by Stewart Edward White
I. THE RIDGE
II. ON EQUIPMENT
III. ON HORSES
IV. ON HOW TO GO
V. THE COAST
VI. THE INFERNO
VIII. THE PINES
IX. THE TRAIL
X. ON SEEING
XII. THE CAÑON
XIV. ON CAMP
XV. ON THE WIND
XVI. THE VALLEY
XVII. THE MAIN
XVIII. THE GIANT
XIX. ON COWBOYS
XX. THE GOLDEN
XX. ON GOING OUT
XXII. THE LURE
OF THE TRAIL
The author has followed a true sequence of events practically in
all particulars save in respect to the character of the Tenderfoot. He
is in one sense fictitious; in another sense real. He is real in that
he is the apotheosis of many tenderfeet, and that everything he does in
this narrative he has done at one time or another in the author's
experience. He is fictitious in the sense that he is in no way to be
identified with the third member of our party in the actual trip.
I. THE RIDGE TRAIL
SIX trails lead to the main ridge. They are all good trails, so
that even the casual tourist in the little Spanish-American town on the
seacoast need have nothing to fear from the ascent. In some spots they
contract to an arm's length of space, outside of which limit they drop
sheer away; elsewhere they stand up on end, zigzag in lacets each more
hair- raising than the last, or fill to demoralization with loose
boulders and shale. A fall on the part of your horse would mean a more
than serious accident; but Western horses do not fall. The major
premise stands: even the casual tourist has no real reason for fear,
however scared he may become.
Our favorite route to the main ridge was by a way called the Cold
Spring Trail. We used to enjoy taking visitors up it, mainly because
you come on the top suddenly, without warning. Then we collected
remarks. Everybody, even the most stolid, said something.
You rode three miles on the flat, two in the leafy and gradually
ascending creek-bed of a cañon, a half ^# hour of laboring steepness in
the overarching mountain lilac and laurel. There you came to a great
rock gateway which seemed the top of the world. At the gateway was a
Bad Place where the ponies planted warily their little hoofs, and the
visitor played ``eyes front,'' and besought that his mount should not
Beyond the gateway a lush level cañon into which you plunged as
into a bath; then again the laboring trail, up and always up toward the
blue California sky, out of the lilacs, and laurels, and redwood
chaparral into the manzanita, the Spanish bayonet, the creamy yucca,
and the fine angular shale of the upper regions. Beyond the apparent
summit you found always other summits yet to be climbed. And all at
once, like thrusting your shoulders out of a hatchway, you looked over
Then came the remarks. Some swore softly; some uttered appreciative
ejaculation; some shouted aloud; some gasped; one man uttered three
times the word ``Oh,'' -- once breathlessly, Oh! once in awakening
appreciation, Oh! once in wild enthusiasm, OH ! Then invariably they
fell silent and looked.
For the ridge, ascending from seaward in a gradual coquetry of
foot-hills, broad low ranges, cross-systems, cañons, little flats, and
gentle ravines, inland dropped off almost sheer to the river below. And
from under your very feet rose, range after range, tier after tier,
rank after rank, in increasing crescendo of wonderful tinted mountains
to the main crest of the Coast Ranges, the blue distance, the
mightiness of California's western systems. The eye followed them up
and up, and farther and farther, with the accumulating emotion of a
wild rush on a toboggan. There came a point where the fact grew to be
almost too big for the appreciation, just as beyond a certain point
speed seems to become unbearable. It left you breathless,
wonder-stricken, awed. You could do nothing but look, and look, and
look again, tongue- tied by the impossibility of doing justice to what
you felt. And in the far distance, finally, your soul, grown big in a
moment, came to rest on the great precipices and pines of the greatest
mountains of all, close under the sky.
In a little, after the change had come to you, a change definite
and enduring, which left your inner processes forever different from
what they had been, you turned sharp to the west and rode five miles
along the knife-edge Ridge Trail to where Rattlesnake Cañon led you
down and back to your accustomed environment.
To the left as you rode you saw, far on the horizon, rising to the
height of your eye, the mountains of the channel islands. Then the deep
sapphire of the Pacific, fringed with the soft, unchanging white of the
surf and the yellow of the shore. Then the town like a little map, and
the lush greens of the wide meadows, the fruit-groves, the lesser
ranges -- all vivid, fertile, brilliant, and pulsating with vitality.
You filled your senses with it, steeped them in the beauty of it. And
at once, by a mere turn of the eyes, from the almost crude insistence
of the bright primary color of life, you faced the tenuous azures of
distance, the delicate mauves and amethysts, the lilacs and saffrons of
the arid country.
This was the wonder we never tired of seeing for ourselves, of
showing to others. And often, academically, perhaps a little wistfully,
as one talks of something to be dreamed of but never enjoyed, we spoke
of how fine it would be to ride down into that land of mystery and
enchantment, to penetrate one after another the cañons dimly outlined
in the shadows cast by the westering sun, to cross the mountains lying
outspread in easy grasp of the eye, to gain the distant blue Ridge, and
see with our own eyes what lay beyond.
For to its other attractions the prospect added that of
impossibility, of unattainableness. These rides of ours were day rides.
We had to get home by nightfall. Our horses had to be fed, ourselves to
be housed. We had not time to continue on down the other side whither
the trail led. At the very and literal brink of achievement we were
forced to turn back.
Gradually the idea possessed us. We promised ourselves that some
day we would explore. In our after-dinner smokes we spoke of it.
Occasionally, from some hunter or forest-ranger, we gained little
items of information, we learned the fascination of musical names --
Mono Cañon, Patrera Don Victor, Lloma Paloma, Patrera Madulce, Cuyamas,
became familiar to us as syllables. We desired mightily to body them
forth to ourselves as facts. The extent of our mental vision expanded.
We heard of other mountains far beyond these farthest -- mountains
whose almost unexplored vastnesses contained great forests, mighty
valleys, strong water-courses, beautiful hanging-meadows, deep cañons
of granite, eternal snows, -- mountains so extended, so wonderful, that
their secrets offered whole summers of solitary exploration. We came to
feel their marvel, we came to respect the inferno of the Desert that
hemmed them in. Shortly we graduated from the indefiniteness of
railroad maps to the intricacies of geological survey charts. The fever
was on us. We must go.
A dozen of us desired. Three of us went; and of the manner of our
going, and what you must know who would do likewise, I shall try here
II. ON EQUIPMENT
IF you would travel far in the great mountains where the trails are
few and bad, you will need a certain unique experience and skill.
Before you dare venture forth without a guide, you must be able to do a
number of things, and to do them well.
First and foremost of all, you must be possessed of that strange
sixth sense best described as the sense of direction. By it you always
know about where you are. It is to some degree a memory for back-
tracks and landmarks, but to a greater extent an instinct for the lay
of the country, for relative bearings, by which you are able to make
your way across-lots back to your starting-place. It is not an uncommon
faculty, yet some lack it utterly. If you are one of the latter class,
do not venture, for you will get lost as sure as shooting, and being
lost in the mountains is no joke.
Some men possess it; others do not. The distinction seems to be
almost arbitrary. It can be largely developed, but only in those with
whom original endowment of the faculty makes development possible. No
matter how long a direction-blind man frequents the wilderness, he is
never sure of himself. Nor is the lack any reflection on the
intelligence. I once traveled in the Black Hills with a young fellow
who himself frankly confessed that after much experiment he had come to
the conclusion he could not ``find himself.'' He asked me to keep near
him, and this I did as well as I could; but even then, three times
during the course of ten days he lost himself completely in the
tumultuous upheavals and cañons of that badly mixed region. Another, an
old grouse-hunter, walked twice in a circle within the confines of a
thick swamp about two miles square. On the other hand, many exhibit
almost marvelous skill in striking a bee-line for their objective
point, and can always tell you, even after an engrossing and wandering
hunt, exactly where camp lies. And I know nothing more discouraging
than to look up after a long hard day to find your landmarks changed in
appearance, your choice widened to at least five diverging and similar
cañons, your pockets empty of food, and the chill mountain twilight
Analogous to this is the ability to follow a dim trail. A trail in
the mountains often means merely a way through, a route picked out by
some prospector, and followed since at long intervals by chance
It may, moreover, mean the only way through. Missing it will bring
you to ever-narrowing ledges, until at last you end at a precipice, and
there is no room to turn your horses around for the return. Some of
the great box cañons thousands of feet deep are practicable by but one
passage, -- and that steep and ingenious in its utilization of ledges,
crevices, little ravines, and ``hog's-backs''; and when the only
indications to follow consist of the dim vestiges left by your last
predecessor, perhaps years before, the affair becomes one of
considerable skill and experience. You must be able to pick out
scratches made by shod hoofs on the granite, depressions almost filled
in by the subsequent fall of decayed vegetation, excoriations on fallen
trees. You must have the sense to know at once when you have overrun
these indications, and the patience to turn back immediately to your
last certainty, there to pick up the next clue, even if it should take
you the rest of the day. In short, it is absolutely necessary that you
be at least a persistent tracker.
Parenthetically; having found the trail, be charitable. Blaze it,
if there are trees; otherwise ``monument'' it by piling rocks on top of
one another. Thus will those who come after bless your unknown shade.
Third, you must know horses. I do not mean that you should be a
horse-show man, with a knowledge of points and pedigrees. But you must
learn exactly what they can and cannot do in the matters of carrying
weights, making distance, enduring without deterioration hard climbs in
high altitudes; what they can or cannot get over in the way of bad
places. This last is not always a matter of appearance merely. Some
bits of trail, seeming impassable to anything but a goat, a Western
horse will negotiate easily; while others, not particularly terrifying
in appearance, offer complications of abrupt turn or a single bit of
unstable, leg-breaking footing which renders them exceedingly
dangerous. You must, moreover, be able to manage your animals to the
best advantage in such bad places. Of course you must in the beginning
have been wise as to the selection of the horses.
Fourth, you must know good horse-feed when you see it. Your animals
are depending entirely on the country; for of course you are carrying
no dry feed for them. Their pasturage will present itself under a
variety of aspects, all of which you must recognize with certainty.
Some of the greenest, lushest, most satisfying-looking meadows grow
nothing but water-grasses of large bulk but small nutrition; while
apparently barren tracts often conceal small but strong growths of
great value. You must differentiate these.
Fifth, you must possess the ability to pare a hoof, fit a shoe
cold, nail it in place. A bare hoof does not last long on the granite,
and you are far from the nearest blacksmith. Directly in line with
this, you must have the trick of picking up and holding a hoof without
being kicked, and you must be able to throw and tie without injuring
him any horse that declines to be shod in any other way.
Last, you must of course be able to pack a horse well, and must
know four or five of the most essential pack-``hitches.''
With this personal equipment you ought to be able to get through
the country. It comprises the absolutely essential.
But further, for the sake of the highest efficiency, you should
add, as finish to your mountaineer's education, certain other items. A
knowledge of the habits of deer and the ability to catch trout with
fair certainty are almost a necessity when far from the base of
supplies. Occasionally the trail goes to pieces entirely: there you
must know something of the handling of an axe and pick. Learn how to
swim a horse. You will have to take lessons in camp-fire cookery.
Otherwise employ a guide. Of course your lungs, heart, and legs must be
in good condition.
As to outfit, certain especial conditions will differentiate your
needs from those of forest and canoe travel.
You will in the changing altitudes be exposed to greater variations
in temperature. At morning you may travel in the hot arid foot-hills;
at noon you will be in the cool shades of the big pines; towards
evening you may wallow through snowdrifts; and at dark you may camp
where morning will show you icicles hanging from the brinks of little
waterfalls. Behind your saddle you will want to carry a sweater, or
better still a buckskin waistcoat. Your arms are never cold anyway, and
the pockets of such a waistcoat, made many and deep, are handy
receptacles for smokables, matches, cartridges, and the like. For the
night-time, when the cold creeps down from the high peaks, you should
provide yourself with a suit of very heavy underwear and an extra
sweater or a buckskin shirt. The latter is lighter, softer, and more
impervious to the wind than the sweater. Here again I wish to place
myself on record as opposed to a coat. It is a useless ornament,
assumed but rarely, and then only as substitute for a handier garment.
Inasmuch as you will be a great deal called on to handle abrading
and sometimes frozen ropes, you will want a pair of heavy buckskin
gauntlets. An extra pair of stout high-laced boots with small Hungarian
hob-nails will come handy. It is marvelous how quickly leather wears
out in the downhill friction of granite and shale. I once found the
heels of a new pair of shoes almost ground away by a single
giant-strides descent of a steep shale-covered thirteen- thousand-foot
mountain. Having no others I patched them with hair-covered rawhide and
a bit of horseshoe. It sufficed, but was a long and disagreeable job
which an extra pair would have obviated.
Balsam is practically unknown in the high hills, and the rocks are
especially hard. Therefore you will take, in addition to your gray
army-blanket, a thick quilt or comforter to save your bones. This, with
your saddle-blankets and pads as foundation, should give you ease -- if
you are tough. Otherwise take a second quilt.
A tarpaulin of heavy canvas 17 x 6 feet goes under you, and can be,
if necessary, drawn up to cover your head. We never used a tent. Since
you do not have to pack your outfit on your own back, you can, if you
choose, include a small pillow. Your other personal belongings are
those you would carry into the Forest I have elsewhere described what
they should be.
Now as to the equipment for your horses.
The most important point for yourself is your riding- saddle. The
cowboy or military style and seat are the only practicable ones.
Perhaps of these two the cowboy saddle is the better, for the simple
reason that often in roping or leading a refractory horse, the horn is
a great help. For steep-trail work the double cinch is preferable to
the single, as it need not be pulled so tight to hold the saddle in
Your riding-bridle you will make of an ordinary halter by riveting
two snaps to the lower part of the head-piece just above the corners of
the horse's mouth. These are snapped into the rings of the bit. At
night you unsnap the bit, remove it and the reins, and leave the halter
part on the horse. Each animal, riding and packing, has furthermore a
short lead-rope attached always to his halter-ring.
Of pack-saddles the ordinary sawbuck tree is by all odds the best,
provided it fits. It rarely does. If you can adjust the wood accurately
to the anatomy of the individual horse, so that the side pieces bear
evenly and smoothly without gouging the withers or chafing the back,
you are possessed of the handiest machine made for the purpose. Should
individual fitting prove impracticable, get an old low California
riding-tree and have a blacksmith bolt an upright spike on the cantle.
You can hang the loops of the kyacks or alforjas -- the sacks slung on
either side the horse -- from the pommel and this iron spike. Whatever
the saddle chosen, it should be supplied with breast- straps,
breeching, and two good cinches.
The kyacks or alforjas just mentioned are made either of heavy
canvas, or of rawhide shaped square and dried over boxes. After drying,
the boxes are removed, leaving the stiff rawhide like small trunks open
at the top. I prefer the canvas, for the reason that they can be folded
and packed for railroad transportation. If a stiffer receptacle is
wanted for miscellaneous loose small articles, you can insert a
soap-box inside the canvas. It cannot be denied that the rawhide will
stand rougher usage.
Probably the point now of greatest importance is that of
saddle-padding. A sore back is the easiest thing in the world to
induce, -- three hours' chafing will turn the trick, -- and once it is
done you are in trouble for a month. No precautions or pains are too
great to take in assuring your pack-animals against this. On a pinch
you will give up cheerfully part of your bedding to the cause. However,
two good- quality woolen blankets properly and smoothly folded, a pad
made of two ordinary collar-pads sewed parallel by means of canvas
strips in such a manner as to lie along both sides of the backbone, a
well-fitted saddle, and care in packing will nearly always suffice. I
have gone months without having to doctor a single abrasion.
You will furthermore want a pack-cinch and a pack-rope for each
horse. The former are of canvas or webbing provided with a ring at one
end and a big bolted wooden hook at the other. The latter should be
half-inch lines of good quality. Thirty-three feet is enough for
packing only; but we usually bought them forty feet long, so they could
be used also as picket-ropes. Do not fail to include several extra.
They are always fraying out, getting broken, being cut to free a fallen
horse, or becoming lost.
Besides the picket-ropes, you will also provide for each horse a
pair of strong hobbles. Take them to a harness-maker and have him sew
inside each ankle- band a broad strip of soft wash-leather twice the
width of the band. This will save much chafing. Some advocate sheepskin
with the wool on, but this I have found tends to soak up water or to
freeze hard. At least two loud cow-bells with neck-straps are handy to
assist you in locating whither the bunch may have strayed during the
night. They should be hung on the loose horses most inclined to wander.
Accidents are common in the hills. The repair-kit is normally
rather comprehensive. Buy a number of extra latigos, or cinch-straps.
Include many copper rivets of all sizes -- they are the best
quick-repair known for almost everything, from putting together a
smashed pack-saddle to cobbling a worn-out boot. Your horseshoeing
outfit should be complete with paring-knife, rasp, nail-set, clippers,
hammer, nails, and shoes. The latter will be the malleable soft iron,
low-calked ``Goodenough,'' which can be fitted cold. Purchase a dozen
front shoes and a dozen and a half hind shoes. The latter wear out
faster on the trail. A box or so of hob-nails for your own boots, a
waxed end and awl, a whetstone, a file, and a piece of buckskin for
strings and patches complete the list.
Thus equipped, with your grub supply, your cooking- utensils, your
personal effects, your rifle and your fishing-tackle, you should be
able to go anywhere that man and horses can go, entirely self-reliant,
independent of the towns.
