him that his hands were imbrued in his brothers' gore! At this juncture, a crowd of Indians, who had stealthily approached, cast themselves upon him, knife in hand; but in his desperation, the young backwoodsman threw them off him, and, wrenching a knife from one of them, a desperate conflict ensued. In the thick of it, Zeph called to mind that a mare and her filly were picketed by themselves in the wood a little distance away, and, bursting through his foes in that direction, he cut the mare's lasso, threw himself on her back, and so escaped. As with frantic gestures and incoherent ejaculations the unfortunate boy bewailed his unutterable misfortune, he still begged of us to return with him to his camp, to rescue or avenge his brothers. Such a proceeding, however, with our small muster, would have been sheer madness, as there was little doubt that the attack had been a concerted one, and the Indians were now pillaging the camp in force, after having wreaked their worst on the two unfortunates. Under these circumstances, we refused to consent to Zeph's request while the darkness continued, but promised to advance upon the camp by the first streak of dawn. Having come to this conclusion, Zeph would have taken a weapon and proceeded thither himself, but we withheld him, half by force, half by entreaty; but by neither one nor the other would he consent to have his numerous wounds attended to.
"Zeph," said I, as I took him on one side, "remember the poor father and mother at home. Are not two sons enough for them to lose, that you wish to add a third? If not for your own sake, at least for theirs, preserve yourself."
"Father and mother! do you think I can go back and look them in the face? I dare not," he said distractedly.
"Zeph!" I said, as I fixed my eye significantly on his, "you have not told us all--tonight you slept at your post!" The conscience-stricken boy flung himself on his knees and covered his face. "Be comforted," I continued; "older and wiser men than you have been surprised by sleep: and above all, remember your family."
"I shall never see them again," he said, rising with a ghastly smile. "There's only one thing I've got to live for now--and that's to punish my brothers' murderers."
"But there were several wretches engaged in it," I said.
"Yes; but the chief man--him that plotted it. Look here," continued Zeph, grasping my arm tightly. "When I were struggling with the Injuns, we fought round till we got near the fire, and just then the blaze kinder flickered up, and I saw him close by on his horse."
"Who is him?" I asked, deeply interested.
"One that's plotted this, ay, and scores of murders besides." Zeph would say no more.
When morning broke, we were prepared for action; rifles and revolvers had been fired off, cleaned, reloaded, primed, and capped with the greatest care; and saddle girths were nicely adjusted and tightened. Then with Zeph as our leader we threw ourselves on the trail which led to the scene of the night attack. As in the dim morning light I looked around at our little band, I could not but feel that the adventure I was engaged in was, perhaps, the most desperate of all my vagabond longings for travel had yet led me into; for on each stern face I read a determination, without any concern for mere personal safety. Half an hour's canter over broken ground, thinly wooded, brought us to a pretty little cleared area, and, fastening our horses to a tree, we walked forth into the plain for the distance of thirty or forty yards, and then gazed upon a scene such as the diabolical fantastic imagination of a savage could alone realize. Stripped to the skin, and with raw heads, from which the reeking scalp had been torn, lay the bodies of the two brothers, over which the savages in horrid mockery had emptied a quantity of flour. The death of each man must have occurred almost instantaneously, as they were both shot through the head, and the muzzles of the weapons had been held in such close proximity, that the skin was completely singed. Silently, with feelings of horror and pity, we gazed on these ghastly forms so lately the embodiments of vigorous vitality. When that morbid fascination which rivets our regards on the dangerous or horrible allowed me to lift up my eyes, it was not an instant too soon, for lo! from the other side of the plain a troop of Indian horsemen advanced upon us, while another band on foot on our right were stealing up the creek to endeavor to cut off our horses.
"Quick! Quick!" I shouted, "to your horses, for your lives!" In hot haste we made towards our tethered steeds, and, cutting away the halters with our knives, with great difficulty we mounted, for the Indians now raised their war whoop, which caused the animals to rear and plunge in wild attempts to stampede. At length, however, we got away in a headlong gallop, not the less fleeter, perhaps, because the balls of the Indians on foot, who were now within range, "pinged" over our heads in unpleasant proximity. A volley from our saddles checked somewhat the pursuit of the horsemen; but the enemy was far too numerous for us to think of engaging in a hand-to-hand fight, his numbers, as far as we could judge, being in relation to ours at least twenty to one.
Two methods of proceeding now presented themselves, either to fall back on the trains in our rear, which could not be very far off, or to encamp and defend ourselves till they came up. The latter course was ultimately adopted. By the advice of Zeph, we pressed our horses so as to utterly distance the mounted Indians, who still pursued us, till we came on to a small prairie, of two or three miles across, and on which there was no cover except a small tree nearly in the center. This spot was admirably adapted for our purposes; so, ranging up to the tree, each man attached his horse's head firmly to it by means of lasso and bridle; then arranging our saddles and baggage in a circle round, we reloaded our rifles and lay down behind this somewhat inefficient cover. Our preparations were hardly completed ere the mounted Indians debouched onto the open, and were followed in a short time by those on foot; and while the latter hung on the edge of the prairie, the former galloped round us, to make a reconnaissance of our position.
To our astonishment, we counted no less than 150 of these Indian cavalry, all well armed and mounted. The fact is, this display of force had not been assembled together for our benefit, as we afterwards found, but to oppose a body of Californian Rangers, who had been enlisted by a States officer to chastise the Indians for their numerous misdeeds [probably in August 1852]. Having recognized our rudely entrenched camp, the Indians drew off, apparently to hold a council of war. Could they have made up their minds to have charged down upon us, there is not the slightest doubt that we should have been "wiped out" to a man; but then, under the fire of our rifles and revolvers some of the enemy must of necessity have been brought down, as they charged across the open for our cover. Now, this certainty of losing more or less men on their own side is, as I have remarked before, utterly opposed to redskin received notions of fighting. In cold blood they would not sacrifice one man, to be able to slay a hundred of their enemies. But on the other hand--for it is absurd to say that the prairie Indian is wanting in courage of his kind--he is perfectly ready to risk the life of every man of the tribe in the fortunes of an ambuscade or surprise. In fact, in the present instance, had not their appetite been sharpened by their late whet of bloodshed, there is not a doubt they would have gone sway without the least demonstration when once our position had been fairly ascertained. Now, however, after a short council the Indians thought proper to circle round us in Indian file, as if looking for an opening, or undecided whether to attack or not. In this order, though out of rifle shot, one could mark each man separately, and their fine appearance and complete equipment completely took us by surprise, for every redskin possessed a rifle, and rode an American horse.
Of this last point there could exist no doubt, the American horse being a very different animal from the undersized "mustangs" generally pertaining to these Indians; and this fact tends strongly to show the amount of depredations these Rogue River Indians must commit, for of course every one of the 150 horses we now saw in their possession had at some time or other been stolen from white men.
By and by, the red horsemen again formed into close order, and in a dashing gallop circled around us, whooping and waving their rifles as if in derision. Every moment I expected them to swoop down upon us. For myself, though braced up with the resolution of making a good fight of it to the last, I confess I gave up all thoughts of ultimate escape. This comes of reading Cooper's novels, I thought. Tonight my mother will be gazing in the fire meditating as is her wont, and near her my dear old aunt will be at her side, yet little will they imagine that on a lonely prairie far away, outnumbered and outmatched, I lay stark and stiff by the side of my five brave companions. Meantime, the chief, an old man with long white hair which floated on the wind, mounted on a magnificent charger, several times swooped down upon us much nearer than the others, from bravado or to encourage his followers.
"Down with the hoary-headed murderer, anybody that can," called out young Zeph, "or he'll bring the rest down upon us."