III. ON HORSES
I REALLY believe that you will find more variation of individual
and interesting character in a given number of Western horses than in
an equal number of the average men one meets on the street. Their whole
education, from the time they run loose on the range until the time
when, branded, corralled, broken, and saddled, they pick their way
under guidance over a bad piece of trail, tends to develop their
self-reliance. They learn to think for themselves.
To begin with two misconceptions, merely by way of clearing the
ground: the Western horse is generally designated as a ``bronco.'' The
term is considered synonymous of horse or pony. This is not so. A horse
is ``bronco'' when he is ugly or mean or vicious or unbroken. So is a
cow ``bronco'' in the same condition, or a mule, or a burro. Again,
from certain Western illustrators and from a few samples, our notion of
the cow-pony has become that of a lean, rangy, wiry, thin-necked,
scrawny beast. Such may be found. But the average good cow-pony is apt
to be an exceedingly handsome animal, clean-built, graceful. This is
natural, when you stop to think of it, for he is descended direct from
Moorish and Arabian stock.
Certain characteristics he possesses beyond the capabilities of the
ordinary horse. The most marvelous to me of these is his
sure-footedness. Let me give you a few examples.
I once was engaged with a crew of cowboys in rounding up mustangs
in southern Arizona. We would ride slowly in through the hills until we
caught sight of the herds. Then it was a case of running them down and
heading them off, of turning the herd, milling it, of rushing it while
confused across country and into the big corrals. The surface of the
ground was composed of angular volcanic rocks about the size of your
two fists, between which the bunch-grass sprouted. An Eastern rider
would ride his horse very gingerly and at a walk, and then thank his
lucky stars if he escaped stumbles. The cowboys turned their mounts
through at a dead run. It was beautiful to see the ponies go, lifting
their feet well up and over, planting them surely and firmly, and
nevertheless making speed and attending to the game. Once, when we had
pushed the herd up the slope of a butte, it made a break to get through
a little hog- back. The only way to head it was down a series of rough
boulder ledges laid over a great sheet of volcanic rock. The man at the
hog-back put his little gray over the ledges and boulders, down the
sheet of rock, -- hop, slip, slide, -- and along the side hill in time
to head off the first of the mustangs. During the ten days of riding I
saw no horse fall. The animal I rode, Button by name, never even
In the Black Hills years ago I happened to be one of the inmates of
a small mining-camp. Each night the work-animals, after being fed, were
turned loose in the mountains. As I possessed the only cow-pony in the
outfit, he was fed in the corral, and kept up for the purpose of
rounding up the others. Every morning one of us used to ride him out
after the herd. Often it was necessary to run him at full speed along
the mountain-side, over rocks, boulders, and ledges, across ravines and
gullies. Never but once in three months did he fall.
On the trail, too, they will perform feats little short of
marvelous. Mere steepness does not bother them at all. They sit back
almost on their haunches, bunch their feet together, and slide. I have
seen them go down a hundred feet this way. In rough country they place
their feet accurately and quickly, gauge exactly the proper balance. I
have led my saddle- horse, Bullet, over country where, undoubtedly to
his intense disgust, I myself have fallen a dozen times in the course
of a morning. Bullet had no such troubles. Any of the mountain horses
will hop cheerfully up or down ledges anywhere. They will even walk a
log fifteen or twenty feet above a stream. I have seen the same trick
performed in Barnum's circus as a wonderful feat, accompanied by brass
bands and breathlessness. We accomplished it on our trip with out any
brass bands; I cannot answer for the breathlessness. As for steadiness
of nerve, they will walk serenely on the edge of precipices a man would
hate to look over, and given a palm's breadth for the soles of their
feet, they will get through. Over such a place I should a lot rather
trust Bullet than myself.
In an emergency the Western horse is not apt to lose his head. When
a pack-horse falls down, he lies still without struggle until eased of
his pack and told to get up. If he slips off an edge, he tries to
double his fore legs under him and slide. Should he find himself in a
tight place, he waits patiently for you to help him, and then proceeds
gingerly. A friend of mine rode a horse named Blue. One day, the trail
being slippery with rain, he slid and fell. My friend managed a
successful jump, but Blue tumbled about thirty feet to the bed of the
cañon. Fortunately he was not injured. After some difficulty my friend
managed to force his way through the chaparral to where Blue stood.
Then it was fine to see them. My friend would go ahead a few feet,
picking a route. When he had made his decision, he called Blue. Blue
came that far, and no farther. Several times the little horse balanced
painfully and unsteadily like a goat, all four feet on a boulder,
waiting for his signal to advance. In this manner they regained the
trail, and proceeded as though nothing had happened. Instances could be
A good animal adapts himself quickly. He is capable of learning by
experience. In a country entirely new to him he soon discovers the best
method of getting about, where the feed grows, where he can find water.
He is accustomed to foraging for himself. You do not need to show him
his pasturage. If there is anything to eat anywhere in the district he
will find it. Little tufts of bunch-grass growing concealed under the
edges of the brush, he will search out. If he cannot get grass, he
knows how to rustle for the browse of small bushes. Bullet would devour
sage- brush, when he could get nothing else; and I have even known him
philosophically to fill up on dry pine-needles. There is no nutrition
in dry pine- needles, but Bullet got a satisfyingly full belly. On the
trail a well-seasoned horse will be always on the forage, snatching
here a mouthful, yonder a single spear of grass, and all without
breaking the regularity of his gait, or delaying the pack-train behind
him. At the end of the day's travel he is that much to the good.
By long observation thus you will construct your ideal of the
mountain horse, and in your selection of your animals for an expedition
you will search always for that ideal. It is only too apt to be
modified by personal idiosyncrasies, and proverbially an ideal is
difficult of attainment; but you will, with care, come closer to its
realization than one accustomed only to the conventionality of an
artificially reared horse would believe possible.
The ideal mountain horse, when you come to pick him out, is of
medium size. He should be not smaller than fourteen hands nor larger
than fifteen. He is strongly but not clumsily built, short-coupled,
with none of the snipy speedy range of the valley animal. You will
select preferably one of wide full forehead, indicating intelligence,
low in the withers, so the saddle will not be apt to gall him. His
sureness of foot should be beyond question, and of course he must be an
expert at foraging. A horse that knows but one or two kinds of feed,
and that starves unless he can find just those kinds, is an
abomination. He must not jump when you throw all kinds of rattling and
terrifying tarpaulins across him, and he must not mind if the
pack-ropes fall about his heels. In the day's march he must follow like
a dog without the necessity of a lead-rope, nor must he stray far when
turned loose at night.
Fortunately, when removed from the reassuring environment of
civilization, horses are gregarious. They hate to be separated from the
bunch to which they are accustomed. Occasionally one of us would stop
on the trail, for some reason or another, thus dropping behind the
pack-train. Instantly the saddle- horse so detained would begin to grow
uneasy. Bullet used by all means in his power to try to induce me to
proceed. He would nibble me with his lips, paw the ground, dance in a
circle, and finally sidle up to me in the position of being mounted,
than which he could think of no stronger hint. Then when I had finally
remounted, it was hard to hold him in. He would whinny frantically,
scramble with enthusiasm up trails steep enough to draw a protest at
ordinary times, and rejoin his companions with every symptom of
gratification and delight. This gregariousness and alarm at being left
alone in a strange country tends to hold them together at night. You
are reasonably certain that in the morning, having found one, you will
come upon the rest not far away.
The personnel of our own outfit we found most interesting. Although
collected from divergent localities they soon became acquainted. In a
crowded corral they were always compact in their organization, sticking
close together, and resisting as a solid phalanx encroachments on their
feed by other and stranger horses. Their internal organization was very
amusing. A certain segregation soon took place. Some became leaders;
others by common consent were relegated to the position of
The order of precedence on the trail was rigidly preserved by the
pack-horses. An attempt by Buckshot to pass Dinkey, for example, the
latter always met with a bite or a kick by way of hint. If the gelding
still persisted, and tried to pass by a long detour, the mare would
rush out at him angrily, her ears back, her eyes flashing, her neck
extended. And since Buckshot was by no means inclined always to give in
meekly, we had opportunities for plenty of amusement. The two were
always skirmishing. When by a strategic short cut across the angle of a
trail Buckshot succeeded in stealing a march on Dinkey, while she was
nipping a mouthful, his triumph was beautiful to see. He never held the
place for long, however. Dinkey's was the leadership by force of
ambition and energetic character, and at the head of the pack-train she
Yet there were hours when utter indifference seemed to fall on the
militant spirits. They trailed peacefully and amiably in the rear while
Lily or Jenny marched with pride in the coveted advance. But the place
was theirs only by sufferance. A bite or a kick sent them back to their
own positions when the true leaders grew tired of their vacation.
However rigid this order of precedence, the saddle- animals were
acknowledged as privileged; -- and knew it. They could go where they
pleased. Furthermore theirs was the duty of correcting infractions of
the trail discipline, such as grazing on the march, or attempting
unauthorized short cuts. They appreciated this duty. Bullet always
became vastly indignant if one of the pack-horses misbehaved. He would
run at the offender angrily, hustle him to his place with savage nips
of his teeth, and drop back to his own position with a comical air of
virtue. Once in a great while it would happen that on my spurring up
from the rear of the column I would be mistaken for one of the
pack-horses attempting illegally to get ahead. Immediately Dinkey or
Buckshot would snake his head out crossly to turn me to the rear. It
was really ridiculous to see the expression of apology with which they
would take it all back, and the ostentatious, nose-elevated
indifference in Bullet's very gait as he marched haughtily by. So rigid
did all the animals hold this convention that actually in the San
Joaquin Valley Dinkey once attempted to head off a Southern Pacific
train. She ran at full speed diagonally toward it, her eyes striking
fire, her ears back, her teeth snapping in rage because the locomotive
would not keep its place behind her ladyship.
Let me make you acquainted with our outfit.
I rode, as you have gathered, an Arizona pony named Bullet. He was
a handsome fellow with a chestnut brown coat, long mane and tail, and a
beautiful pair of brown eyes. Wes always called him ``Baby.'' He was in
fact the youngster of the party, with all the engaging qualities of
youth. I never saw a horse more willing. He wanted to do what you
wanted him to; it pleased him, and gave him a warm consciousness of
virtue which the least observant could not fail to remark. When leading
he walked industriously ahead, setting the pace; when driving, -- that
is, closing up the rear, -- he attended strictly to business. Not for
the most luscious bunch of grass that ever grew would he pause even for
an instant. Yet in his off hours, when I rode irresponsibly somewhere
in the middle, he was a great hand to forage. Few choice morsels
escaped him. He confided absolutely in his rider in the matter of bad
country, and would tackle anything I would put him at. It seemed that
he trusted me not to put him at anything that would hurt him. This was
an invaluable trait when an example had to be set to the reluctance of
the other horses. He was a great swimmer. Probably the most winning
quality of his nature was his extreme friendliness. He was always
wandering into camp to be petted, nibbling me over with his lips,
begging to have his forehead rubbed, thrusting his nose under an elbow,
and otherwise telling how much he thought of us. Whoever broke him did
a good job. I never rode a better-reined horse. A mere indication of
the bridle-hand turned him to right or left, and a mere raising of the
hand without the slight est pressure on the bit stopped him short. And
how well he understood cow-work! Turn him loose after the bunch, and he
would do the rest. All I had to do was to stick to him. That in itself
was no mean task, for he turned like a flash, and was quick as a cat on
his feet. At night I always let him go foot free. He would be there in
the morning, and I could always walk directly up to him with the bridle
in plain sight in my hand. Even at a feedless camp we once made where
we had shot a couple of deer, he did not attempt to wander off in
search of pasture, as would most horses. He nosed around unsuccessfully
until pitch dark, then came into camp, and with great philosophy stood
tail to the fire until morning. I could always jump off anywhere for a
shot, without even the necessity of ``tying him to the ground,'' by
throwing the reins over his head. He would wait for me, although he was
never overfond of firearms.
Nevertheless Bullet had his own sense of dignity. He was literally
as gentle as a kitten, but he drew a line. I shall never forget how
once, being possessed of a desire to find out whether we could swim our
outfit across a certain stretch of the Merced River, I climbed him
bareback. He bucked me off so quickly that I never even got settled on
his back. Then he gazed at me with sorrow, while, laughing
irrepressibly at this unusual assertion of independent ideas, I picked
myself out of a wild-rose bush. He did not attempt to run away from me,
but stood to be saddled, and plunged boldly into the swift water where
I told him to. Merely he thought it disrespectful in me to ride him
without his proper harness. He was the pet of the camp.
As near as I could make out, he had but one fault. He was
altogether too sensitive about his hind quarters, and would jump like a
rabbit if anything touched him there.
Wes rode a horse we called Old Slob. Wes, be it premised, was an
interesting companion. He had done everything, -- seal-hunting,
abalone-gathering, boar-hunting, all kinds of shooting, cow-punching in
the rough Coast Ranges, and all other queer and outlandish and
picturesque vocations by which a man can make a living. He weighed two
hundred and twelve pounds and was the best game shot with a rifle I
As you may imagine, Old Slob was a stocky individual. He was built
from the ground up. His disposition was quiet, slow, honest. Above all,
he gave the impression of vast, very vast experience. Never did he
hurry his mental processes, although he was quick enough in his
movements if need arose. He quite declined to worry about anything.
Consequently, in spite of the fact that he carried by far the heaviest
man in the company, he stayed always fat and in good condition. There
was something almost pathetic in Old Slob's willingness to go on
working, even when more work seemed like an imposition. You could not
fail to fall in love with his mild inquiring gentle eyes, and his utter
trust in the goodness of human nature. His only fault was an excess of
caution. Old Slob was very very experienced. He knew all about trails,
and he declined to be hurried over what he considered a bad place. Wes
used sometimes to disagree with him as to what constituted a bad place.
``Some day you're going to take a tumble, you old fool,'' Wes used to
address him, ``if you go on fiddling down steep rocks with your little
old monkey work. Why don't you step out?'' Only Old Slob never did take
a tumble. He was willing to do anything for you, even to the assuming
of a pack. This is considered by a saddle-animal distinctly as a
The Tenderfoot, by the irony of fate, drew a tenderfoot horse.
Tunemah was a big fool gray that was constitutionally rattle-brained.
He meant well enough, but he did 't know anything. When he came to a
bad place in the trail, he took one good look -- and rushed it.
Constantly we expected him to come to grief. It wore on the
Tenderfoot's nerves. Tunemah was always trying to wander off the trail,
trying fool routes of his own invention. If he were sent ahead to set
the pace, he lagged and loitered and constantly looked back, worried
lest he get too far in advance and so lose the bunch. If put at the
rear, he fretted against the bit, trying to push on at a senseless
speed. In spite of his extreme anxiety to stay with the train, he would
once in a blue moon get a strange idea of wandering off solitary
through the mountains, passing good feed, good water, good shelter. We
would find him, after a greater or less period of difficult tracking,
perched in a silly fashion on some elevation. Heaven knows what his
idea was: it certainly was neither search for feed, escape, return
whence he came, nor desire for exercise. When we came up with him, he
would gaze mildly at us from a foolish vacant eye and follow us
peaceably back to camp. Like most weak and silly people, he had
occasional stubborn fits when you could beat him to a pulp without
persuading him. He was one of the type already mentioned that knows
but two or three kinds of feed. As time went on he became thinner and
thinner. The other horses prospered, but Tunemah failed. He actually
did not know enough to take care of himself; and could not learn.
Finally, when about two months out, we traded him at a cow-camp for a
little buckskin called Monache.
So much for the saddle-horses. The pack-animals were four.
A study of Dinkey's character and an experience of her
characteristics always left me with mingled feelings. At times I was
inclined to think her perfection: at other times thirty cents would
have been esteemed by me as a liberal offer for her. To enumerate her
good points: she was an excellent weight- carrier; took good care of
her pack that it never scraped nor bumped; knew all about trails, the
possibilities of short cuts, the best way of easing herself downhill;
kept fat and healthy in districts where grew next to no feed at all;
was past-mistress in the picking of routes through a trailless country.
Her endurance was marvelous; her intelligence equally so. In fact too
great intelligence perhaps accounted for most of her defects. She
thought too much for herself; she made up opinions about people; she
speculated on just how far each member of the party, man or beast,
would stand imposition, and tried conclusions with each to test the
accuracy of her speculations; she obstinately insisted on her own way
in going up and down hill, -- a way well enough for Dinkey, perhaps,
but hazardous to the other less skillful animals who naturally would
follow her lead. If she did condescend to do things according to your
ideas, it was with a mental reservation. You caught her sardonic eye
fixed on you contemptuously. You felt at once that she knew another
method, a much better method, with which yours compared most
unfavorably. ``I'd like to kick you in the stomach,'' Wes used to say;
``you know too much for a horse!''
If one of the horses bucked under the pack, Dinkey deliberately
tried to stampede the others -- and generally succeeded. She invariably
led them off whenever she could escape her picket-rope. In case of
trouble of any sort, instead of standing still sensibly, she pretended
to be subject to wild-eyed panics. It was all pretense, for when you
did yield to temptation and light into her with the toe of your boot,
she subsided into common sense. The spirit of malevolent mischief was
Her performances when she was being packed were ridiculously
histrionic. As soon as the saddle was cinched, she spread her legs
apart, bracing them firmly as though about to receive the weight of an
iron safe. Then as each article of the pack was thrown across her back,
she flinched and uttered the most heart-rending groans. We used
sometimes to amuse ourselves by adding merely an empty sack, or other
article quite without weight. The groans and tremblings of the braced
legs were quite as pitiful as though we had piled on a sack of flour.
Dinkey, I had forgotten to state, was a white horse, and belonged to
Jenny also was white and belonged to Wes. Her chief characteristic
was her devotion to Dinkey. She worshiped Dinkey, and seconded her
enthusiastically. Without near the originality of Dinkey, she was yet a
very good and sure pack-horse. The deceiving part about Jenny was her
eye. It was baleful with the spirit of evil, -- snaky and black, and
with green sideways gleams in it. Catching the flash of it, you would
forever after avoid getting in range of her heels or teeth. But it was
all a delusion. Jenny's disposition was mild and harmless.
The third member of the pack-outfit we bought at an auction sale in
rather a peculiar manner. About sixty head of Arizona horses of the C.
A. Bar outfit were being sold. Toward the close of the afternoon they
brought out a well-built stocky buckskin of first-rate appearance
except that his left flank was ornamented with five different brands.
The auctioneer called attention to him.
``Here is a first-rate all-round horse,'' said he. ``He is sound;
will ride, work, or pack; perfectly broken, mild, and gentle. He would
make a first-rate family horse, for he has a kind disposition.''
The official rider put a saddle on him to give him a demonstrating
turn around the track. Then that mild, gentle, perfectly broken family
horse of kind disposition gave about as pretty an exhibition of
barbed-wire bucking as you would want to see. Even the auctioneer had
to join in the wild shriek of delight that went up from the crowd. He
could not get a bid, and I bought the animal in later very cheaply.
As I had suspected, the trouble turned out to be merely exuberance
or nervousness before a crowd. He bucked once with me under the saddle;
and twice subsequently under a pack, -- that was all. Buckshot was the
best pack-horse we had. Bar an occasional saunter into the brush when
he got tired of the trail, we had no fault to find with him. He carried
a heavy pack, was as sure-footed as Bullet, as sagacious on the trail
as Dinkey, and he always attended strictly to his own business.
Moreover he knew that business thoroughly, knew what should be expected
of him, accomplished it well and quietly. His disposition was dignified
but lovable. As long as you treated him well, he was as gentle as you
could ask. But once let Buckshot get it into his head that he was being
imposed on, or once let him see that your temper had betrayed you into
striking him when he thought he did not deserve it, and he cut loose
vigorously and emphatically with his heels. He declined to be abused.
There remains but Lily. I don't know just how to do justice to Lily
-- the ``Lily maid.'' We named her that because she looked it. Her
color was a pure white, her eye was virginal and silly, her long bang
strayed in wanton carelessness across her face and eyes, her expression
was foolish, and her legs were long and rangy. She had the general
appearance of an overgrown school-girl too big for short dresses and
too young for long gowns; -- a school-girl named Flossie, or Mamie, or
Lily. So we named her that.
At first hers was the attitude of the timid and shrinking
tenderfoot. She stood in awe of her companions; she appreciated her
lack of experience. Humbly she took the rear; slavishly she copied the
other horses; closely she clung to camp. Then in a few weeks, like most
tenderfeet, she came to think that her short experience had taught her
everything there was to know. She put on airs. She became too cocky and
conceited for words.
Everything she did was exaggerated, overdone. She assumed her pack
with an air that plainly said, ``Just see what a good horse am I!'' She
started out three seconds before the others in a manner intended to
shame their procrastinating ways. Invariably she was the last to rest,
and the first to start on again. She climbed over-vigorously, with the
manner of conscious rectitude. ``Acts like she was trying to get her
wages raised,'' said Wes.
In this manner she wore herself down. If permitted she would have
climbed until winded, and then would probably have fallen off somewhere
for lack of strength. Where the other horses watched the movements of
those ahead, in order that when a halt for rest was called they might
stop at an easy place on the trail, Lily would climb on until jammed
against the animal immediately preceding her. Thus often she found
herself forced to cling desperately to extremely bad footing until the
others were ready to proceed. Altogether she was a precious nuisance,
that acted busily but without thinking.
Two virtues she did possess. She was a glutton for work; and she
could fall far and hard without injuring herself. This was lucky, for
she was always falling. Several times we went down to her fully
expecting to find her dead or so crippled that she would have to be
shot. The loss of a little skin was her only injury. She got to be
quite philosophic about it. On losing her balance she would tumble
peaceably, and then would lie back with an air of luxury, her eyes
closed, while we worked to free her. When we had loosened the pack, Wes
would twist her tail. Thereupon she would open one eye inquiringly as
though to say, ``Hullo! Done already?'' Then leisurely she would arise
and shake herself.
IV. ON HOW TO GO ABOUT IT
ONE truth you must learn to accept, believe as a tenet of your
faith, and act upon always. It is that your entire welfare depends on
the condition of your horses. They must, as a consequence, receive
always your first consideration. As long as they have rest and food,
you are sure of getting along; as soon as they fail, you are reduced to
difficulties. So absolute is this truth that it has passed into an
idiom. When a Westerner wants to tell you that he lacks a thing, he
informs you he is ``afoot'' for it. ``Give me a fill for my pipe,'' he
begs; ``I'm plumb afoot for tobacco.''
Consequently you think last of your own comfort. In casting about
for a place to spend the night, you look out for good feed. That
assured, all else is of slight importance; you make the best of
whatever camping facilities may happen to be attached. If necessary you
will sleep on granite or in a marsh, walk a mile for firewood or water,
if only your animals are well provided for. And on the trail you often
will work twice as hard as they merely to save them a little. In
whatever I may tell you regarding practical expedients, keep this
always in mind.
As to the little details of your daily routine in the mountains,
many are worth setting down, however trivial they may seem. They mark
the difference between the greenhorn and the old-timer; but, more
important, they mark also the difference between the right and the
wrong, the efficient and the inefficient ways of doing things.
In the morning the cook for the day is the first man afoot, usually
about half past four. He blows on his fingers, casts malevolent glances
at the sleepers, finally builds his fire and starts his meal. Then he
takes fiendish delight in kicking out the others. They do not run with
glad shouts to plunge into the nearest pool, as most camping fiction
would have us believe. Not they. The glad shout and nearest pool can
wait until noon when the sun is warm. They, too, blow on their fingers
and curse the cook for getting them up so early. All eat breakfast and
Now the cook smokes in lordly ease. One of the other men washes the
dishes, while his companion goes forth to drive in the horses. Washing
dishes is bad enough, but fumbling with frozen fingers at stubborn
hobble-buckles is worse. At camp the horses are caught, and each is
tied near his own saddle and pack.
The saddle-horses are attended to first. Thus they are available
for business in case some of the others should make trouble. You will
see that your saddle- blankets are perfectly smooth, and so laid that
the edges are to the front where they are least likely to roll under
or wrinkle. After the saddle is in place, lift it slightly and loosen
the blanket along the back bone so it will not draw down tight under
the weight of the rider. Next hang your rifle-scabbard under your left
leg. It should be slanted along the horse's side at such an angle that
neither will the muzzle interfere with the animal's hind leg, nor the
butt with your bridle-hand. This angle must be determined by
experiment. The loop in front should be attached to the scabbard, so it
can be hung over the horn; that behind to the saddle, so the muzzle can
be thrust through it. When you come to try this method, you will
appreciate its handiness. Besides the rifle, you will carry also your
rope, camera, and a sweater or waistcoat for changes in temperature. In
your saddle bags are pipe and tobacco, perhaps a chunk of bread, your
note-book, and the map -- if there is any. Thus your saddle-horse is
outfitted. Do not forget your collapsible rubber cup. About your waist
you will wear your cartridge-belt with six-shooter and sheath-knife. I
use a forty-five caliber belt. By threading a buck skin thong in and
out through some of the cartridge loops, their size is sufficiently
reduced to hold also the 30-40 rifle cartridges. Thus I carry
ammunition for both revolver and rifle in the one belt. The belt should
not be buckled tight about your waist, but should hang well down on the
hip. This is for two reasons. In the first place, it does not drag so
heavily at your anatomy, and falls naturally into position when you
are mounted. In the second place, you can jerk your gun out more easily
from a loose-hanging holster. Let your knife-sheath be so deep as
almost to cover the handle, and the knife of the very best steel
procurable. I like a thin blade. If you are a student of animal
anatomy, you can skin and quarter a deer with nothing heavier than a
When you come to saddle the pack-horses, you must exercise even
greater care in getting the saddle- blankets smooth and the saddle in
place. There is some give and take to a rider; but a pack carries
``dead,'' and gives the poor animal the full handicap of its weight at
all times. A rider dismounts in bad or steep places; a pack stays on
until the morning's journey is ended. See to it, then, that it is on
Each horse should have assigned him a definite and, as nearly as
possible, unvarying pack. Thus you will not have to search everywhere
for the things you need.
For example, in our own case, Lily was known as the cook-horse. She
carried all the kitchen utensils, the fire-irons, the axe, and matches.
In addition her alforjas contained a number of little bags in which
were small quantities for immediate use of all the different sorts of
provisions we had with us. When we made camp we unpacked her near the
best place for a fire, and everything was ready for the cook. Jenny was
a sort of supply store, for she transported the main stock of the
provisions of which Lily's little bags contained samples. Dinkey helped
out Jenny, and in addition -- since she took such good care of her pack
-- was intrusted with the fishing-rods, the shot-gun, the medicine-bag,
small miscellaneous duffle, and whatever deer or bear meat we happened
to have. Buckshot's pack consisted of things not often used, such as
all the ammunition, the horse- shoeing outfit, repair-kit, and the
like. It was rarely disturbed at all.
These various things were all stowed away in the kyacks or alforjas
which hung on either side. They had to be very accurately balanced. The
least difference in weight caused one side to sag, and that in turn
chafed the saddle-tree against the animal's withers.
So far, so good. Next comes the affair of the top packs. Lay your
duffle-bags across the middle of the saddle. Spread the blankets and
quilts as evenly as possible. Cover all with the canvas tarpaulin
suitably folded. Everything is now ready for the pack-rope.
The first thing anybody asks you when it is discovered that you
know a little something of pack- trains is, ``Do you throw the Diamond
Hitch?'' Now the Diamond is a pretty hitch and a firm one, but it is by
no means the fetish some people make of it. They would have you believe
that it represents the height of the packer's art; and once having
mastered it, they use it religiously for every weight, shape, and size
of pack. The truth of the matter is that the style of hitch should be
varied according to the use to which it is to be put.
The Diamond is good because it holds firmly, is a great flattener,
and is especially adapted to the securing of square boxes. It is
celebrated because it is pretty and rather difficult to learn. Also it
possesses the advantage for single-handed packing that it can be thrown
slack throughout and then tightened, and that the last pull tightens
the whole hitch. However, for ordinary purposes, with a quiet horse and
a comparatively soft pack, the common Square Hitch holds well enough
and is quickly made. For a load of small articles and heavy alforjas
there is nothing like the Lone Packer. It too is a bit hard to learn.
Chiefly is it valuable because the last pulls draw the alforjas away
from the horse's sides, thus preventing their chafing him. Of the many
hitches that remain, you need learn, to complete your list for all
practical purposes, only the Bucking Hitch. It is complicated, and
takes time and patience to throw, but it is warranted to hold your
deck-load through the most violent storms bronco ingenuity can stir up.
These four will be enough. Learn to throw them, and take pains
always to throw them good and tight. A loose pack is the best expedient
the enemy of your soul could possibly devise. It always turns or comes
to pieces on the edge of things; and then you will spend the rest of
the morning trailing a wildly buck- ing horse by the burst and
scattered articles of camp duffle. It is furthermore your exhilarating
task, after you have caught him, to take stock, and spend most of the
afternoon looking for what your first search passed by. Wes and I once
hunted two hours for as large an object as a Dutch oven. After which
you can repack. This time you will snug things down. You should have
done so in the beginning.
Next, the lead-ropes are made fast to the top of the packs. There
is here to be learned a certain knot. In case of trouble you can reach
from your saddle and jerk the whole thing free by a single pull on a
All is now ready. You take a last look around to see that nothing
has been left. One of the horsemen starts on ahead. The pack-horses
swing in behind. We soon accustomed ours to recognize the whistling of
``Boots and Saddles'' as a signal for the advance. Another horseman
brings up the rear. The day's journey has begun.
To one used to pleasure-riding the affair seems almost too
deliberate. The leader plods steadily, stopping from time to time to
rest on the steep slopes. The others string out in a leisurely
procession. It does no good to hurry. The horses will of their own
accord stay in sight of one another, and constant nagging to keep the
rear closed up only worries them without accomplishing any valuable
result. In going uphill especially, let the train take its time. Each
animal is likely to have his own ideas about when and where to rest.
If he does, respect them. See to it merely that there is no prolonged
yielding to the temptation of meadow feed, and no careless or malicious
straying off the trail. A minute's difference in the time of arrival
does not count. Remember that the horses are doing hard and continuous
work on a grass diet.
The day's distance will not seem to amount to much in actual miles,
especially if, like most Californians, you are accustomed on a fresh
horse to make an occasional sixty or seventy between suns; but it ought
to suffice. There is a lot to be seen and enjoyed in a mountain mile.
Through the high country two miles an hour is a fair average rate of
speed, so you can readily calculate that fifteen make a pretty long
day. You will be afoot a good share of the time. If you were out from
home for only a few hours' jaunt, undoubtedly you would ride your horse
over places where in an extended trip you will prefer to lead him. It
is always a question of saving your animals.
About ten o'clock you must begin to figure on water. No horse will
drink in the cool of the morning, and so, when the sun gets well up, he
will be thirsty. Arrange it.
As to the method of travel, you can either stop at noon or push
straight on through. We usually arose about half past four; got under
way by seven; and then rode continuously until ready to make the next
camp. In the high country this meant until two or three in the
afternoon, by which time both we and the horses were pretty hungry. But
when we did make camp, the horses had until the following morning to
get rested and to graze, while we had all the remainder of the
afternoon to fish, hunt, or loaf. Sometimes, however, it was more
expedient to make a lunch-camp at noon. Then we allowed an hour for
grazing, and about half an hour to pack and unpack. It meant steady
work for ourselves. To unpack, turn out the horses, cook, wash dishes,
saddle up seven animals, and repack, kept us very busy. There remained
not much leisure to enjoy the scenery. It freshened the horses,
however, which was the main point. I should say the first method was
the better for ordinary journeys; and the latter for those times when,
to reach good feed, a forced march becomes necessary.
On reaching the night's stopping-place, the cook for the day
unpacks the cook-horse and at once sets about the preparation of
dinner. The other two attend to the animals. And no matter how tired
you are, or how hungry you may be, you must take time to bathe their
backs with cold water; to stake the picket-animal where it will at once
get good feed and not tangle its rope in bushes, roots, or stumps; to
hobble the others; and to bell those inclined to wander. After this is
done, it is well, for the peace and well-being of the party, to take
A smoke establishes you in the final and normal attitude of good
humor. Each man spreads his tarpaulin where he has claimed his bed.
Said claim is indicated by his hat thrown down where he wishes to
sleep. It is a mark of pre-emption which every one is bound to respect.
Lay out your saddle-blankets, cover them with your quilt, place the
sleeping- blanket on top, and fold over the tarpaulin to cover the
whole. At the head deposit your duffle-bag. Thus are you assured of a
About dusk you straggle in with trout or game. The camp-keeper lays
aside his mending or his repairing or his note-book, and stirs up the
cooking- fire. The smell of broiling and frying and boiling arises in
the air. By the dancing flame of the campfire you eat your third dinner
for the day -- in the mountains all meals are dinners, and formidable
ones at that. The curtain of blackness draws down close. Through it
shine stars, loom mountains cold and mist-like in the moon. You tell
stories. You smoke pipes. After a time the pleasant chill creeps down
from the eternal snows. Some one throws another handful of pine-cones
on the fire. Sleepily you prepare for bed. The pine-cones flare up,
throwing their light in your eyes. You turn over and wrap the soft
woolen blanket close about your chin. You wink drowsily and at once you
are asleep. Along late in the night you awaken to find your nose as
cold as a dog's. You open one eye. A few coals mark where the fire has
been. The mist mountains have drawn nearer, they seem to bend over you
in silent contemplation. The moon is sailing high in the heavens
With a sigh you draw the canvas tarpaulin over your head. Instantly
it is morning.
V. THE COAST RANGES
AT last, on the day appointed, we, with five horses, climbed the
Cold Spring Trail to the ridge; and then, instead of turning to the
left, we plunged down the zigzag lacets of the other side. That night
we camped at Mono Cañon, feeling ourselves strangely an integral part
of the relief map we had looked upon so many times that almost we had
come to consider its features as in miniature, not capacious for the
accommodation of life-sized men. Here we remained a day while we rode
the hills in search of Dinkey and Jenny, there pastured.
We found Jenny peaceful and inclined to be corralled. But Dinkey,
followed by a slavishly adoring brindle mule, declined to be rounded
up. We chased her up hill and down; along creek-beds and through the
spiky chaparral. Always she dodged craftily, warily, with forethought.