As the old chief made another swoop opposite to our position, just as his semicircular career brought him to the point of his nearest approach to us, and ere he swerved to his own people again, two rifles spoke out. The rider sprung up in his saddle, and tossed his arms aloft, reeled for a moment from one side to the other, and then fell with a crash to the sward. A ringing cheer from our little band sounded high above the hoarse cry of rage and sorrow that burst from the enemy, and Lincoln sprang forth to secure the well-trained charger that stood still by the side of his dead master. But, anticipating him, a young Indian swooped down upon the body, and by a wondrous feat of horsemanship drove away the chieftain's horse into his own ranks again, and at the same moment, in full career, bent down from his saddle, picked up the rifle, and regained his party in safety. This time the cheer of triumph came from the Indians. But I believe the chieftain's death would not have been allowed to pass by without an attempt to avenge it; and we certainly expected that we should have had to stand the burst of a charge, so excited were the whole band of our enemies, as we could see by their gestures as they again held council together. An anxious half hour passed away, when, to our astonishment and relief, the wild horsemen suddenly drew off the prairie, and the cloud of footmen melted away in the cover. This movement was soon explained by the long line of trains we had left behind us appearing on the trail in the distance. Having heard the firing, they had pushed rapidly forward, and were in too great numbers to allow of the Indians to dream of making head against them in open fight. When the Indians withdrew, our party formed a circle round the old chief's body as it lay face upwards on the sward, and marked that the hands wore clenched, and the knitted brows still wore a frown, as if even in death the savage soul of the red freebooter defied his conquerors. Should we not wonder if that case-hardened soul, impervious to all but evil, had been otherwise, when we know that no whisper of the religion of peace or of a saving faith had ever been breathed into his infidel ear, when its sole creed, fed and fostered from the mother's milk, had been that of our own stern borderers of the olden time--
"Theirs was the plan,When the assembled trains came up, after a short halt to view the body of the Indian chief, and to listen to the unpleasant relation of our sad loss, we moved on in force to the scene of the night attack, and there camped, to show defiance to our enemies--not without a wish that they would again attack, and give us an opportunity of redressing our wrongs. This latter expectation caused us to keep on the alert during the night; but our extra watchfulness was thrown away, as not the slightest alarm disturbed us, to the evident mortification of all the young men in the camp. In the morning, ere we started, the mournful duty of interring the remains of the two brothers was performed. We buried them in a grave dug by the side of the creek; a few sheets of bark were substituted for a coffin, and I repeated as much of the burial service as I remembered. When these funereal rites were at an end, the names of the victims and the manner of their death were rudely inscribed on a neighboring tree. I stood next to poor Zeph as the sad ceremony was performed; but, contrary to my expectation, he evinced no outward demonstrations of sorrow, save by a wild, restless eye, and an excessive pallor. When all was over I led him aside to a retired spot by the creek, where my four comrades met us. To a tree the young Columbian's mare was tethered, completely caparisoned, while near her lay a rifle, pistols, blankets, and bag of provisions--in fine, every requisite for the equipment of a traveler on the prairies.
That he should take who had the power,
And he should keep who can."
"Zeph," I said, taking his hand, "we know you have lost everything; but with these things, which are yours, you can reach the Columbia. A return mule train is already in sight; you will join it and return home, and break the sad news to your parents. It is a duty you owe to yourself and them, and we are much deceived in you, Zeph, if you hesitate to perform it."
"I have another duty to perform first," replied Zeph, in a voice that put an end to all argument. More gently he said, "Friends, I thank ye from my heart for all ye've done for me, and I will take these things very gladly, but I have money, and I must pay for them"; and in spite of all we could say, he remunerated us in full for his equipment, with some gold he took from a waist belt.
"And now, friends," he said, "I must begone; don't think hardly of me if I can't take your advice, for I can't."
"But, Zeph," I said, detaining him; for, having gathered up his arms and outfit, by this time he was mounted, "whither go you now?"
"To seek him," he whispered, as he bent down his head to my ear, and in another minute the unhappy boy was stretching across the prairie at a speed that set pursuit at defiance.
Heartsick and wearied by the sad events and dangers of the last day or two, and thoroughly arrived at the conclusion that it is infinitely more conducive to pleasure and safety to "sit at home at ease," and read tales of travel, than to go abroad and collect materials for them, generally against one's will, I was not sorry when the Siskiyou Mountains came in view, and we approached the scene of our future mining operations. The range of the Siskiyou Mountains is to be the boundary between California and Oregon. I cannot imagine a greater change of climate, soil, etc., anywhere more rapidly experienced than by the one day's journey which is required to cross this chain from one state to the other. From early morn we commenced the ascent from the Oregon side, and toiled upwards till about four o'clock in the afternoon, when we gained the highest point. Ere I looked down on the plains, which lay like a map at my feet, I exclaimed instinctively, "California"; for, as the harsh, arid wind of the clime blew with a peculiar cutting sensation on the lips, I remembered I had experienced the same feeling often and often before in San Francisco. Yet a few hours ago, and I was inhaling the softest and most genial atmosphere of all the temperate zones.
A couple of hours sufficed to make our descent, which was terribly steep, into the plains below. By this time our animals showed signs of distress, so that my company and a large German band from Columbia determined to camp at the foot of the mountains; but the majority of the trains continued on to the regular camping ground, two or three miles ahead. We had reason, however, to regret our determination of remaining behind; for at night the bitter Californian breeze swept down the mountain hollows with a piercing, marrow-freezing effect that made one wince again. Not a wink of sleep could any of us obtain from this circumstance, throughout the entire night, and I did not much regret being called to take the last watch before morning. The Germans also placed sentries, who, to my utter disgust, huddled together and chatted away all my watch, perfectly reckless of the vigilant enemy, who is always on the alert. How we escaped an onslaught that night I know not. The only outlying sentry, I stood with my back against a tree, and once a smart tap against the other side of the trunk startled me, and I looked around, but could distinguish nothing. When day broke, however, to my astonishment I saw the shaft of an Indian arrow lying at the foot of the tree, and, carefully examining the trunk, deeply embedded in the bark I found the iron head, from which the shaft had broken off. It was evident that I had escaped a great danger.
When we struck the Klamath River, our party made up their minds that the Salmon River should be our destination instead of the Shasta plains, as we originally designed. I shall not, however, trouble the reader with the description of our route to this most mountainous of mining districts. Enough that we arrived there in safety. Purchasing a tent and tools, and taking a claim on the river bank, it did not take us long to surmount the little mysteries pertaining to gold mining operations.
Gold is sown broadcast over certain favored regions, but in these regions the signs of its presence are few and everything but infallible. I am perfectly well aware that quartz is generally found in the neighborhood of gold, and often contains the precious metal; the same with black sand. But all theories on the exact whereabouts of gold are vain. It is found in the most improbable places, and is missing often in the most probable. I have seen a large nugget found on the top of a mountain, by a man looking for his strayed mule. Gold is picked up on the seashore, near Trinity. I have seen a river diverted from its course, whose banks were lined with gold, like those of Lombard Street, yet when, after immense toil and expense, the bed of the stream was laid dry, not a red cent's worth of gold was discovered. Again, I have seen streams in which gold lurked in large flakes, like trout beneath boulder stones, yet the banks were valueless. How is it, too, that novices in the gold fields are proverbially fortunate, and no one cares to "go partners" with an old miner, because he can't find anything? How is it that sailors, those "thoughtless fellows," who never calculate, are the "luckiest" of miners? They will tell you this is all true at the mines. And therefore, at the risk of disparaging geology, I say that no theory holds good to discover gold to any amount. Sir Roderick Murchison may know in what countries gold-bearing rocks exist, but the actual localities in these parts of the globe it is beyond the power of geology to declare.
I do not propose to enter into a long detail of my mining operations, for the reason that I do not wish to be wearisome to my readers. "Rockers" have been so often described that they are [as] familiar to us as cradles, and "prospecting tins" afford us an everyday prospect of themselves, in the domestic milk dairy counter. I have already remarked that novices are generally successful. In the first rocker of earth that I washed, I found a nugget of half an ounce weight. As I took possession of it, I thought mining was a delightful pursuit, and wondered if there were any mansions in Piccadilly to let. Ah! I changed my mind afterwards. Pursued in heat and cold, dirt and damp, any little romance about it soon wears away, and it becomes as commonplace an occupation as mending roads, and one very soon finds, as in civilized life, that the trader, and not the operator, it is that makes the fortune. As a general thing, five cents of gold, or twopence halfpenny, is the lowest average each bucket of earth must produce to pay for working a claim, and then it must be an easy one to work.
It will seem surprising to some that such a small quantity of gold can be priced; but practice makes perfect, and when I was at the mines I got so accustomed to the weight of gold--as we paid for everything in dust--that I could select a scale of gold just equal to a half penny, or could pound gold into the palm of my hand to the value of a dollar, as correctly as by weighing it in the scales. Not that a cent was of the slightest value in the mines, or any coin under a quarter dollar, everything was so dear. "I have only sixpence in the world," said a miner jocularly, entering a store; "what can you sell me for it?" "Nothing but a lucifer match," was the storekeeper's reply. But altogether we did very well at the Salmon River, and most unpleasant to us was the rapidly approaching winter, when, trails being snowed up, and in consequence provisions prevented from coming in, we should be compelled "to levant"; for one fork of Salmon River was in a most mountainous district, quite inaccessible to wagons, and only passable, at the best of times, to horse and mule trains.
As the end of November drew nigh, snow began to fall, and provisions to ascend in price in equal ratio. Already twice, to prevent ourselves from starving, we had found it necessary to leave our claims, and assist, en masse, in digging out of the snow two mule trains laden with provisions. These were, however, the last that attempted the passes that winter; so that, while we consumed our provisions now, we were like the caterpillar in his cabbage, living on our capital. Still, we lingered on. There was no mistake about the diggings being "first chop." They must have been, for I never heard less grumbling amongst miners in my life, and they are a grumbling lot at the best. So we stayed, and stayed, till the last pound of flour, and the last ounce of salt pork was "wolfed up," and nothing eatable remained but some coffee beans and sugar--not very substantial viands to hungry men. When things arrived at this pass, the greatest miser amongst us saw it was time to "make tracks," as it was reckoned five days' journey to Shasta Plains, the nearest point from whence we could obtain provisions.
Behold us, then, with all our traps packed on muleback, starting upon the trail. And such a trail! Up one mountain, down another, across rivers, traversing the edge of precipices, anywhere but over a macadamized road, led that weary, weary trail. Cold and hungry, we camped the first night without a morsel of bread or meat amongst us, and did the best we could on coffee and sugar. Nevertheless, all of us were accustomed to hardships; and if a stranger could have heard the merry sounds that proceeded from around our campfire, he never could have supposed our supper to have been of the wretched description it was. I really believe the only forlorn face amongst us belonged to a tall cadaverous-looking Yankee, to whom popular rumor assigned a most ravenous appetite. To the immense number of good laughs this last-named individual extracted from us, we owed a material lightening of our hungry journey. His name was Sampson; and from the first evening, when his melancholy fashion of chewing his coffee beans and gazing into the fire gave rise to many Barmecide offers of his national dishes, such as "musk and molasses," hot cornbread, or pumpkin pie, up to the last moment when we separated, he was ever a constant source of fun and chaff.
Early the next morning we were afoot again, after, I need hardly add, a breakfast of the most homeopathic description. To our delight, about midday we fell in with a couple of Indians laden with a considerable amount of dried salmon. They were, however, afraid to approach our main body, so we sent a deputation in advance, composed of Sampson and another, to trade with them. The Indians permitted the deputation to approach them, and, unpacking their salmon, laid it down while the terms of barter were agreed on. The sight of provisions was, however, too much for the famishing Sampson. With one fell swoop of his long arms he swept up all the fish, with a ravenous howl, which made the terror-stricken Indians scud like hares out of sight. Sampson at once fell tooth and nail upon the viands. Beholding this, we all rushed upon him, and insisted upon a fair division of the spoils. As there were thirty of us, however, the limited supply only tantalized our appetites, and the treatment of the Indians proved very bad policy, as no doubt, owing to this raid, we met no more of them on the trail. "Lookee har, bhoys," growled Sampson, as we started on our journey the third morning, "I'm bound to git a feed, or I guess I'll be driv' to lay some unfortunate critter among ye in his tracks, and jest wolf him right up." And, gun in hand, amid loud laughter, he started in advance of the train. In a couple of hours or so we heard the report of his piece, and by and by came up with the hungry Yankee, who was found busily engaged with the body of an old crow, which, with the strange idiosyncrasy of crows in general, had found his way into these solitary mountains, and got shot for his pains. Peals of laughter echoed through our company, as we saw the black game Sampson's gun had brought down; but our mirth grew still louder when we found out why he persisted in rummaging away, in an anxious manner, into the old bird's carcass. The fact was, when the sportsman came upon his game, he had no small shot with him, and to have tried a bullet was nearly hopeless--so, his wits sharpened with hunger, and regardless of expense, Sampson had actually loaded his barrel with a charge of nuggetty gold, and thus brought down his quarry. So now he was endeavoring to recover some portion at least of his precious charge. But his effort was very unsuccessful.
The trail this third day was terrifically bad, and it was with great difficulty we got the animals along. In one portion of the trail, which it was absolutely necessary to pass, the rock made an almost sheer descent of five or six yards, and its surface was glazed completely over with ice. Now it was comparatively easy for a man to make the descent, but for mules, that was a different affair. After many fruitless trials, I began to think the animals would have to be left behind. For some time we worked with our tomahawks to make footholds for them in the ice, but the descent was so abrupt that we could not induce an animal to try it. At last we took the pack off the "bell mule," and forced her to the brink of the descent. Seeing there was no help for it, with trembling limbs, contracted tail, distended nostrils, and a whinnying cry, very much like that of a young child, she advanced her forefeet on the ice, curled up her hindquarters, cat fashion, and down she went. When she had accomplished the "pas" and stood erect again unhurt, there was not much difficulty in inducing the rest of the mules to "follow their leader," and all landed safely.
For the information of those who do not understand what a bell mule means, I must explain that a bell is sometimes attached to the neck of one of the animals in a horse or mule train, which afterwards always leads the way. The others follow in Indian file, and so accustomed are they to this guidance, that where the bell animal goes they rarely refuse to follow.
Exhausted with our efforts in contending with the difficulties of the trail, on the third evening we all felt faint and done up. Accordingly the suggestion of Sampson, whose hunger the poor crow had but little appeased, that a mule should be killed for supper, was listened to without a dissentient voice. A mule, almost foundered, was accordingly selected and slain, and in a few minutes the flesh was griddling, frying, and boiling on our camp fire. Any scruples I might have of partaking of such food were entirely overcome by hunger, and I devoured a mule steak with great delectation. The only difference that I seemed to find between this meat and that of bullocks was that the fiber of the former appeared somewhat finer. With regard to its flavor, never did anything taste sweeter or more relishing to my palate than that mule steak; but then, one must remember that it was served up with Spartan sauce. My companions must have been of the same opinion as myself, for every portion of the unfortunate mule disappeared that evening. Sampson led the attack in grand style on this occasion, and "settled" the greatest portion of the hind leg of a mule. Our supper over, and all of us greatly refreshed, we talked over the morrow's journey. According to the best informed among us, we were now two easy days' march from our destination, the Shasta Plains in the Klamath River, but by making a day and a half's legitimate journey into one day, we might, on the morrow's evening, be so able to reach a "ranch," or farm, where any amount of provisions could be obtained. Strengthened by the food of which we had partaken, we resolved nem. con. that we would start very early in the morning, and push for the "ranch."