Always the brindled mule, wrapt in admiration at his companion's
cleverness, crashed along after. Finally we teased her into a narrow
cañon. Wes and the Tenderfoot closed the upper end. I attempted to slip
by to the lower, but was discovered. Dinkey tore a frantic mile down
the side hill. Bullet, his nostrils wide, his ears back, raced
parallel in the boulder-strewn stream-bed, wonderful in his avoidance
of bad footing, precious in his selection of good, interested in the
game, indignant at the wayward Dinkey, profoundly contemptuous of the
besotted mule. At a bend in the cañon interposed a steep bank. Up this
we scrambled, dirt and stones flying. I had just time to bend low along
the saddle when, with the ripping and tearing and scratching of thorns,
we burst blindly through a thicket. In the open space on the farther
side Bullet stopped, panting but triumphant. Dinkey, surrounded at
last, turned back toward camp with an air of utmost indifference. The
mule dropped his long ears and followed.
At camp we corralled Dinkey, but left her friend to shift for
himself. Then was lifted up his voice in mulish lamentations until,
cursing, we had to ride out bareback and drive him far into the hills
and there stone him into distant fear. Even as we departed up the trail
the following day the voice of his sorrow, diminishing like the echo of
grief, appealed uselessly to Dinkey's sympathy. For Dinkey, once
captured, seemed to have shrugged her shoulders and accepted inevitable
toil with a real though cynical philosophy.
The trail rose gradually by imperceptible gradations and occasional
climbs. We journeyed in the great cañons. High chaparral flanked the
trail, occasional wide gray stretches of ``old man'' filled the air
with its pungent odor and with the calls of its quail. The crannies of
the rocks, the stretches of wide loose shale, the crumbling bottom
earth offered to the eye the dessicated beauties of creamy yucca, of
yerba buena, of the gaudy red paint-brushes, the Spanish bayonet; and
to the nostrils the hot dry perfumes of the semi-arid lands. The air
was tepid; the sun hot. A sing-song of bees and locusts and strange
insects lulled the mind. The ponies plodded on cheerfully. We expanded
and basked and slung our legs over the pommels of our saddles and were
glad we had come.
At no time did we seem to be climbing mountains. Rather we wound in
and out, round and about, through a labyrinth of valleys and cañons and
ravines, farther and farther into a mysterious shut-in country that
seemed to have no end. Once in a while, to be sure, we zigzagged up a
trifling ascent; but it was nothing. And then at a certain point the
Tenderfoot happened to look back.
``Well!'' he gasped; ``will you look at that!''
We turned. Through a long straight aisle which chance had placed
just there, we saw far in the distance a sheer slate-colored wall; and
beyond, still farther in the distance, overtopping the slate-colored
wall by a narrow strip, another wall of light azure blue.
``It's our mountains,'' said Wes, ``and that blue ridge is the
channel islands. We've got up higher than our range.''
We looked about us, and tried to realize that we were actually
more than halfway up the formidable ridge we had so often speculated on
from the Cold Spring Trail. But it was impossible. In a few moments,
however, our broad easy cañon narrowed. Huge crags and sheer masses of
rock hemmed us in. The chaparral and yucca and yerba buena gave place
to pine-trees and mountain oaks, with little close clumps of
cottonwoods in the stream bottom. The brook narrowed and leaped, and
the white of alkali faded from its banks. We began to climb in good
earnest, pausing often for breath. The view opened. We looked back on
whence we had come, and saw again, from the reverse, the forty miles of
ranges and valleys we had viewed from the Ridge Trail.
At this point we stopped to shoot a rattlesnake. Dinkey and Jenny
took the opportunity to push ahead. From time to time we would catch
sight of them traveling earnestly on, following the trail accurately,
stopping at stated intervals to rest, doing their work, conducting
themselves as decorously as though drivers had stood over them with
blacksnake whips. We tried a little to catch up.
``Never mind,'' said Wes, ``they've been over this trail before.
They'll stop when they get to where we're going to camp.''
We halted a moment on the ridge to look back over the lesser
mountains and the distant ridge, beyond which the islands now showed
plainly. Then we dropped down behind the divide into a cup valley
containing a little meadow with running water on two sides of it and
big pines above. The meadow was brown, to be sure, as all typical
California is at this time of year. But the brown of California and the
brown of the East are two different things. Here is no snow or rain to
mat down the grass, to suck out of it the vital principles. It grows
ripe and sweet and soft, rich with the life that has not drained away,
covering the hills and valleys with the effect of beaver fur, so that
it seems the great round-backed hills must have in a strange manner the
yielding flesh-elasticity of living creatures. The brown of California
is the brown of ripeness; not of decay.
Our little meadow was beautifully named Madulce,1 and was just
below the highest point of this section of the Coast Range. The air
drank fresh with the cool of elevation. We went out to shoot supper;
and so found ourselves on a little knoll fronting the brown-hazed east.
As we stood there, enjoying the breeze after our climb, a great wave of
hot air swept by us, filling our lungs with heat, scorching our faces
as the breath of a furnace. Thus was brought to our minds what, in the
excitement of a new country, we had forgotten, -- that we were at last
on the eastern slope, and that before us waited the Inferno of the
That evening we lay in the sweet ripe grasses of Madulce, and
talked of it. Wes had been across it once before and did not possess
much optimism with which to comfort us.
``It's hot, just plain hot,'' said he, ``and that's all there is
about it. And there's mighty little water, and what there is is sickish
and a long ways apart. And the sun is strong enough to roast potatoes
``Why not travel at night?'' we asked.
``No place to sleep under daytimes,'' explained Wes. ``It's better
to keep traveling and then get a chance for a little sleep in the cool
of the night.''
We saw the reasonableness of that.
``Of course we'll start early, and take a long nooning, and travel
late. We won't get such a lot of sleep.''
``How long is it going to take us?''
``About eight days,'' he said soberly.
The next morning we descended from Madulce abruptly by a dirt
trail, almost perpendicular until we slid into a cañon of sage-brush
and quail, of mescale cactus and the fierce dry heat of sun-baked
``Is it any hotter than this on the desert?'' we inquired.
Wes looked on us with pity.
``This is plumb arctic,'' said he.
Near noon we came to a little cattle ranch situated in a flat
surrounded by red dikes and buttes after the manner of Arizona. Here we
unpacked, early as it was, for through the dry countries one has to
apportion his day's journeys by the water to be had. If we went farther
to-day, then to-morrow night would find us in a dry camp.
The horses scampered down the flat to search out alfilaria. We
roosted under a slanting shed, -- where were stock saddles,
silver-mounted bits and spurs, rawhide riatas, branding-irons, and all
the lumber of the cattle business, -- and hung out our tongues and
gasped for breath and earnestly desired the sun to go down or a breeze
to come up. The breeze shortly did so. It was a hot breeze, and availed
merely to cover us with dust, to swirl the stable-yard into our faces.
Great swarms of flies buzzed and lit and stung. Wes, disgusted, went
over to where a solitary cow- puncher was engaged in shoeing a horse.
Shortly we saw Wes pressed into service to hold the horse's hoof. He
raised a pathetic face to us, the big round drops chasing each other
down it as fast as rain. We grinned and felt better.
The fierce perpendicular rays of the sun beat down. The air under
the shed grew stuffier and more oppressive, but it was the only patch
of shade in all that pink and red furnace of a little valley. The
Tenderfoot discovered a pair of horse-clippers, and, becoming slightly
foolish with the heat, insisted on our barbering his head. We told him
it was cooler with hair than without; and that the flies and sun would
be offered thus a beautiful opportunity, but without avail. So we
clipped him, -- leaving, however, a beautiful long scalp-lock in the
middle of his crown. He looked like High-low-kickapoo-waterpot, chief
of the Wam-wams. After a while he discovered it, and was unhappy.
Shortly the riders began to come in, jingling up to the shed, with
a rattle of spurs and bit-chains. There they unsaddled their horses,
after which, with great unanimity, they soused their heads in the
horse-trough. The chief, a six-footer, wearing beautifully decorated
gauntlets and a pair of white buckskin chaps, went so far as to say it
was a little warm for the time of year. In the freshness of evening,
when frazzled nerves had regained their steadiness, he returned to
smoke and yarn with us and tell us of the peculiarities of the cattle
business in the Cuyamas. At present he and his men were riding the
great mountains, driving the cattle to the lowlands in anticipation of
a rodeo the following week. A rodeo under that sun!
We slept in the ranch vehicles, so the air could get under us.
While the stars still shone, we crawled out, tired and unrefreshed. The
Tenderfoot and I went down the valley after the horses. While we
looked, the dull pallid gray of dawn filtered into the darkness, and so
we saw our animals, out of proportion, monstrous in the half light of
that earliest morning. Before the range riders were even astir we had
taken up our journey, filching thus a few hours from the inimical sun.
Until ten o'clock we traveled in the valley of the Cuyamas. The
river was merely a broad sand and stone bed, although undoubtedly there
was water below the surface. California rivers are said to flow bottom
up. To the northward were mountains typical of the arid countries, --
boldly defined, clear in the edges of their folds, with sharp shadows
and hard, uncompromising surfaces. They looked brittle and hollow, as
though made of papier maché and set down in the landscape. A long four
hours' noon we spent beneath a live-oak near a tiny spring. I tried to
hunt, but had to give it up. After that I lay on my back and shot doves
as they came to drink at the spring. It was better than walking about,
and quite as effective as regards supper. A band of cattle filed
stolidly in, drank, and filed as stolidly away. Some half-wild horses
came to the edge of the hill, stamped, snorted, essayed a tentative
advance. Them we drove away, lest they decoy our own animals. The flies
would not let us sleep. Dozens of valley and mountain quail called with
maddening cheerfulness and energy. By a mighty exercise of will we got
under way again. In an hour we rode out into what seemed to be a grassy
foot-hill country, supplied with a most refreshing breeze.
The little round hills of a few hundred feet rolled gently away to
the artificial horizon made by their closing in. The trail meandered
white and distinct through the clear fur-like brown of their grasses.
Cat- tle grazed. Here and there grew live-oaks, planted singly as in a
park. Beyond we could imagine the great plain, grading insensibly into
these little hills.
And then all at once we surmounted a slight elevation, and found
that we had been traveling on a plateau, and that these apparent little
hills were in reality the peaks of high mountains.
We stood on the brink of a wide smooth velvet- creased range that
dipped down and down to miniature cañons far below. Not a single little
boulder broke the rounded uniformity of the wild grasses. Out from
beneath us crept the plain, sluggish and inert with heat.
Threads of trails, dull white patches of alkali, vague brown areas
of brush, showed indeterminate for a little distance. But only for a
little distance. Almost at once they grew dim, faded in the thickness
of atmosphere, lost themselves in the mantle of heat that lay palpable
and brown like a shimmering changing veil, hiding the distance in
mystery and in dread. It was a land apart; a land to be looked on
curiously from the vantage-ground of safety, -- as we were looking on
it from the shoulder of the mountain, -- and then to be turned away
from, to be left waiting behind its brown veil for what might come. To
abandon the high country, deliberately to cut loose from the known,
deliberately to seek the presence that lay in wait, -- all at once it
seemed the height of grotesque perversity. We wanted to turn on our
heels. We wanted to get back to our hills and fresh breezes and clear
water, to our beloved cheerful quail, to our trails and the sweet upper
For perhaps a quarter of an hour we sat our horses, gazing down.
Some unknown disturbance lazily rifted the brown veil by ever so
little. We saw, lying inert and languid, obscured by its own rank
steam, a great round lake. We knew the water to be bitter, poisonous.
The veil drew together again. Wes shook himself and sighed, ``There she
is, -- damn her!'' said he.  In all Spanish names the final e
should be pronounced.
VI. THE INFERNO
FOR eight days we did penance, checking off the hours, meeting
doggedly one after another the disagreeable things. We were bathed in
heat; we inhaled it; it soaked into us until we seemed to radiate it
like so many furnaces. A condition of thirst became the normal
condition, to be only slightly mitigated by a few mouthfuls from zinc
canteens of tepid water. Food had no attractions: even smoking did not
taste good. Always the flat country stretched out before us. We could
see far ahead a landmark which we would reach only by a morning's
travel. Nothing intervened between us and it. After we had looked at it
a while, we became possessed of an almost insane necessity to make a
run for it. The slow maddening three miles an hour of the pack- train
drove us frantic. There were times when it seemed that unless we
shifted our gait, unless we stepped outside the slow strain of patience
to which the Inferno held us relentlessly, we should lose our minds and
run round and round in circles -- as people often do, in the desert.
And when the last and most formidable hundred yards had slunk
sullenly behind us to insignificance, and we had dared let our minds
relax from the insistent need of self-control -- then, beyond the
cotton. woods, or creek-bed, or group of buildings, whichever it might
be, we made out another, remote as paradise, to which we must gain by
sunset. So again the wagon-trail, with its white choking dust, its
staggering sun, its miles made up of monotonous inches, each clutching
for a man's sanity.
We sang everything we knew; we told stories; we rode cross-saddle,
sidewise, erect, slouching; we walked and led our horses; we shook the
powder of years from old worn jokes, conundrums, and puzzles, -- and at
the end, in spite of our best efforts, we fell to morose silence and
the red-eyed vindictive contemplation of the objective point that would
not seem to come nearer.
For now we lost accurate sense of time. At first it had been merely
a question of going in at one side of eight days, pressing through
them, and coming out on the other side. Then the eight days would be
behind us. But once we had entered that enchanted period, we found
ourselves more deeply involved. The seemingly limited area spread with
startling swiftness to the very horizon. Abruptly it was borne in on us
that this was never going to end; just as now for the first time we
realized that it had begun infinite ages ago. We were caught in the
entanglement of days. The Coast Ranges were the experiences of a past
incarnation: the Mountains were a myth. Nothing was real but this; and
this would endure forever. We plodded on because somehow it was part of
the great plan that we should do so. Not that it did any good: -- we
had long since given up such ideas. The illusion was very real; perhaps
it was the anodyne mercifully administered to those who pass through
Most of the time we got on well enough. One day, only, the Desert
showed her power. That day, at five of the afternoon, it was one
hundred and twenty degrees in the shade. And we, through necessity of
reaching the next water, journeyed over the alkali at noon. Then the
Desert came close on us and looked us fair in the eyes, concealing
nothing. She killed poor Deuce, the beautiful setter who had traveled
the wild countries so long; she struck Wes and the Tenderfoot from
their horses when finally they had reached a long-legged water tank;
she even staggered the horses themselves. And I, lying under a bush
where I had stayed after the others in the hope of succoring Deuce,
began idly shooting at ghostly jack-rabbits that looked real, but
through which the revolver bullets passed without resistance.
After this day the Tenderfoot went water-crazy. Watering the horses
became almost a mania with him. He could not bear to pass even a
mud-hole without offering the astonished Tunemah a chance to fill up,
even though that animal had drunk freely not twenty rods back. As for
himself, he embraced every opportunity; and journeyed draped in many
After that it was not so bad. The thermometer stood from a hundred
to a hundred and five or six, to be sure, but we were getting used to
it. Discomfort, ordinary physical discomfort, we came to accept as the
normal environment of man. It is astonishing how soon uniformly
uncomfortable conditions, by very lack of contrast, do lose their power
to color the habit of mind. I imagine merely physical unhappiness is a
matter more of contrasts than of actual circumstances. We swallowed
dust; we humped our shoulders philosophically under the beating of the
sun, we breathed the débris of high winds; we cooked anyhow, ate
anything, spent long idle fly- infested hours waiting for the noon to
pass; we slept in horse-corrals, in the trail, in the dust, behind
stables, in hay, anywhere. There was little water, less wood for the
It is now all confused, an impression of events with out sequence,
a mass of little prominent purposeless things like rock conglomerate. I
remember leaning my elbows on a low window-ledge and watching a poker
game going on in the room of a dive. The light came from a sickly
suspended lamp. It fell on five players, -- two miners in their
shirt-sleeves, a Mexican, a tough youth with side-tilted derby hat, and
a fat gorgeously dressed Chinaman. The men held their cards close to
their bodies, and wagered in silence. Slowly and regularly the great
drops of sweat gathered on their faces. As regularly they raised the
backs of their hands to wipe them away. Only the Chinaman, broad-faced,
calm, impassive as Buddha, save for a little crafty smile in one corner
of his eye, seemed utterly unaffected by the heat, cool as autumn. His
loose sleeve fell back from his forearm when he moved his hand forward,
laying his bets. A jade bracelet slipped back and forth as smoothly as
on yellow ivory.
Or again, one night when the plain was like a sea of liquid black,
and the sky blazed with stars, we rode by a sheep-herder's camp. The
flicker of a fire threw a glow out into the dark. A tall wagon, a group
of silhouetted men, three or four squatting dogs, were squarely within
the circle of illumination. And outside, in the penumbra of shifting
half light, now showing clearly, now fading into darkness, were the
sheep, indeterminate in bulk, melting away by mysterious thousands into
the mass of night. We passed them. They looked up, squinting their eyes
against the dazzle of their fire. The night closed about us again.
Or still another: in the glare of broad noon, after a hot and
trying day, a little inn kept by a French couple. And there, in the
very middle of the Inferno, was served to us on clean scrubbed tables,
a meal such as one gets in rural France, all complete, with the pôtage,
the fish fried in oil, the wonderful ragout, the chicken and salad,
the cheese and the black coffee, even the vin ordinaire. I have
forgotten the name of the place, its location on the map, the name of
its people, -- one has little to do with detail in the Inferno, -- but
that dinner never will I forget, any more than the Tenderfoot will
forget his first sight of water the day when the Desert ``held us up.''
Once the brown veil lifted to the eastward. We, souls struggling,
saw great mountains and the whiteness of eternal snow. That noon we
crossed a river, hurrying down through the flat plain, and in its
current came the body of a drowned bear-cub, an alien from the high
These things should have been as signs to our jaded spirits that we
were nearly at the end of our penance, but discipline had seared over
our souls, and we rode on unknowing.
Then we came on a real indication. It did not amount to much.
Merely a dry river-bed; but the farther bank, instead of being flat,
cut into a low swell of land. We skirted it. Another swell of land,
like the sullen after-heave of a storm, lay in our way. Then we crossed
a ravine. It was not much of a ravine; in fact it was more like a
slight gouge in the flatness of the country. After that we began to see
oak-trees, scattered at rare intervals. So interested were we in them
that we did not notice rocks beginning to outcrop through the soil
until they had become numerous enough to be a feature of the landscape.
The hills, gently, quietly, without abrupt transition, almost as though
they feared to awaken our alarm by too abrupt movement of growth,
glided from little swells to bigger swells. The oaks gathered closer
together. The ravine's brother could almost be called a cañon. The
character of the country had entirely changed.
And yet, so gradually had this change come about that we did not
awaken to a full realization of our escape. To us it was still the
plain, a trifle modified by local peculiarity, but presently to resume
its wonted aspect. We plodded on dully, anodyned with the desert
But at a little before noon, as we rounded the cheek of a slope, we
encountered an errant current of air. It came up to us curiously,
touched us each in turn, and went on. The warm furnace heat drew in on
us again. But it had been a cool little current of air, with something
of the sweetness of pines and water and snow-banks in it. The
Tenderfoot suddenly reined in his horse and looked about him.
``Boys!'' he cried, a new ring of joy in his voice, ``we're in the
Wes calculated rapidly. ``It's the eighth day to-day: I guessed
right on the time.''
We stretched our arms and looked about us. They were dry brown
hills enough; but they were hills, and they had trees on them, and
cañons in them, so to our eyes, wearied with flatness, they seemed
VII. THE FOOT-HILLS
AT once our spirits rose. We straightened in our saddles, we
breathed deep, we joked. The country was scorched and sterile; the
wagon-trail, almost paralleling the mountains themselves on a long easy
slant toward the high country, was ankle-deep in dust; the ravines were
still dry of water. But it was not the Inferno, and that one fact
sufficed. After a while we crossed high above a river which dashed
white water against black rocks, and so were happy.
The country went on changing. The change was always imperceptible,
as is growth, or the stealthy advance of autumn through the woods. From
moment to moment one could detect no alteration. Something intangible
was taken away; something impalpable added. At the end of an hour we
were in the oaks and sycamores; at the end of two we were in the pines
and low mountains of Bret Harte's Forty-Nine.
The wagon-trail felt ever farther and farther into the hills. It
had not been used as a stage-route for years, but the freighting kept
it deep with dust, that writhed and twisted and crawled lazily
knee-high to our horses, like a living creature. We felt the swing and
sweep of the route. The boldness of its stretches, the freedom of its
reaches for the opposite slope, the wide curve of its horseshoes, all
filled us with the breath of an expansion which as yet the broad low
country only suggested.
Everything here was reminiscent of long ago. The very names hinted
stories of the Argonauts. Coarse Gold Gulch, Whiskey Creek, Grub Gulch,
Fine Gold Post-Office in turn we passed. Occasionally, with a fine
round dash into the open, the trail drew one side to a stage-station.
The huge stables, the wide corrals, the low living-houses, each shut in
its dooryard of blazing riotous flowers, were all familiar. Only lacked
the old-fashioned Concord coach, from which to descend Jack Hamlin or
Judge Starbottle. As for M'liss, she was there, sunbonnet and all.
Down in the gulch bottoms were the old placer diggings. Elaborate
little ditches for the deflection of water, long cradles for the
separation of gold, decayed rockers, and shining in the sun the tons
and tons of pay dirt which had been turned over pound by pound in the
concentrating of its treasure. Some of the old cabins still stood. It
was all deserted now, save for the few who kept trail for the
freighters, or who tilled the restricted bottom-lands of the flats.
Road-runners racked away down the paths; squirrels scurried over
worn-out placers; jays screamed and chattered in and out of the
abandoned cabins. Strange and shy little creatures and birds, reassured
by the silence of many years, had ventured to take to themselves the
engines of man's industry. And the warm California sun embalmed it all
in a peaceful forgetfulness.
Now the trees grew bigger, and the hills more impressive. We should
call them mountains in the East. Pines covered them to the top,
straight slender pines with voices. The little flats were planted with
great oaks. When we rode through them, they shut out the hills, so that
we might have imagined ourselves in the level wooded country. There
insisted the effect of limitless tree-grown plains, which the warm
drowsy sun, the park-like landscape, corroborated. And yet the contrast
of the clear atmosphere and the sharp air equally insisted on the
mountains. It was a strange and delicious double effect, a
contradiction of natural impressions, a negation of our right to
generalize from previous experience.
Always the trail wound up and up. Never was it steep; never did it
command an outlook. Yet we felt that at last we were rising, were
leaving the level of the Inferno, were nearing the threshold of the
Mountain peoples came to the edges of their clearings and gazed at
us, responding solemnly to our salutations. They dwelt in cabins and
held to agriculture and the herding of the wild mountain cattle. From
them we heard of the high country to which we were bound. They spoke of
it as you or I would speak of interior Africa, as something
inconceivably remote, to be visited only by the adventurous, an
uninhabited realm of vast magnitude and unknown dangers. In the same
way they spoke of the plains. Only the narrow pine-clad strip between
the two and six thousand feet of elevation they felt to be their
natural environment. In it they found the proper conditions for their
existence. Out of it those conditions lacked. They were as much a
localized product as are certain plants which occur only at certain
altitudes. Also were they densely ignorant of trails and routes outside
of their own little districts.
All this, you will understand, was in what is known as the low
country. The landscape was still brown; the streams but trickles;
sage-brush clung to the ravines; the valley quail whistled on the side
But one day we came suddenly into the big pines and rocks; and that
very night we made our first camp in a meadow typical of the mountains
we had dreamed about.
VIII. THE PINES
I DO not know exactly how to make you feel the charm of that first
camp in the big country. Certainly I can never quite repeat it in my
Remember that for two months we had grown accustomed to the brown
of the California landscape, and that for over a week we had traveled
in the Inferno. We had forgotten the look of green grass, of abundant
water; almost had we forgotten the taste of cool air. So invariably had
the trails been dusty, and the camping-places hard and exposed, that we
had come subconsciously to think of such as typical of the country. Try
to put yourself in the frame of mind those conditions would make.
Then imagine yourself climbing in an hour or so up into a high
ridge country of broad cup-like sweeps and bold outcropping ledges.
Imagine a forest of pine-trees bigger than any pines you ever saw
before, -- pines eight and ten feet through, so huge that you can
hardly look over one of their prostrate trunks even from the back of
your pony. Imagine, further, singing little streams of ice-cold water,
deep refreshing shadows, a soft carpet of pine-needles through which
the faint furrow of the trail runs as over velvet. And then, last of
all, in a wide opening, clear as though chopped and plowed by some
back- woodsman, a park of grass, fresh grass, green as a precious
This was our first sight of the mountain meadows. From time to time
we found others, sometimes a half dozen in a day. The rough country
came down close about them, edging to the very hair-line of the magic
circle, which seemed to assure their placid sunny peace. An upheaval of
splintered granite often tossed and tumbled in the abandon of an
unrestrained passion that seemed irresistibly to overwhelm the sanities
of a whole region; but somewhere, in the very forefront of turmoil, was
like to slumber one of these little meadows, as unconscious of anything
but its own flawless green simplicity as a child asleep in mid-ocean.
Or, away up in the snows, warmed by the fortuity of reflected heat, its
emerald eye looked bravely out to the heavens. Or, as here, it rested
confidingly in the very heart of the austere forest.
Always these parks are green; always are they clear and open. Their
size varies widely. Some are as little as a city lawn; others, like the
great Monache, are miles in extent. In them resides the possibility
of your traveling the high country; for they supply the feed for your
Being desert-weary, the Tenderfoot and I cried out with the joy of
it, and told in extravagant language how this was the best camp we had
``It's a bum camp,'' growled Wes. ``If we could 't get better camps
than this, I'd quit the game.''
He expatiated on the fact that this particular meadow was somewhat
boggy; that the feed was too watery; that there'd be a cold wind down
through the pines; and other small and minor details. But we, our backs
propped against appropriately slanted rocks, our pipes well aglow,
gazed down the twilight through the wonderful great columns of the
trees to where the white horses shone like snow against the
unaccustomed relief of green, and laughed him to scorn. What did we --
or the horses for that matter -- care for trifling discomforts of the
body? In these intangible comforts of the eye was a great refreshment
of the spirit.
The following day we rode through the pine forests growing on the
ridges and hills and in the elevated bowl-like hollows. These were not
the so- called ``big trees,'' -- with those we had to do later, as you
shall see. They were merely sugar and yellow pines, but never anywhere
have I seen finer specimens. They were planted with a grand
sumptuousness of space, and their trunks were from five to twelve feet
in diameter and upwards of two hundred feet high to the topmost spear.
Underbrush, ground growth, even saplings of the same species lacked en-
tirely, so that we proceeded in the clear open aisles of a tremendous
and spacious magnificence.
This very lack of the smaller and usual growths, the generous plan
of spacing, and the size of the trees themselves necessarily deprived
us of a standard of comparison. At first the forest seemed immense. But
after a little our eyes became accustomed to its proportions. We
referred it back to the measures of long experience. The trees, the
wood-aisles, the extent of vision shrunk to the normal proportions of
an Eastern pinery. And then we would lower our gaze. The pack-train
would come into view. It had become lilliputian, the horses small as
white mice, the men like tin soldiers, as though we had undergone an
enchantment. But in a moment, with the rush of a mighty transformation,
the great trees would tower huge again.
In the pine woods of the mountains grows also a certain
close-clipped parasitic moss. In color it is a brilliant yellow-green,
more yellow than green. In shape it is crinkly and curly and tangled up
with itself like very fine shavings. In consistency it is dry and
brittle. This moss girdles the trunks of trees with innumerable
parallel inch-wide bands a foot or so apart, in the manner of
old-fashioned striped stockings. It covers entirely sundry twigless
branches. Always in appearance is it fantastic, decorative, almost
Japanese, as though consciously laid in with its vivid yellow-green as
an intentional note of a tone scheme. The somberest shadows, the most
neutral twilights, the most austere recesses are lighted by it as
though so many freakish sunbeams had severed relations with the parent
luminary to rest quietly in the coolnesses of the ancient forest.
Underfoot the pine-needles were springy beneath the horse's hoof.
The trail went softly, with the courtesy of great gentleness.
Occasionally we caught sight of other ridges, -- also with pines, --
across deep sloping valleys, pine filled. The effect of the distant
trees seen from above was that of roughened velvet, here smooth and
shining, there dark with rich shadows. On these slopes played the wind.
In the level countries it sang through the forest progressively: here
on the slope it struck a thousand trees at once. The air was ennobled
with the great voice, as a church is ennobled by the tones of a great
organ. Then we would drop back again to the inner country, for our way
did not contemplate the descents nor climbs, but held to the general
level of a plateau.
Clear fresh brooks ran in every ravine. Their water was snow-white
against the black rocks; or lay dark in bank-shadowed pools. As our
horses splashed across we could glimpse the rainbow trout flashing to
cover. Where were the watered hollows grew lush thickets full of birds,
outposts of the aggressively and cheerfully worldly in this pine-land
of spiritual detachment Gorgeous bush-flowers, great of petal as
magnolias, with perfume that lay on the air like a heavy drowsiness;
long clear stretches of an ankle- high shrub of vivid emerald, looking
in the distance like sloping meadows of a peculiar color-brilliance;
patches of smaller flowers where for the trifling space of a street's
width the sun had unobstructed fall, -- these from time to time
diversified the way, brought to our perceptions the endearing trifles
of earthiness, of humanity, befittingly to modify the austerity of the
great forest. At a brookside we saw, still fresh and moist, the print
of a bear's foot. From a patch of the little emerald brush, a barren
doe rose to her feet, eyed us a moment, and then bounded away as though
propelled by springs. We saw her from time to time surmounting little
elevations farther and farther away.
The air was like cold water. We had not lung capacity to satisfy
our desire for it. There came with it a dry exhilaration that brought
high spirits, an optimistic viewpoint, and a tremendous keen appetite.
It seemed that we could never tire. In fact we never did. Sometimes,
after a particularly hard day, we felt like resting; but it was always
after the day's work was done, never while it was under way. The
Tenderfoot and I one day went afoot twenty-two miles up and down a
mountain fourteen thousand feet high. The last three thousand feet were
nearly straight up and down. We finished at a four-mile clip an hour
before sunset, and discussed what to do next to fill in the time. When
we sat down, we found we had had about enough; but we had not
discovered it before.
All of us, even the morose and cynical Dinkey, felt the benefit of
the change from the lower country. Here we were definitely in the
Mountains. Our plateau ran from six to eight thousand feet in altitude.
Beyond it occasionally we could see three more ridges, rising and
falling, each higher than the last. And then, in the blue distance, the
very crest of the broad system called the Sierras, -- another wide
region of sheer granite rising in peaks, pinnacles, and minarets,
rugged, wonderful, capped with the eternal snows.  Do not fail to
sound the final e.
IX. THE TRAIL
WHEN you say ``trail'' to a Westerner, his eye lights up. This is
because it means something to him. To another it may mean something
entirely different, for the blessed word is of that rare and beautiful
category which is at once of the widest significance and the most
intimate privacy to him who utters it. To your mind leaps the picture
of the dim forest-aisles and the murmurings of tree-top breezes; to him
comes a vision of the wide dusty desert; to me, perhaps, a high wild
country of wonder. To all of us it is the slender, unbroken, never-
ending thread connecting experiences.
For in a mysterious way, not to be understood, our trails never do
end. They stop sometimes, and wait patiently while we dive in and out
of houses, but always when we are ready to go on, they are ready too,
and so take up the journey placidly as though nothing had intervened.
They begin, when? Sometime, away in the past, you may remember a single
episode, vivid through the mists of extreme youth. Once a very little
boy walked with his father under a green roof of leaves that seemed
farther than the sky and as unbroken. All of a sudden the man raised
his gun and fired upwards, apparently through the green roof. A pause
ensued. Then, hurtling roughly through still that same green roof, a
great bird fell, hitting the earth with a thump. The very little boy
was I. My trail must have begun there under the bright green roof of
From that earliest moment the Trail unrolls behind you like a
thread so that never do you quite lose connection with your selves.
There is something a little fearful to the imaginative in the
insistence of it. You may camp, you may linger, but some time or
another, sooner or later, you must go on, and when you do, then once
again the Trail takes up its continuity without reference to the
muddied place you have tramped out in your indecision or indolence or
obstinacy or necessity. It would be exceedingly curious to follow out
in patience the chart of a man's going, tracing the pattern of his
steps with all its windings of nursery, playground, boys afield,
country, city, plain, forest, mountain, wilderness, home, always on and
on into the higher country of responsibility until at the last it
leaves us at the summit of the Great Divide. Such a pattern would tell
his story as surely as do the tracks of a partridge on the snow.
A certain magic inheres in the very name, or at least so it seems
to me. I should be interested to know whether others feel the same
glamour that I do in the contemplation of such syllables as the Lo-Lo
Trail, the Tunemah Trail, the Mono Trail, the Bright Angel Trail. A
certain elasticity of application too leaves room for the more
connotation. A trail may be almost anything. There are wagon-trails
which East would rank as macadam roads; horse-trails that would compare
favorably with our best bridle-paths; foot-trails in the fur country
worn by constant use as smooth as so many garden-walks. Then again
there are other arrangements. I have heard a mule-driver overwhelmed
with skeptical derision because he claimed to have upset but six times
in traversing a certain bit of trail not over five miles long; in
charts of the mountains are marked many trails which are only ``ways
through,'' -- you will find few traces of predecessors; the same can be
said of trails in the great forests where even an Indian is sometimes
at fault. ``Johnny, you're lost,'' accused the white man. ``Trail lost:
Injun here,'' denied the red man. And so after your experience has led
you by the campfires of a thousand delights, and each of those
campfires is on the Trail, which only pauses courteously for your stay
and then leads on untiring into new mysteries forever and ever, you
come to love it as the donor of great joys. You too become a Westerner,
and when somebody says ``trail,'' your eye too lights up.
The general impression of any particular trail is born rather of
the little incidents than of the big accidents. The latter are exotic,
and might belong to any time or places; the former are individual. For
the Trail is a vantage-ground, and from it, as your day's travel
unrolls, you see many things. Nine tenths of your experience comes
thus, for in the long journeys the side excursions are few enough and
unimportant enough almost to merit classification with the accidents.
In time the character of the Trail thus defines itself.