At the very first peep of day, then, on the morrow, we were en route.Breakfast caused us no delay this morning, as there was literally none: even the coffee beans and sugar had come to an end. Unmerciful were the jokes perpetrated at Sampson's expense, as he announced himself hungrier than ever, and stated that the supper of the previous night had even given an edge to his appetite. Ironical cheers greeted him as he again set forth in advance, with a desperate determination of "getting a feed." Great difficulties beset us also this last day on the trail. Often and often were we compelled to relieve the mules from their packs, and transport them on our own shoulders over some dangerous pass; for by this time our animals, who had fared almost as badly as their masters in the way of food, were beginning to give out.
No one can imagine, except he has experienced it, the trouble and worry of getting along half-foundered pack animals on a mountain trail. What with their jibbing, straggling, and obstinacy, it is simply heartbreaking. It was considerably past midday before we were able to see any signs of the hungry advance guard. At length, from the crest of a mountain we perceived the smoke of a fire below us. All was now excitement and sarcastic wonder as to what Sampson had got in the way of "grub." Something he must have obtained to cook, or he would never have lighted a fire. One suggested he was cooking his boots; another, an Indian; the majority inclined to snakes and squirrels. All speculations on the above enumerated objects, however, fell through, for on descending the mountain we found it was neither more nor less than frogs! The hungry one had found a little pool of water, containing a number of the hopping fraternity, and, having built a fire handy, there he sat knife in hand, with his sleeves tucked up to his elbows, catching, cooking, and eating his prey, at one and the same time, with all the contentment that a gourmand Frenchman might be supposed to exhibit, when gloating over a delicate plat aux grenouilles at the "Trois Frères."
"Larf away, bhoys," sang out the frog-eater, as our whole company stood around his cuisine in various poses of uncontrollable laughter. "Larf away, I ain't half so mean as 'crow fixings,' I kin tell yer"--adding, as one of his victims hopped out of his grasp--"only the restless things air so mighty slick."
The frog episode ended, we pushed on again. Every mile we now passed over seemed to be growing longer and longer, for both men and animals were getting fast knocked up. Night, however, fell upon us, and many a weary hour elapsed, till the lights of the "ranch" became visible. A loud hurrah from our wearied company greeted them, and even the animals, guessing, no doubt, that a refuge was at hand, hurried forward with wonderfully accelerated speed. In fact, a race now ensued amongst our hungry band which should reach the "ranch" first. Like savages we charged through the "corral" and entered the building. The owner of the "ranch," an American, who knew several of us, saw at once the state of the case, and ordered his people to produce at once everything eatable in the house. But, presto! the bread, butter, meat, milk, etc. vanished like a trick of legerdemain. Many of us got nothing. A rush was then made into the corral, which contained many oxen and sheep. I am afraid to say how many were slaughtered and cut up, while simultaneously a huge fire, that would have served for a "fifth of November," blazed in the middle of the yard, and a number of bags of flour were brought down from the house. Then ensued a scene of cooking that would have driven Soyer mad. It was every man for himself. Plenty of culinary utensils were at hand: in fact, we possessed them ourselves. Collops of meat were dashed into the fire; some flour and water hastily mixed in a "prospecting pan," rapidly formed into a cake, and placed on the embers; or else, a hurriedly improvised pancake, minus eggs and milk, frizzled away in the frying pan. In that hour of starvation, no condiments, not even salt, was thought of. The meat was snapped up half raw; the griddle cakes were simply warmed through, and the pancakes were still battery. What was that to us? epicurianism was at a discount--emphatically we wanted "something to eat." What it was we cared not. Never did I look upon such a scene. Foremost of course, was the indomitable Sampson, who, ignoring completely the small colony of frogs he had swallowed a few hours before, went to work stuffing and cramming in a manner that would prevent any boardinghouse keeper who saw him from ever entertaining an offer of boarding him, even on the most liberal terms. However, everything must have an end--and at last we had all taken the edge off our hunger. Then we got more dainty. It was late at night ere we finally retired from the feast, and began to find out we were fatigued and needed sleep. "Never, surely," thought I, as, arranging our blankets, we prepared to camp on the floor of the principal apartment of the "ranch"--"never, surely, do men deserve the visits of a fearful and unexampled nightmare more than we do." But I suppose that unpleasant nocturnal disturber confines his visits principally to the haunts of civilization, for I believe we all slept well that night. For myself, I never slept better. It is true I entertained a dim reminiscence of waking up once in the night with the sound as of something frying in my ears, and methought it was Sampson, who had got up and was eating again; but it might have been a dream. A few hours of easy travel on the morrow brought us to our destination, Shasta Plains.
Placed in a valley semicircled by lofty mountains, of which the great Shasta Peak, with its head crowned by eternal snows, towers above the rest, the Shasta Diggings in summertime are almost unbearable from the ardent rays of the sun, which strike down upon them unmitigated by the least perceptible breeze. This anomaly of perpetual snow, apparently in proximity, while in company with the cracking ground and the withered vegetation one is undergoing a process of slow baking, is curious, and to a certain extent aggravating. How often, almost overcome with heat and lassitude, while toiling on the plain, have I longed for a refreshing roll in the white glittering snow above my head. The penniless little boy, gazing wistfully into an ice emporium, is the only parallel London affords of such a tantalizing situation. In springtime, when the winter rains ceased, and there was plenty of water in the streams, we found the Shasta Plain diggings very remunerative. There was quite an assemblage of wooden houses clustered together on the plain; of course this was the "city" of Shasta, where gambling and horse racing were carried on to a great extent. Good horses and mules were to be obtained here at very reasonable prices, and I changed my American horse for one of the finest mustangs I ever saw, giving, of course, something "to boot." Sometimes I gave myself a holiday, to have a gallop on my horse, to which I got much attached; and on his back, with lasso and pistols at my saddle bow, and good rifle in hand, I frequently penetrated, quite alone, into the surrounding mountains and prairies, in pursuit of game, with the greatest confidence in my own resources to repel or evade an Indian attack.
On these occasions, the towering peak of Shasta was always the beacon by which I steered my course home; for it could be seen at an immense distance away. My comrades often remonstrated with me on the subject of these somewhat foolhardy expeditions; for scarcely a day passed but reports were brought into the city of fresh atrocities committed by Indian marauders on white men. It would have been as well for me if I paid more attention to the expostulations of my friends than I chose to do; for on one occasion, after we had been about a month at Shasta, I came remarkably near "losing my hair"--in other words, being scalped by Indians--for my temerity. I had been out hunting all day, and had succeeded in shooting a fine elk, which I threw over my saddle, and commenced leading my horse home. It was now late in the afternoon, and, getting entangled in an extremely woody and mountainous district, I lost sight entirely of the white nightcap of my old friend the Shasta Peak. Wandering on I knew not whither, the shades of evening began to fall, and there was nothing for it but to camp. I was infinitely annoyed at this circumstance, knowing the uneasiness I should cause the good fellows my comrades by remaining out all night, but comforted myself with the reflection that the venison I should take them on the morrow would be a peace offering. I had no qualms of terror for my own safety in thus being compelled to camp out; neither did it incommode me, as I had a bag of provisions for supper, and my serape and horsecloth for a bed. I selected the bank of a small stream for my couch, and after Leon, my horse, had fed about for some time, I tied him to a tree, and lay down to sleep myself. I did not light a fire, as such a proceeding might have been dangerous by attracting company that I particularly wished to avoid. When morning broke I was en route again; but the good night's rest I had enjoyed had entirely driven from my head any feeble idea I might have entertained of the point towards which I ought to steer to reach home. Still leading Leon, with the elk across his back, which, in spite of my somewhat serious embarrassment, I could not find in my heart to leave behind, after several hours tedious travel I at last caught sight of my mountain beacon, and saw I was farther off home than I had supposed. Having now debouched from the woods, my way lay across several small mountain ranges destitute of verdure; nothing was to be seen underfoot save the bare rock, in some places thinly covered with a dry slaty soil. In ascending one of these mountains, which was considerably higher than its fellows, I saw with a little surprise that I was following a narrow track, evidently made by man and horse, that led up its side. Presently we reached a species of shelf or plateau, along which we proceeded, till, suddenly turning a sharp angle of the mountain, the plateau widened to the extent of at least a hundred yards. Looking forward towards what seemed the end of this natural platform, I saw a number of mules feeding, and was proceeding towards them, when, looking to the extreme right, some objects, that had been absorbed at my first cursory examination by the blank wall of the mountainside, became most unpleasantly visible. These objects were nothing less than a crowd of Indians, men, women, and children, seated together in front of a number of small huts; and the truth penetrated my mind in an instant. I had unwittingly stumbled into one of those mysterious Indian rancherias I had heard of as being so wondrously and jealously concealed by the redskins, to whom they were both a home and a safe refuge in the hour of need.