Most of all, naturally, the kind of country has to do with this
generalized impression. Certain surprises, through trees, of vista
looking out over unexpected spaces; little notches in the hills beyond
which you gain to a placid far country sleeping under a sun warmer than
your elevation permits; the delicious excitement of the moment when you
approach the very knife-edge of the summit and wonder what lies beyond,
-- these are the things you remember with a warm heart. Your saddle is
a point of vantage. By it you are elevated above the country; from it
you can see clearly. Quail scuttle away to right and left, heads ducked
low; grouse boom solemnly on the rigid limbs of pines; deer vanish
through distant thickets to appear on yet more distant ridges, thence
to gaze curiously, their great ears forward; across the cañon the
bushes sway violently with the passage of a cinnamon bear among them,
-- you see them all from your post of observation. Your senses are
always alert for these things; you are always bending from your saddle
to examine the tracks and signs that continually offer themselves for
your inspection and interpretation.
Our trail of this summer led at a general high elevation, with
comparatively little climbing and comparatively easy traveling for days
at a time. Then suddenly we would find ourselves on the brink of a
great box cañon from three to seven thousand feet deep, several miles
wide, and utterly precipitous. In the bottom of this cañon would be
good feed, fine groves of trees, and a river of some size in which swam
fish. The trail to the cañon-bed was always bad, and generally
dangerous. In many instances we found it bordered with the bones of
horses that had failed. The river had somehow to be forded. We would
camp a day or so in the good feed and among the fine groves of trees,
fish in the river, and then address ourselves with much reluctance to
the ascent of the other bad and dangerous trail on the other side.
After that, in the natural course of events, subject to variation, we
could expect nice trails, the comfort of easy travel, pines, cedars,
redwoods, and joy of life until another great cleft opened before us or
another great mountain-pass barred our way.
This was the web and woof of our summer. But through it ran the
patterns of fantastic delight such as the West alone can offer a man's
utter disbelief in them. Some of these patterns stand out in memory
with peculiar distinctness.
Below Farewell Gap is a wide cañon with high walls of dark rock,
and down those walls run many streams of water. They are white as snow
with the dash of their descent, but so distant that the eye cannot
distinguish their motion. In the half light of dawn, with the yellow of
sunrise behind the mountains, they look like gauze streamers thrown out
from the windows of morning to celebrate the solemn pageant of the
passing of many hills.
Again, I know of a cañon whose westerly wall is colored in the dull
rich colors, the fantastic patterns of a Moorish tapestry. Umber, seal
brown, red, terra- cotta, orange, Nile green, emerald, purple, cobalt
blue, gray, lilac, and many other colors, all rich with the depth of
satin, glow wonderful as the craftiest textures. Only here the fabric
is five miles long and half a mile wide.
There is no use in telling of these things. They, and many others
of their like, are marvels, and exist; but you cannot tell about them,
for the simple reason that the average reader concludes at once you
must be exaggerating, must be carried away by the swing of words. The
cold sober truth is, you cannot exaggerate. They have 't made the
words. Talk as extravagantly as you wish to one who will in the most
childlike manner believe every syllable you utter. Then take him into
the Big Country. He will probably say, ``Why, you did 't tell me it was
going to be anything like this!'' We in the East have no standards of
comparison either as regards size or as regards color -- especially
color. Some people once directed me to ``The Gorge'' on the New England
coast. I could 't find it. They led me to it, and rhapsodized over its
magnificent terror. I could have ridden a horse into the ridiculous
thing. As for color, no Easterner believes in it when such men as
Lungren or Parrish transposit it faithfully, any more than a Westerner
would believe in the autumn foliage of our own hardwoods, or an
Englishman in the glories of our gaudiest sunsets. They are all true.
In the mountains, the high mountains above the seven or eight
thousand foot level, grows an affair called the snow-plant. It is, when
full grown, about two feet in height, and shaped like a loosely
constructed pine-cone set up on end. Its entire substance is like wax,
and the whole concern -- stalk, broad curling leaves, and all -- is a
brilliant scarlet. Sometime you will ride through the twilight of deep
pine woods growing on the slope of the mountain, a twilight
intensified, rendered more sacred to your mood by the external
brilliancy of a glimpse of vivid blue sky above dazzling snow mountains
far away. Then, in this monotone of dark green frond and dull brown
trunk and deep olive shadow, where, like the ordered library of one
with quiet tastes, nothing breaks the harmony of unobtrusive tone,
suddenly flames the vivid red of a snow-plant. You will never forget
Flowers in general seem to possess this concen- trated brilliancy
both of color and of perfume. You will ride into and out of strata of
perfume as sharply defined as are the quartz strata on the ridges. They
lie sluggish and cloying in the hollows, too heavy to rise on the wings
of the air.
As for color, you will see all sorts of queer things. The ordered
flower-science of your childhood has gone mad. You recognize some of
your old friends, but strangely distorted and changed, -- even the dear
old ``butter 'n eggs'' has turned pink! Patches of purple, of red, of
blue, of yellow, of orange are laid in the hollows or on the slopes
like brilliant blankets out to dry in the sun. The fine grasses are
spangled with them, so that in the cup of the great fierce countries
the meadows seem like beautiful green ornaments enameled with jewels.
The Mariposa Lily, on the other hand, is a poppy-shaped flower varying
from white to purple, and with each petal decorated by an ``eye''
exactly like those on the great Cecropia or Polyphemus moths, so that
their effect is that of a flock of gorgeous butterflies come to rest.
They hover over the meadows poised. A movement would startle them to
flight; only the proper movement somehow never comes.
The great redwoods, too, add to the colored- edition impression of
the whole country. A redwood, as perhaps you know, is a tremendous big
tree sometimes as big as twenty feet in diameter. It is exquisitely
proportioned like a fluted column of noble height. Its bark is
slightly furrowed longitudinally, and of a peculiar elastic appearance
that lends it an almost perfect illusion of breathing animal life. The
color is a rich umber red. Sometimes in the early morning or the late
afternoon, when all the rest of the forest is cast in shadow, these
massive trunks will glow as though incandescent. The Trail, wonderful
always, here seems to pass through the outer portals of the great
flaming regions where dwell the risings and fallings of days.
As you follow the Trail up, you will enter also the permanent
dwelling-places of the seasons. With us each visits for the space of a
few months, then steals away to give place to the next. Whither they go
you have not known until you have traveled the high mountains. Summer
lives in the valley; that you know. Then a little higher you are in the
spring- time, even in August. Melting patches of snow linger under the
heavy firs; the earth is soggy with half-absorbed snow-water, trickling
with exotic little rills that do not belong; grasses of the year before
float like drowned hair in pellucid pools with an air of permanence,
except for the one fact; fresh green things are sprouting bravely;
through bare branches trickles a shower of bursting buds, larger at the
top, as though the Sower had in passing scattered them from above.
Birds of extraordinary cheerfulness sing merrily to new and doubtful
flowers. The air tastes cold, but the sun is warm. The great spring
hum- ming and promise is in the air. And a few thousand feet higher
you wallow over the surface of drifts while a winter wind searches your
bones. I used to think that Santa Claus dwelt at the North Pole. Now I
am convinced that he has a workshop somewhere among the great mountains
where dwell the Seasons, and that his reindeer paw for grazing in the
alpine meadows below the highest peaks.
Here the birds migrate up and down instead of south and north. It
must be a great saving of trouble to them, and undoubtedly those who
have discovered it maintain toward the unenlightened the same delighted
and fraternal secrecy with which you and I guard the knowledge of a
good trout-stream. When you can migrate adequately in a single day, why
spend a month at it?
Also do I remember certain spruce woods with openings where the sun
shone through. The shadows were very black, the sunlight very white. As
I looked back I could see the pack-horses alternately suffer eclipse
and illumination in a strange flickering manner good to behold. The
dust of the trail eddied and billowed lazily in the sun, each mote
flashing as though with life; then abruptly as it crossed the sharp
line of shade it disappeared.
From these spruce woods, level as a floor, we came out on the
rounded shoulder of a mountain to find ourselves nearly nine thousand
feet above the sea. Below us was a deep cañon to the middle of the
earth. And spread in a semicircle about the curve of our mountain a
most magnificent panoramic view. First there were the plains,
represented by a brown haze of heat; then, very remote, the foot-hills,
the brush-hills, the pine mountains, the upper timber, the tremendous
granite peaks, and finally the barrier of the main crest with its
glittering snow. From the plains to that crest was over seventy miles.
I should not dare say how far we could see down the length of the
range; nor even how distant was the other wall of the cañon over which
we rode. Certainly it was many miles; and to reach the latter point
consumed three days.
It is useless to multiply instances. The principle is well enough
established by these. Whatever impression of your trail you carry away
will come from the little common occurrences of every day. That is true
of all trails; and equally so, it seems to me, of our Trail of Life
sketched at the beginning of this essay.
But the trail of the mountains means more than wonder; it means
hard work. Unless you stick to the beaten path, where the freighters
have lost so many mules that they have finally decided to fix things up
a bit, you are due for lots of trouble. Bad places will come to be a
nightmare with you and a topic of conversation with whomever you may
meet. We once enjoyed the company of a prospector three days while he
made up his mind to tackle a certain bit of trail we had just
descended. Our accounts did not encourage him. Every morning he used to
squint up at the cliff which rose some four thousand feet above us.
``Boys,'' he said finally as he started, ``I may drop in on you later
in the morning.'' I am happy to say he did not.
The most discouraging to the tenderfoot, but in reality the safest
of all bad trails, is the one that skirts a precipice. Your horse
possesses a laudable desire to spare your inside leg unnecessary
abrasion, so he walks on the extreme outer edge. If you watch the
performance of the animal ahead, you will observe that every few
moments his outer hind hoof slips off that edge, knocking little stones
down into the abyss. Then you conclude that sundry slight jars you have
been experiencing are from the same cause. Your peace of mind deserts
you. You stare straight ahead, sit very light indeed, and perhaps turn
the least bit sick. The horse, however, does not mind, nor will you,
after a little. There is absolutely nothing to do but to sit steady and
give your animal his head. In a fairly extended experience I never got
off the edge but once. Then somebody shot a gun immediately ahead; my
horse tried to turn around, slipped, and slid backwards until he
overhung the chasm. Fortunately his hind feet caught a tiny bush. He
gave a mighty heave, and regained the trail. Afterwards I took a look
and found that there were no more bushes for a hundred feet either way.
Next in terror to the unaccustomed is an ascent by lacets up a very
steep side hill. The effect is cumulative. Each turn brings you one
stage higher, adds definitely one more unit to the test of your
hardihood. This last has not terrified you; how about the next? or the
next? or the one after that? There is not the slightest danger. You
appreciate this point after you have met head-on some old-timer. After
you have speculated frantically how you are to pass him, he solves the
problem by calmly turning his horse off the edge and sliding to the
next lacet below. Then you see that with a mountain horse it does not
much matter whether you get off such a trail or not.
The real bad places are quite as likely to be on the level as on
the slant. The tremendous granite slides, where the cliff has
avalanched thousands of tons of loose jagged rock-fragments across the
passage, are the worst. There your horse has to be a goat in balance.
He must pick his way from the top of one fragment to the other, and if
he slips into the interstices he probably breaks a leg. In some parts
of the granite country are also smooth rock aprons where footing is
especially difficult, and where often a slip on them means a toboggan
chute off into space. I know of one spot where such an apron curves off
the shoulder of the mountain. Your horse slides directly down it until
his hoofs encounter a little crevice. Checking at this, he turns sharp
to the left and so off to the good trail again. If he does not check
at the little crevice, he slides on over the curve of the shoulder and
lands too far down to bury.
Loose rocks in numbers on a very steep and narrow trail are always
an abomination, and a numerous abomination at that. A horse slides,
skates, slithers. It has always seemed to me that luck must count
largely in such a place. When the animal treads on a loose round stone
-- as he does every step of the way -- that stone is going to roll
under him, and he is going to catch himself as the nature of that stone
and the little gods of chance may will. Only furthermore I have noticed
that the really good horse keeps his feet, and the poor one tumbles. A
judgmatical rider can help a great deal by the delicacy of his riding
and the skill with which he uses his reins. Or better still, get off
Another mean combination, especially on a slant, is six inches of
snow over loose stones or small boulders. There you hope for divine
favor and flounder ahead. There is one compensation; the snow is soft
to fall on. Boggy areas you must be able to gauge the depth of at a
glance. And there are places, beautiful to behold, where a horse
clambers up the least bit of an ascent, hits his pack against a
projection, and is hurled into outer space. You must recognize these,
for he will be busy with his feet.
Some of the mountain rivers furnish pleasing afternoons of sport.
They are deep and swift, and below the ford are rapids. If there is a
fallen tree of any sort across them, -- remember the length of
California trees, and do not despise the rivers, -- you would better
unpack, carry your goods across yourself, and swim the pack-horses. If
the current is very bad, you can splice riatas, hitch one end to the
horse and the other to a tree on the farther side, and start the
combination. The animal is bound to swing across somehow. Generally you
can drive them over loose. In swimming a horse from the saddle, start
him well upstream to allow for the current, and never, never, never
attempt to guide him by the bit. The Tenderfoot tried that at Mono
Creek and nearly drowned himself and Old Slob. You would better let him
alone, as he probably knows more than you do. If you must guide him, do
it by hitting the side of his head with the flat of your hand.
Sometimes it is better that you swim. You can perform that feat by
clinging to his mane on the downstream side, but it will be easier both
for you and him if you hang to his tail. Take my word for it, he will
not kick you.
Once in a blue moon you may be able to cross the whole outfit on
logs. Such a log bridge spanned Granite Creek near the North Fork of
the San Joaquin at an elevation of about seven thousand feet. It was
suspended a good twenty feet above the water, which boiled white in a
most disconcerting manner through a gorge of rocks. If anything fell
off that log it would be of no further value even to the curiosity
seeker. We got over all the horses save Tunemah. He refused to consider
it, nor did peaceful argument win. As he was more or less of a fool, we
did not take this as a reflection on our judgment, but culled cedar
clubs. We beat him until we were ashamed. Then we put a slip-noose
about his neck. The Tenderfoot and I stood on the log and heaved while
Wes stood on the shore and pushed. Suddenly it occurred to me that if
Tunemah made up his silly mind to come, he would probably do it all at
once, in which case the Tenderfoot and I would have about as much show
for life as fossil formations. I did 't say anything about it to the
Tenderfoot, but I hitched my six-shooter around to the front, resolved
to find out how good I was at wing-shooting horses. But Tunemah
declared he would die for his convictions. ``All right,'' said we,
``die then,'' with the embellishment of profanity. So we stripped him
naked, and stoned him into the raging stream, where he had one chance
in three of coming through alive. He might as well be dead as on the
other side of that stream. He won through, however, and now I believe
he'd tackle a tight rope.
Of such is the Trail, of such its wonders, its pleasures, its
little comforts, its annoyances, its dangers. And when you are forced
to draw your six-shooter to end mercifully the life of an animal that
has served you faithfully, but that has fallen victim to the leg-
breaking hazard of the way, then you know a little of its tragedy
also. May you never know the greater tragedy when a man's life goes
out, and you unable to help! May always your trail lead through fine
trees, green grasses, fragrant flowers, and pleasant waters!
X. ON SEEING DEER
ONCE I happened to be sitting out a dance with a tactful young girl
of tender disposition who thought she should adapt her conversation to
the one with whom she happened to be talking. Therefore she asked
questions concerning out-of-doors. She knew nothing whatever about it,
but she gave a very good imitation of one interested. For some occult
reason people never seem to expect me to own evening clothes, or to
know how to dance, or to be able to talk about anything civilized; in
fact, most of them appear disappointed that I do not pull off a war-jig
in the middle of the drawing-room.
This young girl selected deer as her topic. She mentioned liquid
eyes, beautiful form, slender ears; she said ``cute,'' and
``darlings,'' and ``perfect dears.'' Then she shuddered prettily.
``And I don't see how you can ever bear to shoot them, Mr. White,''
`` You quarter the onions and slice them very thin,'' said I
dreamily. ``Then you take a little bacon fat you had left over from the
flap-jacks and put it in the frying-pan. The frying-pan should be very
hot. While the onions are frying, you must keep turning them over with
a fork. It's rather difficult to get them all browned without burning
some. I should broil the meat. A broiler is handy, but two willows,
peeled and charred a little so the willow taste won't penetrate the
meat, will do. Have the steak fairly thick. Pepper and salt it
thoroughly. Sear it well at first in order to keep the juices in; then
cook rather slowly. When it is done, put it on a hot plate and pour the
browned onions, bacon fat and all, over it.''
``What are you talking about?'' she interrupted.
``I'm telling you why I can bear to shoot deer,'' said I.
``But I don't see -- '' said she.
``Don't you?'' said I. ``Well; suppose you've been climbing a
mountain late in the afternoon when the sun is on the other side of it.
It is a mountain of big boulders, loose little stones, thorny bushes.
The slightest misstep would send pebbles rattling, brush rustling; but
you have gone all the way without making that misstep. This is quite a
feat. It means that you've known all about every footstep you've taken.
That would be business enough for most people, would 't it? But in
addition you've managed to see everything on that side of the mountain
-- especially patches of brown. You've seen lots of patches of brown,
and you've examined each one of them. Besides that, you've heard lots
of little rustlings, and you've identified each one of them. To do all
these things well keys your nerves to a high tension, does 't it? And
then near the top you look up from your last noiseless step to see in
the brush a very dim patch of brown. If you had 't been looking so
hard, you surely would 't have made it out. Perhaps, if you're not
humble-minded, you may reflect that most people would 't have seen it
at all. You whistle once sharply. The patch of brown defines itself.