What an uproar arose as men, women, children and dogs howled in chorus when, at the same moment in which I detected them, they became aware of my presence! Above all the clamors, I heard a general rush towards me; but I was far too busily engaged in bundling my venison to the ground, and taking its place in the saddle, otherwise to notice it. Once seated, I looked back to the pass by which I had entered; a number of mounted redskins were defiling through it onto the plateau. Nothing, then, was left me but to advance towards the herd of mules, in the hope of finding a path at the other end of the plateau. To try this, my sole chance, I spurred on my fleet mustang, and we ran the gantlet of the Indian crowd, who tried to cut me off by seizing my rein, but failed in several instances by only an arm's length. Had my foes, in the first instance, betaken themselves to their weapons, I had been lost indeed; but in their surprise these were left behind, I suppose in the huts, and they threw themselves upon me with empty hands. The savage outcry startled the mules as I approached, and to my delight away they went down a narrow and precipitous path in the sloping face of the rock, cut no doubt by the Indians to secure a retreat in case of surprise. Without hesitation I followed; it would have been a desperate attempt with an English horse under me: indubitably he would have killed himself and his rider; but my lithe steed of the prairies sprung down, from one little ledge of rock to the other, with the ease and confidence of a cat. I aided him solely by sitting back in my saddle, and keeping a firm steady seat. The rein I never touched, for it would have been as much as my life was worth to do so. In such moments of peril the instincts of these semi-wild horses are much more safely to be confided in than the cultivated intelligence of the best rider in the world. The clatter of hoofs behind me, as I reached the plain in safety, caused me to turn in my saddle, and I saw that five or six horsemen were precipitating themselves down the pass in pursuit. But now I breathed again, for I felt that I was in comparative safety. The rapid pace at which I flew along braced my nerves, and though I could with ease have distanced my pursuers, I made up my mind to do something in addition that should cause them to remember the advent of the white man. This was neither more nor less than to capture the mules, who still sped along some thirty or forty paces ahead of me. They appeared to be fine animals of the Andalusian-Mexican breed, and, being perfectly unencumbered, kept their position in front with apparent ease. To my surprise, in spite of the stampede they had been subjected to, they did not form a tumultuous ruck, but stepped along in almost regular Indian file. The sound of a bell amongst them gave me the clue to this mystery; it was evident that they were some well-trained pack train, stolen from white men, whose change of owners had not as yet caused them to forget their old habits. Be that as it might, as they clearly did not belong of right to the Indians, I made up my mind to transfer them into my own possession, if any possible exertion of mine could effect it. This idea suggested itself to me in the first instance, from the fact of the "mulada" running, as far as I could judge, in a direction that would bring them to Shasta Valley. If, then, it was possible to keep them to this point, and at this pace, for about ten miles, which I calculated was about the distance to Shasta, all would be well; for, of course, the Indians dared not follow me onto the plains, and the prize would then be mine.
With the peculiar Spanish cries adopted by all muleteers on the prairies, and the whirl of my lasso in the air, I kept up the headlong gallop of my train, and though now and then it was requisite I should diverge a little from my course, and so lose ground somewhat, to counterbalance this disadvantage, my average pace was better than my pursuers, and the hundred yards I had first gained from them I still retained. The somewhat risky game I was playing, I should explain, was justified in some measure by my knowledge that the foemen in my rear did not possess rifles; a glance at the commencement of this strange chase had assured me of this. Bows and arrows and spears were the only weapons they had about them, and for these, as long as I could keep from close quarters, I cared not a doit. In the place of bullets, the pursuing redskins leveled wild cries and execrations after me, to which I replied by taunting and exulting gestures. And so over mountain range, along deep cañons, prairie land and timbered ground, we swept along. Five miles of ground at least were covered--twenty minutes more must bring us on into the valley, and it was quite possible that I might fall in with a mining or traveling party earlier that would assist me in driving back the Indians.
As yet my staunch Leon showed not the slightest distress. He seemed to enter into the spirit of the chase, his wild head and mane were tossed into the air at intervals, and he answered my appeal by a longer stride on the prairie, or gathered himself together for a dashing leap in broken ground. As for the mules, they were as fresh as the day, for I noticed that in their headlong career they still found time for those little half-playful, half-spiteful gambols in which they love to indulge, such as plunging violently, or snapping at each others' manes and tails. The chances were now rapidly turning in my favor, and my heart beat with a wild exultation I could hardly repress. But for all that, I let not a point in my favor slip by without taking advantage of it. Not for an instant I released my attention to the mules; from time to time I assured myself that the Indians were still well in the rear, and though I held my rifle in one hand and the lasso in the other, this did not prevent me from guiding Leon to the best advantage with knee and heel, for to this he had always been accustomed.
So nearer and nearer I drew to the western bearings of Mount Shasta, which denoted the position of the valley, and hope of success was growing fast into certainty, when a disappointment, more cruel and bitter from its very unexpectedness, befell me. Lo! a wide and brawling stream, a tributary of the Klamath, intersected the prairie before us. At a glance I saw the difficulties that now environed my prospects of success, and my pursuers, proportionably encouraged, shouted aloud their triumph. Like myself, they knew the nature of mules, who have generally a fantastic, feline objection against wetting their fine aristocratic legs, and no amount of travel seems to reconcile them to the operation. Indeed, it is often necessary to push them bodily into a stream, ere they can finally make up their minds to ford it. But then, in the present instance, there was no time for me to waste in this physical persuasion. Just then my minutes were perhaps as precious as those of any inhabitant of the world, for they were pregnant with life and death. For a moment I entertained the idea of driving the mules up or down the bank of the stream; but in that case I should be going away from home--whither, I knew not. No; the chance of fording must be tried, and with loud cries and vigorous demonstrations of the lasso, I put the mules at the stream. Alas! the self-willed creatures, although they advanced up to the water, fell back on their haunches on its very verge, and sniffing and whinnying, scattered mincingly along the banks. This blight had fallen on my fair harvest of prospects, even at the very moment, as it seemed, of their fruition. It was too much to endure. There is a point at which human nature revolts; and shortly I determined not tamely to accept this despicable conclusion. I wheeled Leon round and faced my foes. True, they were five to one; but my possession of superior weapons almost rendered us equal. With a good cover I should have despised them. The only cover now at hand was my horse, and, springing to the ground, I placed him before me, and leveled my rifle across his back. This demonstration caused my opponents to draw rein. The fatal rifle of the white man has a terrible significance to an Indian; it is his evil genius, from which he prays his tutelary deity to protect him. In the present case the Indians would have retreated; but their leader, a noble-looking fellow, with a presence such as I had never before seen amongst savages, forbade it by a haughty gesture, and at his command his followers opened out to the left and right, to outflank me. It was now a pure matter of self-defense; so, taking steady aim between his eyes, noting at the same time that a singular scar traversed his left temple, I fired on him. Just as I pulled the trigger an uneasy motion made by Leon disturbed my aim, and the ball sped far wide of its mark. This failure was what the Indians were waiting for, and down they charged upon me. There was no time to reload; and, not caring to trust to the chances of revolver and knife, there remained nothing for it, but, in sailor parlance, to cut and run. Throwing myself on Leon's back, I was soon in full retreat. "Farewell, ingrates," I thought, as I glanced at the mules, which stood along the banks; "I have played high for ye, but am foiled at last"; and, spitefully scattering them right and left, I darted into the stream.