Your heart gives one big jump. You know that you have but the briefest
moment, the tiniest fraction of time, to hold the white bead of your
rifle motionless and to press the trigger. It has to be done very
steadily, at that distance, -- and you out of breath, with your nerves
keyed high in the tension of such caution.''
``Now what are you talking about?'' she broke in helplessly.
``Oh, did 't I mention it?'' I asked, surprised. ``I was telling
you why I could bear to shoot deer.''
``Yes, but -- '' she began.
``Of course not,'' I reassured her. ``After all, it's very simple.
The reason I can bear to kill deer is because, to kill deer, you must
accomplish a skillful elimination of the obvious.''
My young lady was evidently afraid of being considered stupid; and
also convinced of her inability to understand what I was driving at. So
she temporized in the manner of society.
``I see,'' she said, with an air of complete enlightenment.
Now of course she did not see. Nobody could see the force of that
last remark without the grace of further explanation, and yet in the
elimination of the obvious rests the whole secret of seeing deer in the
In traveling the trail you will notice two things: that a
tenderfoot will habitually contemplate the horn of his saddle or the
trail a few yards ahead of his horse's nose, with occasionally a look
about at the landscape; and the old-timer will be constantly searching
the prospect with keen understanding eyes. Now in the occasional
glances the tenderfoot takes, his perceptions have room for just so
many impressions. When the number is filled out he sees nothing more.
Naturally the obvious features of the landscape supply the basis for
these impressions. He sees the configuration of the mountains, the
nature of their covering, the course of their ravines, first of all.
Then if he looks more closely, there catches his eye an odd- shaped
rock, a burned black stub, a flowering bush, or some such matter.
Anything less striking in its appeal to the attention actually has not
room for its recognition. In other words, supposing that a man has the
natural ability to receive x visual impressions, the tenderfoot fills
out his full capacity with the striking features of his surroundings.
To be able to see anything more obscure in form or color, he must
naturally put aside from his attention some one or another of these
obvious features. He can, for example, look for a particular kind of
flower on a side hill only by refusing to see other kinds.
If this is plain, then, go one step further in the logic of that
reasoning. Put yourself in the mental attitude of a man looking for
deer. His eye sweeps rapidly over a side hill; so rapidly that you
cannot understand how he can have gathered the main features of that
hill, let alone concentrate and refine his attention to the seeing of
an animal under a bush. As a matter of fact he pays no attention to the
main features. He has trained his eye, not so much to see things, as to
leave things out. The odd-shaped rock, the charred stub, the bright
flowering bush do not exist for him. His eye passes over them as
unseeing as yours over the patch of brown or gray that represents his
quarry. His attention stops on the unusual, just as does yours; only in
his case the unusual is not the obvious. He has succeeded by long
training in eliminating that. Therefore he sees deer where you do not.
As soon as you can forget the naturally obvious and construct an
artificially obvious, then you too will see deer.
These animals are strangely invisible to the untrained eye even
when they are standing ``in plain sight.'' You can look straight at
them, and not see them at all. Then some old woodsman lets you sight
over his finger exactly to the spot. At once the figure of the deer
fairly leaps into vision. I know of no more perfect example of the
instantaneous than this. You are filled with astonishment that you
could for a moment have avoided seeing it. And yet next time you will
in all probability repeat just this ``puzzle picture'' experience.
The Tenderfoot tried for six weeks before he caught sight of one.
He wanted to very much. Time and again one or the other of us would
hiss back, ``See the deer! over there by the yellow bush!'' but before
he could bring the deliberation of his scrutiny to the point of
identification, the deer would be gone. Once a fawn jumped fairly
within ten feet of the pack-horses and went bounding away through the
bushes, and that fawn he could not help seeing. We tried
conscientiously enough to get him a shot; but the Tenderfoot was unable
to move through the brush less majestically than a Pullman car, so we
had ended by becoming apathetic on the subject.
Finally, while descending a very abrupt mountain- side I made out a
buck lying down perhaps three hundred feet directly below us. The buck
was not looking our way, so I had time to call the Tenderfoot. He came.
With difficulty and by using my rifle-barrel as a pointer I managed to
show him the animal. Immediately he began to pant as though at the
finish of a mile race, and his rifle, when he leveled it, covered a
good half acre of ground. This would never do.
``Hold on!'' I interrupted sharply.
He lowered his weapon to stare at me wild-eyed.
``What is it?'' he gasped.
``Stop a minute!'' I commanded. ``Now take three deep breaths.''
He did so.
``Now shoot,'' I advised, ``and aim at his knees.''
The deer was now on his feet and facing us, so the Tenderfoot had
the entire length of the animal to allow for lineal variation. He
fired. The deer dropped. The Tenderfoot thrust his hat over one eye,
rested hand on hip in a manner cocky to behold.
``Simply slaughter!'' he proffered with lofty scorn.
We descended. The bullet had broken the deer's back -- about six
inches from the tail. The Tenderfoot had overshot by at least three
You will see many deer thus from the trail, -- in fact, we kept up
our meat supply from the saddle, as one might say, -- but to enjoy the
finer savor of seeing deer, you should start out definitely with that
object in view. Thus you have opportunity for the display of a certain
finer woodcraft. You must know where the objects of your search are
likely to be found, and that depends on the time of year, the time of
days their age, their sex, a hundred little things. When the bucks
carry antlers in the velvet, they frequent the inaccessibilities of the
highest rocky peaks, so their tender horns may not be torn in the
brush, but nevertheless so that the advantage of a lofty viewpoint may
compensate for the loss of cover. Later you will find them in the open
slopes of a lower altitude, fully exposed to the sun, that there the
heat may harden the antlers. Later still, the heads in fine condition
and tough to withstand scratches, they plunge into the dense thickets.
But in the mean time the fertile does have sought a lower country with
patches of small brush interspersed with open passages. There they can
feed with their fawns, completely concealed, but able, by merely
raising the head, to survey the entire landscape for the threatening of
danger. The barren does, on the other hand, you will find through the
timber and brush, for they are careless of all responsibilities either
to offspring or headgear. These are but a few of the considerations you
will take into account, a very few of the many which lend the deer
countries strange thrills of delight over new knowledge gained, over
crafty expedients invented or well utilized, over the satisfactory
matching of your reason, your instinct, your subtlety and skill against
the reason, instinct, subtlety, and skill of one of the wariest of
large wild animals.
Perversely enough the times when you did not see deer are more apt
to remain vivid in your memory than the times when you did. I can still
see distinctly sundry wide jump-marks where the animal I was tracking
had evidently caught sight of me and lit out before I came up to him.
Equally, sundry little thin disappearing clouds of dust; cracklings of
brush, growing ever more distant; the tops of bushes waving to the
steady passage of something remaining persistently concealed, -- these
are the chief ingredients often repeated which make up deer-stalking
memory. When I think of seeing deer, these things automatically rise.
A few of the deer actually seen do, however, stand out clearly from
the many. When I was a very small boy possessed of a 32-20 rifle and
large ambitions, I followed the advantage my father's footsteps made me
in the deep snow of an unused logging-road. His attention was focused
on some very interesting fresh tracks. I, being a small boy, cared not
at all for tracks, and so saw a big doe emerge from the bushes not ten
yards away, lope leisurely across the road, and disappear, wagging
earnestly her tail. When I had recovered my breath I vehemently
demanded the sense of fooling with tracks when there were real live
deer to be had. My father examined me.
``Well, why did 't you shoot her?'' he inquired dryly.
I had 't thought of that.
In the spring of 1900 I was at the head of the Piant River waiting
for the log-drive to start. One morning, happening to walk over a
slashing of many years before in which had grown a strong thicket of
white popples, I jumped a band of nine deer. I shall never forget the
bewildering impression made by the glancing, dodging, bouncing white of
those nine snowy tails and rumps.
But most wonderful of all was a great buck, of I should be afraid
to say how many points, that stood silhouetted on the extreme end of a
ridge high above our camp. The time was just after twilight, and as we
watched, the sky lightened behind him in prophecy of the moon.
XI. ON TENDERFEET
THE tenderfoot is a queer beast. He makes more trouble than ants at
a picnic, more work than a trespassing goat; he never sees anything,
knows where anything is, remembers accurately your instructions,
follows them if remembered, or is able to handle without awkwardness
his large and pathetic hands and feet; he is always lost, always
falling off or into things, always in difficulties; his articles of
necessity are constantly being burned up or washed away or mislaid; he
looks at you beamingly through great innocent eyes in the most
chuckle-headed of manners; he exasperates you to within an inch of
explosion, -- and yet you love him.
I am referring now to the real tenderfoot, the fellow who cannot
learn, who is incapable ever of adjusting himself to the demands of the
wild life. Sometimes a man is merely green, inexperienced. But give him
a chance and he soon picks up the game. That is your greenhorn, not
your tenderfoot. Down near Monache meadows we came across an individual
leading an old pack-mare up the trail. The first thing, he asked us to
tell him where he was. We did so. Then we noticed that he carried his
gun muzzle-up in his hip-pocket, which seemed to be a nice way to
shoot a hole in your hand, but a poor way to make your weapon
accessible. He unpacked near us, and promptly turned the mare into a
bog-hole because it looked green. Then he stood around the rest of the
evening and talked deprecating talk of a garrulous nature.
``Which way did you come?'' asked Wes.
The stranger gave us a hazy account of misnamed cañons, by which we
gathered that he had come directly over the rough divide below us.
``But if you wanted to get to Monache, why did 't you go around to
the eastward through that pass, there, and save yourself all the climb?
It must have been pretty rough through there.''
``Yes, perhaps so,'' he hesitated. ``Still -- I got lots of time --
I can take all summer, if I want to -- and I'd rather stick to a
straight line -- then you know where you are -- if you get off the
straight line, you're likely to get lost, you know.''
We knew well enough what ailed him, of course. He was a tenderfoot,
of the sort that always, to its dying day, unhobbles its horses before
putting their halters on. Yet that man for thirty-two years had lived
almost constantly in the wild countries. He had traveled more miles
with a pack-train than we shall ever dream of traveling, and hardly
could we mention a famous camp of the last quarter century that he had
not blundered into. Moreover he proved by the indirections of his
misinformation that he had really been there and was not making ghost
stories in order to impress us. Yet if the Lord spares him thirty-two
years more, at the end of that time he will probably still be carrying
his gun upside down, turning his horse into a bog-hole, and blundering
through the country by main strength and awkwardness. He was a
beautiful type of the tenderfoot.
The redeeming point of the tenderfoot is his humbleness of spirit
and his extreme good nature. He exasperates you with his fool
performances to the point of dancing cursing wild crying rage, and then
accepts your -- well, reproofs -- so meekly that you come off the boil
as though some one had removed you from the fire, and you feel like a
low- browed thug.
Suppose your particular tenderfoot to be named Algernon. Suppose
him to have packed his horse loosely -- they always do -- so that the
pack has slipped, the horse has bucked over three square miles of
assorted mountains, and the rest of the train is scattered over
identically that area. You have run your saddle-horse to a lather
heading the outfit. You have sworn and dodged and scrambled and yelled,
even fired your six-shooter, to turn them and bunch them. In the mean
time Algernon has either sat his horse like a park policeman in his
leisure hours, or has ambled directly into your path of pursuit on an
average of five times a minute. Then the trouble dies from the
landscape and the baby bewilderment from his eyes. You slip from your
winded horse and address Algernon with elaborate courtesy.
``My dear fellow,'' you remark, ``did you not see that the thing
for you to do was to head them down by the bottom of that little gulch
there? Don't you really think anybody would have seen it? What in hades
do you think I wanted to run my horse all through those boulders for?
Do you think I want to get him lame 'way up here in the hills? I don't
mind telling a man a thing once, but to tell it to him fifty-eight
times and then have it do no good -- Have you the faintest recollection
of my instructing you to turn the bight over instead of under when you
throw that pack-hitch? If you'd remember that, we should 't have had
all this trouble.''
``You did 't tell me to head them by the little gulch,'' babbles
This is just the utterly fool reply that upsets your artificial and
elaborate courtesy. You probably foam at the mouth, and dance on your
hat, and shriek wild imploring imprecations to the astonished hills.
This is not because you have an unfortunate disposition, but because
Algernon has been doing precisely the same thing for two months.
``Listen to him!'' you howl. ``Did 't tell him! Why you
gangle-legged bug-eyed soft-handed pop- eared tenderfoot, you! there
are some things you never think of telling a man. I never told you to
open your mouth to spit, either. If you had a hired man at five
dollars a year who was so all-around hopelessly thick-headed and
incompetent as you are, you'd fire him to-morrow morning.''
Then Algernon looks truly sorry, and does 't answer back as he
ought to in order to give occasion for the relief of a really
soul-satisfying scrap, and utters the soft answer humbly. So your wrath
is turned and there remain only the dregs which taste like some of
It is rather good fun to relieve the bitterness of the heart. Let
me tell you a few more tales of the tenderfoot, premising always that I
love him, and when at home seek him out to smoke pipes at his fireside,
to yarn over the trail, to wonder how much rancor he cherishes against
the maniacs who declaimed against him, and by way of compensation to
build up in the mind of his sweetheart, his wife, or his mother a
fearful and wonderful reputation for him as the Terror of the Trail.
These tales are selected from many, mere samples of a varied
experience. They occurred here, there, and everywhere, and at various
times. Let no one try to lay them at the door of our Tenderfoot merely
because such is his title in this narrative. We called him that by way
Once upon a time some of us were engaged in climbing a mountain
rising some five thousand feet above our starting-place. As we toiled
along, one of the pack-horses became impatient and pushed ahead. We
did not mind that, especially, as long as she stayed in sight, but in a
little while the trail was closed in by brush and timber.
``Algernon,'' said we, ``just push on and get ahead of that mare,
Algernon disappeared. We continued to climb. The trail was steep
and rather bad. The labor was strenuous, and we checked off each
thousand feet with thankfulness. As we saw nothing further of Algernon,
we naturally concluded he had headed the mare and was continuing on the
trail. Then through a little opening we saw him riding cheerfully along
without a care to occupy his mind. Just for luck we hailed him.
``Hi there, Algernon! Did you find her?''
``Have 't seen her yet.''
``Well, you'd better push on a little faster. She may leave the
trail at the summit.''
Then one of us, endowed by heaven with a keen intuitive instinct
for tenderfeet, -- no one could have a knowledge of them, they are too
unexpected, -- had an inspiration.
``I suppose there are tracks on the trail ahead of you?'' he
We stared at each other, then at the trail. Only one horse had
preceded us, -- that of the tenderfoot. But of course Algernon was
nevertheless due for his chuckle-headed reply.
``I have 't looked,'' said he.
That raised the storm conventional to such an occasion.
``What in the name of seventeen little dicky-birds did you think
you were up to!'' we howled. ``Were you going to ride ahead until dark
in the childlike faith that that mare might show up somewhere? Here's a
nice state of affairs. The trail is all tracked up now with our horses,
and heaven knows whether she's left tracks where she turned off. It may
be rocky there.''
We tied the animals savagely, and started back on foot. It would be
criminal to ask our saddle-horses to repeat that climb. Algernon we
ordered to stay with them.
``And don't stir from them no matter what happens, or you'll get
lost,'' we commanded out of the wisdom of long experience.
We climbed down the four thousand odd feet, and then back again,
leading the mare. She had turned off not forty rods from where Algernon
had taken up her pursuit.
Your Algernon never does get down to little details like tracks --
his scheme of life is much too magnificent. To be sure he would not
know fresh tracks from old if he should see them; so it is probably
quite as well. In the morning he goes out after the horses. The bunch
he finds easily enough, but one is missing. What would you do about it?
You would naturally walk in a circle around the bunch until you
crossed the track of the truant leading away from it, would 't you? If
you made a wide enough circle you would inevitably cross that track,
would 't you? provided the horse started out with the bunch in the
first place. Then you would follow the track, catch the horse, and
bring him back. Is this Algernon's procedure? Not any. ``Ha!'' says he,
``old Brownie is missing. I will hunt him up.'' Then he maunders off
into the scenery, trusting to high heaven that he is going to blunder
against Brownie as a prominent feature of the landscape. After a couple
of hours you probably saddle up Brownie and go out to find the
He has a horrifying facility in losing himself. Nothing is more
cheering than to arise from a hard- earned couch of ease for the
purpose of trailing an Algernon or so through the gathering dusk to the
spot where he has managed to find something -- a very real despair of
ever getting back to food and warmth. Nothing is more irritating then
than his gratitude.
I traveled once in the Black Hills with such a tenderfoot. We were
off from the base of supplies for a ten days' trip with only a
saddle-horse apiece. This was near first principles, as our total
provisions consisted of two pounds of oatmeal, some tea, and sugar.
Among other things we climbed Mt. Harney. The trail, after we left the
horses, was as plain as a strip of Brussels carpet, but somehow or
another that tenderfoot managed to get off it. I hunted him up. We
gained the top, watched the sunset, and started down. The tenderfoot, I
thought, was fairly at my coat-tails, but when I turned to speak to him
he had gone; he must have turned off at one of the numerous little
openings in the brush. I sat down to wait. By and by, away down the
west slope of the mountain, I heard a shot, and a faint, a very faint,
despairing yell. I, also, shot and yelled. After various signals of the
sort, it became evident that the tenderfoot was approaching. In a
moment he tore by at full speed, his hat off, his eye wild, his
six-shooter popping at every jump. He passed within six feet of me, and
never saw me. Subsequently I left him on the prairie, with accurate and
``There's the mountain range. You simply keep that to your left and
ride eight hours. Then you'll see Rapid City. You simply can't get
lost. Those hills stick out like a sore thumb.''