As I splashed through, a stratagem suggested itself. When on the march in Oregon, and the trail runs over bad or dangerous ground, it is customary for one of the muleteers to ride in advance in turn, wearing some conspicuous dress, generally a red shirt, and the mules, getting accustomed to this, follow implicitly. In this circumstance lay a last hope--slender, indeed, but still a hope. By great good luck that day, under my serape, instead of my ordinary miner's blue flannel shirt I wore a calico one, peculiar to hunters and Indians on the prairie. It was very gaily printed, in a species of chintz pattern, in which red and yellow greatly prevailed. My serape went over my head in a moment, and still dashing to the front, I shouted the usual "Hola! mula!" of the muleteer. The bell mule had not forgot her training; by a succession of tremendous bounds she ranged up to my horse's haunches, and, to my intense delight, the rest of the mules fell in behind her. Giving back my astonished foes, who followed me no further, their last cheer of triumph, I pressed Leon to his fastest, and like a whirlwind we swept over the plain, over the broken ground beyond it, and as we at last emerged into Shasta Valley, the "straight running" was beautiful to see. The miners I passed must have thought me mad; but, knowing the skittish and uncertain temper of mules, I resolved to make these fairly secure, while I had them in their present humor. Near to the city lay an empty "corral," the gate of which was closed. Making for it, I headed Leon at the fence, and landed him fairly over, and without hesitation or apparent difficulty, the mules one by one followed his example. The game was mine. A crowd of spectators, who had witnessed my entree into the valley, and guessed that my headlong career had not been without good reasons, swept down to the "corral," while I examined my prizes.
Their number was ten. Ten! where had I seen ten well-matched, coal-black mules before? The bell mule too, with the piece out of her ear, was not unfamiliar to me. With a start I remembered--how could I ever have forgot?
"Where have you come from, and whose animals are those?" demanded my comrades, with anxiety depicted on their countenances, as they joined the wondering crowd. The good fellows had just mounted to scour the country in search of me.
"Boys," said I, "I have come from an Indian rancheria, and, with regard to these animals, you know them as well as I do. Pepita, Pepita," I cried with a loud voice; "good girl, come hither!" and, as I expected, the panting mule, obeying my call, stepped forward and laid her nose on my shoulder. "Wonderful! wonderful!" exclaimed my comrades, in a breath. "'Tis the mule train of the three Columbian brothers!"
And what of the unfortunate survivor of the two brothers--poor Zeph--all this time? Not once had we seen him; but we had heard of him oftentimes. There was no mining settlement round about for many many miles, but the lone brother, whose sad tale went before him, had visited and been received with sympathy and friendship. But he never remained long at one place; a few mysterious questions put to the miners, principally on Indian affairs, being answered, he would disappear as suddenly as he arrived, to turn up shortly in quite a different locality. His journeyings were always accomplished alone, even through the most hostile of Indian districts, and were performed with such celerity that oftentimes his hardly pressed horses died on the trail; but he purchased others, and still persevered in his incomprehensible wanderings. Once or twice he had led expeditions against the Indians, in which he had displayed incredible courage and cruelty. To such a pitch had he carried his mania for fighting, that it was rumored that he had at times joined tribes of Indians, and assisted them to wage war against other tribes, and by his continued successes had become a noted character amongst them. Other rumors went further still, to the effect that he had become the adopted sachem, or chief, of a powerful tribe, and had married an Indian princess. Whatever value there was in these rumors, it was certain the boy was a mystery to all who saw him. Perhaps I alone could have given a clue to his extraordinary proceedings. But the solution of this mystery for the public was near at hand. As I anticipated, the news of the extraordinary recapture of the "mulada" was not long in reaching the ears of Zeph. Though there are no newspapers, and much less, telegraphs in the mines, news flies wonderfully fast from one district to another. Truth to say, the miners are marvelously addicted to gossiping. So one day, Zeph stalked into our camp. He was so changed that at first none of us recognized him. He appeared unnaturally tall; but this perchance arose from his robustness having entirely disappeared, for he was now but the shadow of his former self, and his face was wan and ghastly in the extreme. Not much to our surprise, for it was usual enough at the mines, he wore the complete dress of an Indian; but I saw with disgust that instead of the fringe of leather that usually adorns the seams of deerskin pantaloons, his was composed of human hair, long and black. Was it taken from Indian scalps? I did not doubt it. Here, then, were palpable signs of the deadly vendetta his wrongs had caused him to wage against the redskins.
"Well, sachem," I said, trying to make him smile, as our hands clasped, "so you have come for your mules?"
"They are not mine now," he said gravely; "you've captured them, and by prairie law they're yours; but I want to buy Pepita of you; she was a prime favorite with--them that's gone," he added tremulously. "How much will you be asking for her?"
"Pepita and her sisters shall be labeled 'Columbia,'" I replied significantly, "and if you will drive them thither they shall be yours."
"Not so, friend," said Zeph; "but I want Pepita. Do you know," he added, looking round with a sickly smile, "I dreamt three times running that when I get her back, I'll find something I've been looking for so long--So long," he sighed wearily.
"Take her, Zeph," I said, "and the others with her; well you know none here would accept a hair of them."
"Pepita will more than last my time," said Zeph. "I want to know how you found the animals. It's that I'm come here for."
To humor him, I commenced my narrative. Zeph listened quietly till I described the chief who led the four Indians.
"Stay!" he said, fearfully agitated. "Had the chief a scar like this?" and, taking a piece of charcoal from the fire, he marked the forehead of one of my comrades in a peculiar manner.
"He had," I said. "Why do you ask?"
"My dream's out!" shouted Zeph, falling on his knees. "Friends, brothers--for you have been like brothers to me--by the memories of your own dear kin at home, and by your hopes to see them again, as I shall never do mine, grant the last request of a dying man this night."
Whatever was the purport of this earnest appeal, most likely it was acceded to; for our camp fire was cold, and our tent empty that night. Its occupants, mounted and armed to the teeth, followed Pepita and her old master forth into the bleak and gloomy wilderness.
Ere we started on our enterprise, Zeph related his adventures during the last few months. As I had suspected, his mysterious wanderings had been undertaken in the hope of meeting the Indian plotter of his brothers' deaths, and calling him to account. That Zeph should have seen, and seeing, recognize this man, is only another of those singular fatalities which seem to dog a murderer to his doom. Chinook, the Indian in question, was so called from the Chinook tribe into whose hands he and his mother had fallen, and who had adopted him when very young. He was believed to be descended from the Pawnee Indians. The Chinooks are a tribe of the Fish-eaters, on a river of the same name, which falls into the estuary of the Columbia at Baker's Bay. Attaining manhood, the young Pawnee, inheriting the subtle intelligence and fine physique of his race, soon distinguished himself amongst the inferior tribe into which he had been thrown, and ultimately became its superior. Not content with this, he began to intrigue with other tribes south of the Columbia, and took advantage of the continual dissension amongst them to further his own ends. When conflicting parties were nicely balanced, he was accustomed to throw his influence into the scale, and thus the side he espoused becoming the most potent, always came off victorious. By this artful policy, Chinook became one of the most redoubtable and influential of Indians on the prairies of Oregon. But though thus gaining popularity with his own color, some wholesale forays on white men, in one of which he had received the wound in his forehead, having come to light, for the last year a price had been set on his head by the Oregon settlers, and the neighborhood of the Columbia had become too hot for him. Thus it is not surprising that Zeph, himself a Columbian, knew Chinook's person perfectly well
From the character of Chinook, it will be seen that our expedition, which had no other object in view than his capture, was no ordinary one, and that the greatest precautions were necessary to secure its success. Zeph, however, had well calculated his plans; what they were will be developed in the sequel. Enough that he was aware that a meeting of chiefs would shortly take place at a point towards which we were proceeding; and from my narrative he had conjectured that Chinook, having been seen lately in the neighborhood, might probably be present. A ten miles' slow ride in the dark night, through which Zeph piloted us with unerring sagacity, caused us to arrive at a little wood, which skirted a plain. Penetrating into the timber, which afforded us a close cover, we picketed our animals, and, too anxious to sleep, sat up all night conversing in low tones. The night was intensely cold, but we did not dare to light a fire, lest its light should betray all; so we were content, perforce, to sit and shiver with our serapes closely drawn around us. This, with the vague anticipations of the dangers which would necessarily beset us on the morrow, rendered our camp dreary in the extreme.
About midday on the morrow, Zeph, mounting my mustang for fear that his own mule Pepita should be recognized, passed out of the rear of the wood, and making a détour round it to avoid suspicion, rode forth onto the plain, rifle in hand, as if simply engaged in a hunting expedition. From posts of espial, carefully constructed in the front of our wood, we watched him as he advanced towards a smoke that now arose on the plain, round which several moving bodies were plainly perceptible. It was evident that Zeph's information had not played him false.
Great grew our anxiety at this point of the drama. As some of the chiefs were friends of Zeph, who had fought with them as an ally, we were aware that he did not necessarily incur danger by intruding at the council fire, but we much feared the result of any hasty action of his, should Chinook be really present, and our friend found it impossible to carry out a stratagem he had devised to take him alive. As he came up to the council fire, Zeph's regards rapidly scanned the persons of the assembled chiefs. At last, at last, the hour he so much longed for had come--Chinook was there! Easily recognizable, too; for, strange to relate, he actually wore the peculiarly made red drawers and white shirt of one of the murdered brothers! How Zeph refrained from pistoling the villain on the spot, was a wonder. But in that moment of surprise, he still managed, by wonderful self-possession, to adhere to his determination. This was, however, a time of intense peril for both white and red man. Had the Indian recognized Zeph, the latter was aware that his intention of taking his enemy alive would be rendered futile, and he would have used his revolver at once; in which case, his own safety was very problematical, as no doubt Chinook's brother chieftains would have essayed to revenge his fate. Happily, this was not to be. By a second strange fatality, the unerring eye of the Indian for once failed him. He did not recognize the brother of his victims. With admirable sangfroid, Zeph managed to conceal his inward emotions from appearing on the surface, and returned the greetings of the chiefs, who recognized him, with perfect self-possession. He found--for by this time he had acquired a good deal of the Indian tongue--that the council had met to consider the expediency of combining together in an aggressive war on some of the more southern Californian tribes. After joining in the council, Zeph managed to interest Chinook in a certain project he put forth, and ultimately induced him to step on one side, and argue the matter privately. Gradually he led the Indian, who for once had met one more wily than himself, in the direction of the little wood where we lay in ambush. Anxiously we watched the dénouement of the stratagem. We had not to wait long. The two drew near to our lurking place, when, unfortunately, Pepita, who "winded" her master, uttered a shrill whinny. The Indian glanced suspiciously towards our cover; as he did so, out came the revolver of Zeph against his forehead, while the other hand grasped his throat.
This was our cue. Mounting in hot haste, we broke cover, and bore down on our quarry, who was too much taken by surprise to offer any resistance, and in a twinkling he was bound and mounted on a led horse we had brought with us for the purpose. Then, with the captive in our midst, we put spurs to our steeds, and dashed off towards Shasta. This razzia was not so quietly conducted but that the Indians at the council fire suspected something was wrong, and, betaking them to their horses, they gave chase. Fast, however, as they followed, faster still we flew. Beside our captive rode Zeph, ready at the least casualty, or appearance of rescue, to pistol him. We were not without apprehensions of a rescue being attempted; for though we cared naught for the chiefs in our rear, who hardly outnumbered us, our fear was that their whoops and signals should cause some of their followers to appear in the front, and cut us off. For, fast as we rode, the hills around us began to echo with the cry of the owl, the usual signal of Indian sentinels. But seemingly we were too near home for the rescue to be timely organized, and after a smart gallop of three quarters of an hour, or thereabouts, we entered Shasta City in safety. One must have been present at the valley to have properly appreciated the amount of excitement caused amongst its residents by this most important capture.
A day or two afterwards I visited the city. A small knot of idlers, whose curiosity was apparently yet ungratified, stood together by the door of a long wooden edifice, which had been originally intended for a bowling alley, but was now converted into a prison. Inside sat the prisoner Chinook, whose foot, heavily manacled, was attached to a post by a chain. This chain alone, and the wooden walls, were by no means the only obstacles to his regaining his liberty, as a guard of six men, armed to the teeth, regularly relieved, watched over him. But had I been he, there was another guard, never relieved by night or day, whose vigilance I should have feared more than all else beside. This was Zeph. Pending the trial, he had voluntarily assumed the office of jailer to the prisoner, and no appeals could induce him to quit his post, or for a few moments relax his stern supervision. With concern I saw that the enfeebled remnant of his life would be yielded up to his delirious desire for vengeance. This was too evident in his wasted frame and ghastly face.
A day had been appointed for the prisoner's trial, which it was resolved should be conducted in as fair and impartial a manner as was possible; but as to the result of it, no one could for a moment be in doubt. Guilty! a hundred times guilty. Not a day passed but, as the news of his capture spread, men who had lost relatives, friends, and property at his hands flocked into Shasta City to testify against him. He had been, it would appear, a very Nero in his cruelties; and if half the robberies put to his account were really correct, our noted freebooters of olden time, such as Robin Hood or Rob Roy, had been contemptible petty larcenists, when compared with him.
I was present when a group of miners approached to identify him. The foremost of them walked up to the prisoner, parted his long black hair off his temple, and pointed to the scar which rendered his identification so easy. This scar had a legendary reputation; it was reported to have been caused by a white woman, in a moment of desperation, when she saw her husband and baby slain by him before her eyes; and she herself paid by her life for the deed. As the white man parted his hair, the eye of the Indian, large and dilating, looked upwards at the other. What a glance was that! As I saw it then, I see it now. Vengeful, yet hopeless--utterly hopeless; how well it translated all the workings of the embittered soul within! Ingloriously trapped, trapped to the death, in the pride of so much wickedness done, with the consciousness of so very much more perforce left undone! Where now is the flattering vision he saw in his dreams, and which waking hours were gradually forming into a reality? That eagle's plume set in the golden circlet, type of the chieftainship of all the confederated tribes of the prairies and mountains of Oregon? Gone! And in their place--the prison--the chain--the guards--and the Nemesis that ever sternly followed him!
With all my feelings revolting at his innumerable misdeeds, I could not but scan with much of admiration the magnificent physique of the prisoner. His stature, though above the middle height, was hardly six feet, and his proportions were not herculean; but, for all that, his figure was admirable for its symmetry, and his head--that classic head--would have caused quite a sensation had it been seen in the salons of Europe. It was that of a man of some twenty-five years; the features were of the Grecian type--decided, but generously molded. If there was a fault in the contour of the face, it was that the high cheekbones conveyed somewhat of the Tartar conformation; but it was this peculiarity, and the light coppery bronze of the skin, with the wondrous Asiatic eye, which, without detracting from its beauty, gave a rare and fascinating character to a face, such as my amateur artist's vision never before encompassed. For evil or for good, one did not require lessons in phrenology to be assured that such a head must win distinction from the common herd. Beyond the stern preparations made to guard him, Chinook was not otherwise molested, but treated with a certain consideration which his undoubted courage--apart from his atrocities--no doubt won for him. Many visitors, also, gathered round him, chatting freely and gaily, and made him little presents of tobacco, etc. Harshness and threats were not allowed to be used towards him, neither was he aware of the nature of the delay of his fate--which was really caused by the preparations for his approaching trial. With all these apparent signs in his favor, his was too subtle a nature even for a moment to be buoyed up by any hope of ultimate escape. He knew he must die, and that all the tribes in Oregon or California could not save him. All the interest, indeed, that many tribes possessed, was put forward on his behalf--showing the great estimation in which he was held by them. First of all, with the strange idiosyncrasy of Indians--the Chinese have the same custom--they offered another man to die in Chinook's place: afterwards six. These substitutes not being accepted, a white man--a captive--was offered in exchange. Failing in this proposal, a white woman and her children, held in captivity, were proffered for our prisoner. Even this last proposal was rejected by us. It seemed very, very hard to neglect the opportunity of saving a white Christian woman and her offspring from such a doom as they were exposed to; but still, we thought ourselves justified by the extreme exigencies of the case. Our prisoner had been the contriver and leader of most of the massacres committed in Oregon on white people; and to have released him, to work his will again, would have been suicidal.
Even before the last offer failed, Chinook himself considered it was time "to set his house in order." Calling the attention of some of his guards, he collected a heap of sand before him, smoothed its surface perfectly flat, and with his forefinger he drew a rude but comprehensive map of the country round about. Then he marked a spot on a creek of the Klamath River, a day's journey distant, and intimated his desire that a person there, under the protection of a guard, might come into the city to visit him. The request was not refused, and a number of our young men started for the point indicated. They returned with a young Indian woman, a wife of Chinook's. Her dress was as pretty and coquettish as herself, consisting of a tunic of finely dressed deerskin, trimmed with swan's down. Magnificent wildflowers of the prairie were twined in her jet-black locks, and fairy moccasins encased her mignonné feet. Discreetly from a distance we watched the meeting of husband and wife. Alack for those who, reading this, expect a scene of harrowing anguish, of despairing embraces, of tears and waitings! Such things do not constitute Indian decorum. The young wife tripped gently up to her lord and master, who did not even rise to receive her, carefully avoided meeting his eye, which in truth was averted, and humbly and demurely squatted down by his side, and fell to threading beads. "Ugh!" said her lord--never once deigning to bestow a glance upon her, "one klootchman (wife), good! want two klootchman"; and, constructing another map of sand, he pointed out another spot, in an entirely different district, where a bereaved wife awaited a guard to conduct her to her spouse. Again the messengers set out, and returned with wife number two, even younger and prettier than the first. Her demeanor, on joining her husband, was in nowise different from the other; calmly and self-possessed she took her seat near him, showed her white teeth in recognition of her sister wife, and began to assist her in the interminable bead-threading. Now and then he would seem pondering on the ground, as if planning another map; but we had indulged him more than enough already.
One day an old scarecrow of an Indian woman arrived, footsore and weary, at the city. She had no want of an escort to protect her charms; in truth, she was such a hag as only Indian women can become through old age and hardships. It was the mother of the chief. What a contrast her behavior, to the well-bred retinue of the young squaws! Poor mother! neglected, and no doubt left to bitter want and privations, as thy skeletony limbs showed, under thy scanty rags, who could mock thy beldame antics and shrill wails of grief, as elfinly thou rushedst upon and hoveredst round him, the ingrate and doomed, but not less thy son! Not I--not my companions. And even he of the iron soul for a moment relents, and needs must smile and nod his head, in confirmation of the signs by which thou tellest us in explanation of thy unbounded woe--by pointing to thy bust of Hecate--that thou art, indeed, his mother!
The upshot of the trial was "death," of course. To read a severe lesson to the Indians, the form of execution was ordered to be that of hanging. This is a terrible disgrace to an Indian, who, if he had the power, would gladly suffer ten deaths by the bullet in preference, as it attaches a stigma to his memory which reflects on his tribe. In vain the surrounding tribes sent in delegates to pray for a remittance of the sentence. We were not to be driven from our resolve. A lofty scaffold was erected on the plain, and on the day of execution, no less than a thousand white men surrounded it, fully armed, for we feared a rescue, as the Indians were driven to desperation. When the humiliated chieftain ascended the scaffold, the vast amphitheater of hills was crowded with Indians, and as the rope was adjusted, and his body swung in the air, a wail of sorrow and despair arose from the red spectators, that caused the bravest of us to start and look to our arms. But beyond this, there was no demonstration, and in that sad prolonged cry the ambitious and guilty soul of the red chieftain passed away. To add to the humiliation of the Indians, his remains were not given up to them, but consumed on a funeral pyre. [The story of "Chinook" vaguely resembles the story of a D. D. Colton and a Klamath chief called "Chinook Chief"; the writer who records it says it's incorrect. Colton is recorded as hanging an Indian named "Scar Face" in 1852.]
His mother, rejecting all the presents we offered her, which would have made her comfortable for life, refused all nourishment and died. The young widows, I am sorry to say, not finding a white skin--and, truth to say, their own color was not darker than that of a brunette--incompatible with the ideas of a husband, each accepted an eligible offer of the number presented to her choice. This will appear less surprising when I state that at that time there were not more than five white women among 2000 men on the Shasta Plains.
When the execution was over, we sought Zeph, and found him by our camp extended on the sward in a deep sleep, Pepita apparently keeping watch over him. When he woke, which was not till late in the evening, we all begged and insisted that, as nothing could possibly now detain him, he should set out on the morrow for the Columbia. Finding it impossible to evade our importunities, the poor fellow consented, but added with a sad smile, "If this would let him"; and he pressed his hand with an expression of subdued pain against his right side. There was evidently a wound there. With grave forebodings I sought a surgeon friend of mine in the mines, and insisted upon Zeph submitting to an examination. A hopeless shake of the head by the doctor was the verdict. It conveyed a death warrant. On the right side, he had discovered a severe gunshot wound, of long standing, the bullet of which had never been extracted or the wound properly dressed. It was too late to do anything, as there were signs of mortification having set in, and it was only to be attributed to the wondrous constitution of the patient that he had not succumbed long ere now. Poor Zeph, he confessed that he had received the wound on the night of the attack, but looking upon it as the monk upon his hair shirt, in the light of expiation, he had suicidally neglected it. Three days afterwards he died. "Tell them," were his last words to me, as he gave me his people's address on the Columbia, "tell them to forgive me for causing the death of my brothers."
I never sent that deathbed message. If anyone blames me for withholding it, I reply that my conscience has never once since blamed me. When I sent the mules of the three dead brothers to the Columbia, in charge of a return train, I remitted along with them a letter to the parents, in which I detailed their sons' deaths; but of Zeph's sleeping on his post, and moral suicide, I said not a word. "It is not needed," I thought: "their cup of grief is full to the brim and overflowing already."
Anonymous, "My Adventures in the Far West," serialized in The Leisure Hour, London, 1862, pages 61-237