Two days later he drifted into Rapid City, having wandered off
somewhere to the east. How he had done it I can never guess. That is
The tenderfoot is always in hard luck. Apparently, too, by all
tests of analysis it is nothing but luck, pure chance, misfortune. And
yet the very persistence of it in his case, where another escapes,
perhaps indicates that much of what we call good luck is in reality
unconscious skill in the arrange- ment of those elements which go to
make up events. A persistently unlucky man is perhaps sometimes to be
pitied, but more often to be booted. That philosophy will be cryingly
unjust about once in ten.
But lucky or unlucky, the tenderfoot is human. Ordinarily that does
't occur to you. He is a malevolent engine of destruction -- quite as
impersonal as heat or cold or lack of water. He is an unfortunate
article of personal belonging requiring much looking after to keep in
order. He is a credulous and convenient response to practical jokes,
huge tales, misinformation. He is a laudable object of attrition for
the development of your character. But somehow, in the woods, he is not
as other men, and so you do not come to feel yourself in close human
relations to him.
But Algernon is real, nevertheless. He has feelings, even if you do
not respect them. He has his little enjoyments, even though he does
rarely contemplate anything but the horn of his saddle.
``Algernon,'' you cry, ``for heaven's sake stick that saddle of
yours in a glass case and glut yourself with the sight of its ravishing
beauties next winter. For the present do gaze on the mountains. That's
what you came for.''
He has, doubtless, a full range of all the appreciative emotions,
though from his actions you'd never suspect it. Most human of all, he
possesses his little vanities.
Algernon always overdoes the equipment question. If it is
bird-shooting, he accumulates leggings and canvas caps and belts and
dog-whistles and things until he looks like a picture from a
department-store catalogue. In the cow country he wears Stetson hats,
snake bands, red handkerchiefs, six-shooters, chaps, and huge spurs
that do not match his face. If it is yachting, he has a chronometer
with a gong in the cabin of a five-ton sailboat, possesses a
nickle-plated machine to register the heel of his craft, sports a
brass-bound yachting-cap and all the regalia. This is merely amusing.
But I never could understand his insane desire to get sunburned. A man
will get sunburned fast enough; he could not help it if he would.
Algernon usually starts out from town with out a hat. Then he dares not
take off his sweater for a week lest it carry away his entire face. I
have seen men with deep sores on their shoulders caused by nothing but
excessive burning in the sun. This, too, is merely amusing. It means
quite simply that Algernon realizes his inner deficiencies and wants to
make up for them by the outward seeming. Be kind to him, for he has
been raised a pet.
The tenderfoot is lovable -- mysterious in how he does it -- and
XII. THE CAÑON
ONE day we tied our horses to three bushes, and walked on foot two
hundred yards. Then we looked down.
It was nearly four thousand feet down. Do you realize how far that
is? There was a river meandering through olive-colored forests. It was
so distant that it was light green and as narrow as a piece of tape.
Here and there were rapids, but so remote that we could not distinguish
the motion of them, only the color. The white resembled tiny dabs of
cotton wool stuck on the tape. It turned and twisted, following the
turns and twists of the cañon. Somehow the level at the bottom
resembled less forests and meadows than a heavy and sluggish fluid like
molasses flowing between the cañon walls. It emerged from the bend of a
sheer cliff ten miles to eastward: it disappeared placidly around the
bend of another sheer cliff an equal distance to the westward.
The time was afternoon. As we watched, the shadow of the cañon wall
darkened the valley. Whereupon we looked up.
Now the upper air, of which we were dwellers for the moment, was
peopled by giants and clear atmo- sphere and glittering sunlight,
flashing like silver and steel and precious stones from the granite
domes, peaks, minarets, and palisades of the High Sierras. Solid as
they were in reality, in the crispness of this mountain air, under the
tangible blue of this mountain sky, they seemed to poise light as so
many balloons. Some of them rose sheer, with hardly a fissure; some had
flung across their shoulders long trailing pine draperies, fine as fur;
others matched mantles of the whitest white against the bluest blue of
the sky. Towards the lower country were more pines rising in ridges,
like the fur of an animal that has been alarmed.
We dangled our feet over the edge and talked about it. Wes pointed
to the upper end where the sluggish lava-like flow of the cañon-bed
first came into view.
``That's where we'll camp,'' said he.
``When?'' we asked.
``When we get there,'' he answered.
For this cañon lies in the heart of the mountains. Those who would
visit it have first to get into the country -- a matter of over a week.
Then they have their choice of three probabilities of destruction.
The first route comprehends two final days of travel at an altitude
of about ten thousand feet, where the snow lies in midsummer; where
there is no feed, no comfort, and the way is strewn with the bones of
horses. This is known as the ``Basin Trail.'' After taking it, you
prefer the others -- until you try them.
The finish of the second route is directly over the summit of a
mountain. You climb two thousand feet and then drop down five. The
ascent is heart- breaking but safe. The descent is hair-raising and
unsafe: no profanity can do justice to it. Out of a pack-train of
thirty mules, nine were lost in the course of that five thousand feet.
Legend has it that once many years ago certain prospectors took in a
Chinese cook. At first the Mongolian bewailed his fate loudly and
fluently, but later settled to a single terrified moan that sounded
like ``tu-ne-mah! tu-ne- mah!'' The trail was therefore named the
``Tu-ne- mah Trail.'' It is said that ``tu-ne-mah'' is the very worst
single vituperation of which the Chinese language is capable.
The third route is called ``Hell's Half Mile.'' It is not misnamed.
Thus like paradise the cañon is guarded; but like paradise it is
wondrous in delight. For when you descend you find that the tape-wide
trickle of water seen from above has become a river with profound
darkling pools and placid stretches and swift dashing rapids; that the
dark green sluggish flow in the cañon-bed has disintegrated into a
noble forest with great pine-trees, and shaded aisles, and deep dank
thickets, and brush openings where the sun is warm and the birds are
cheerful, and groves of cottonwoods where all day long softly, like
snow, the flakes of cotton float down through the air. Moreover there
are meadows, spacious lawns, opening out, closing in, winding here and
there through the groves in the manner of spilled naphtha, actually
waist high with green feed, sown with flowers like a brocade. Quaint
tributary little brooks babble and murmur down through these trees,
down through these lawns. A blessed warm sun hums with the joy of
innumerable bees. To right hand and to left, in front of you and
behind, rising sheer, forbidding, impregnable, the cliffs, mountains,
and ranges hem you in. Down the river ten miles you can go: then the
gorge closes, the river grows savage, you can only look down the
tumbling fierce waters and turn back. Up the river five miles you can
go, then interpose the sheer snow-clad cliffs of the Palisades, and
them, rising a matter of fourteen thousand feet, you may not cross. You
are shut in your paradise as completely as though surrounded by iron
But, too, the world is shut out. The paradise is yours. In it are
trout and deer and grouse and bear and lazy happy days. Your horses
feed to the fatness of butter. You wander at will in the ample though
definite limits of your domain. You lie on your back and examine
dispassionately, with an interest entirely detached, the huge
cliff-walls of the valley. Days slip by. Really, it needs at least an
angel with a flaming sword to force you to move on.
We turned away from our view and addressed ourselves to the task of
finding out just when we were going to get there. The first day we
bobbed up and over innumerable little ridges of a few hundred feet
elevation, crossed several streams, and skirted the wide bowl-like
amphitheatre of a basin. The second day we climbed over things and
finally ended in a small hanging park named Alpine Meadows, at an
elevation of eight thousand five hundred feet. There we rested-over a
day, camped under a single pine- tree, with the quick-growing mountain
grasses thick about us, a semicircle of mountains on three sides, and
the plunge into the cañon on the other. As we needed meat, we spent
part of the day in finding a deer. The rest of the time we watched idly
Bears are great travelers. They will often go twenty miles
overnight, apparently for the sheer delight of being on the move. Also
are they exceedingly loath to expend unnecessary energy in getting to
places, and they hate to go down steep hills. You see, their fore legs
are short. Therefore they are skilled in the choice of easy routes
through the mountains, and once having made the choice they stick to it
until through certain narrow places on the route selected they have
worn a trail as smooth as a garden-path. The old prospectors used quite
occasionally to pick out the horse-passes by trusting in general to the
bear migrations, and many a well-traveled route of to-day is
superimposed over the way-through picked out by old bruin long ago.
Of such was our own trail. Therefore we kept our rifles at hand and
our eyes open for a straggler. But none came, though we baited craftily
with portions of our deer. All we gained was a rattlesnake, and he
seemed a bit out of place so high up in the air.
Mount Tunemah stood over against us, still twenty-two hundred feet
above our elevation. We gazed on it sadly, for directly by its summit,
and for five hours beyond, lay our trail, and evil of reputation was
that trail beyond all others. The horses, as we bunched them in
preparation for the packing, took on a new interest, for it was on the
cards that the unpacking at evening would find some missing from the
``Lily's a goner, sure,'' said Wes. ``I don't know how she's got
this far except by drunken man's luck. She'll never make the Tunemah.''
``And Tunemah himself,'' pointed out the Tenderfoot, naming his own
fool horse; ``I see where I start in to walk.''
``Sort of a `morituri te salutamur,' '' said I.
We climbed the two thousand two hundred feet, leading our
saddle-horses to save their strength. Every twenty feet we rested,
breathing heavily of the rarified air. Then at the top of the world we
paused on the brink of nothing to tighten cinches, while the cold wind
swept by us, the snow glittered in a sunlight become silvery like that
of early April, and the giant peaks of the High Sierras lifted into a
distance inconceivably remote, as though the horizon had been set back
for their accommodation.
To our left lay a windrow of snow such as you will see drifted into
a sharp crest across a corner of your yard; only this windrow was
twenty feet high and packed solid by the sun, the wind, and the weight
of its age. We climbed it and looked over directly into the eye of a
round Alpine lake seven or eight hundred feet below. It was of an
intense cobalt blue, a color to be seen only in these glacial bodies of
water, deep and rich as the mantle of a merchant of Tyre. White ice
floated in it. The savage fierce granite needles and knife-edges of the
mountain crest hemmed it about.
But this was temporizing, and we knew it. The first drop of the
trail was so steep that we could flip a pebble to the first level of
it, and so rough in its water-and-snow-gouged knuckles of rocks that it
seemed that at the first step a horse must necessarily fall end over
end. We made it successfully, however, and breathed deep. Even Lily, by
a miracle of lucky scrambling, did not even stumble.
``Now she's easy for a little ways,'' said Wes, ``then we'll get
When we ``got busy'' we took our guns in our hands to preserve
them from a fall, and started in. Two more miracles saved Dinkey at two
more places. We spent an hour at one spot, and finally built a new
trail around it. Six times a minute we held our breaths and stood on
tiptoe with anxiety, powerless to help, while the horse did his best.
At the especially bad places we checked them off one after another,
congratulating ourselves on so much saved as each came across without
accident. When there were no bad places, the trail was so
extraordinarily steep that we ahead were in constant dread of a horse's
falling on us from behind, and our legs did become wearied to incipient
paralysis by the constant stiff checking of the descent. Moreover every
second or so one of the big loose stones with which the trail was
cumbered would be dislodged and come bouncing down among us. We dodged
and swore; the horses kicked; we all feared for the integrity of our
legs. The day was full of an intense nervous strain, an entire
absorption in the precise present. We promptly forgot a difficulty as
soon as we were by it: we had not time to think of those still ahead.
All outside the insistence of the moment was blurred and unimportant,
like a specialized focus, so I cannot tell you much about the scenery.
The only outside impression we received was that the cañon floor was
slowly rising to meet us.
Then strangely enough, as it seemed, we stepped off to level
Our watches said half-past three. We had made five miles in a
little under seven hours.
Remained only the crossing of the river. This was no mean task, but
we accomplished it lightly, searching out a ford. There were high
grasses, and on the other side of them a grove of very tall
cottonwoods, clean as a park. First of all we cooked things; then we
spread things; then we lay on our backs and smoked things, our hands
clasped back of our heads. We cocked ironical eyes at the sheer cliff
of old Mount Tunemah, very much as a man would cock his eye at a tiger
in a cage.
Already the meat-hawks, the fluffy Canada jays, had found us out,
and were prepared to swoop down boldly on whatever offered to their
predatory skill. We had nothing for them yet, -- there were no remains
of the lunch, -- but the fire-irons were out, and ribs of venison were
roasting slowly over the coals in preparation for the evening meal.
Directly opposite, visible through the lattice of the trees, were two
huge mountain peaks, part of the wall that shut us in, over against us
in a height we had not dared ascribe to the sky itself. By and by the
shadow of these mountains rose on the westerly wall. It crept up at
first slowly, extinguishing color; afterwards more rapidly as the sun
approached the horizon. The sunlight disappeared. A moment's gray
intervened, and then the wonderful golden afterglow laid on the peaks
its enchantment. Little by little that too faded, until at last, far
away, through a rift in the ranks of the giants, but one remained
gilded by the glory of a dream that continued with it after the others.
Heretofore it had seemed to us an insignificant peak, apparently
overtopped by many, but by this token we knew it to be the highest of
Then ensued another pause, as though to give the invisible
scene-shifter time to accomplish his work, followed by a shower of
evening coolness, that seemed to sift through the trees like a soft and
gentle rain. We ate again by the flicker of the fire, dabbing a trifle
uncertainly at the food, wondering at the distant mountain on which the
Day had made its final stand, shrinking a little before the stealthy
dark that flowed down the cañon in the manner of a heavy smoke.
In the notch between the two huge mountains blazed a star, --
accurately in the notch, like the front sight of a rifle sighted into
the marvelous depths of space. Then the moon rose.
First we knew of it when it touched the crest of our two mountains.
The night has strange effects on the hills. A moment before they had
menaced black and sullen against the sky, but at the touch of the moon
their very substance seemed to dissolve, leaving in the upper
atmosphere the airiest, most nebulous, fragile, ghostly simulacrums of
themselves you could imagine in the realms of fairy-land. They seemed
actually to float, to poise like cloud-shapes about to dissolve. And
against them were cast the inky silhouettes of three fir-trees in the
shadow near at hand.
Down over the stones rolled the river, crying out to us with the
voices of old accustomed friends in another wilderness. The winds
XIII. TROUT, BUCKSKIN, AND PROSPECTORS
AS I have said, a river flows through the cañon. It is a very good
river with some riffles that can be waded down to the edges of black
pools or white chutes of water; with appropriate big trees fallen
slantwise into it to form deep holes; and with hurrying smooth
stretches of some breadth. In all of these various places are rainbow
There is no use fishing until late afternoon. The clear sun of the
high altitudes searches out mercilessly the bottom of the stream,
throwing its miniature boulders, mountains, and valleys as plainly into
relief as the buttes of Arizona at noon. Then the trout quite refuse.
Here and there, if you walk far enough and climb hard enough over all
sorts of obstructions, you may discover a few spots shaded by big trees
or rocks where you can pick up a half dozen fish; but it is slow work.
When, however, the shadow of the two huge mountains feels its way
across the stream, then, as though a signal had been given, the trout
begin to rise. For an hour and a half there is noble sport indeed.
The stream fairly swarmed with them, but of course some places were
better than others. Near the upper reaches the water boiled like
seltzer around the base of a tremendous tree. There the pool was at
least ten feet deep and shot with bubbles throughout the whole of its
depth, but it was full of fish. They rose eagerly to your gyrating fly,
-- and took it away with them down to subaqueous chambers and passages
among the roots of that tree. After which you broke your leader. Royal
Coachman was the best lure, and therefore valuable exceedingly were
Royal Coachmen. Whenever we lost one we lifted up our voices in lament,
and went away from there, calling to mind that there were other pools,
many other pools, free of obstruction and with fish in them. Yet such
is the perversity of fishermen, we were back losing more Royal Coachmen
the very next day. In all I managed to disengage just three rather
small trout from that pool, and in return decorated their ancestral
halls with festoons of leaders and the brilliance of many flies.
Now this was foolishness. All you had to do was to walk through a
grove of cottonwoods, over a brook, through another grove of pines,
down a sloping meadow to where one of the gigantic pine-trees had
obligingly spanned the current. You crossed that, traversed another
meadow, broke through a thicket, slid down a steep grassy bank, and
there you were. A great many years before a pine-tree had fallen across
the current. Now its whitened skeleton lay there, opposing a barrier
for about twenty-five feet out into the stream. Most of the water
turned aside, of course, and boiled frantically around the end as
though trying to catch up with the rest of the stream which had gone on
without it, but some of it dived down under and came up on the other
side. There, as though bewildered, it paused in an uneasy pool. Its
constant action had excavated a very deep hole, the débris of which had
formed a bar immediately below. You waded out on the bar and cast along
the length of the pine skeleton over the pool.
If you were methodical, you first shortened your line, and began
near the bank, gradually working out until you were casting forty-five
feet to the very edge of the fast current. I know of nothing pleasanter
for you to do. You see, the evening shadow was across the river, and a
beautiful grass slope at your back. Over the way was a grove of trees
whose birds were very busy because it was near their sunset, while
towering over them were mountains, quite peaceful by way of contrast
because their sunset was still far distant. The river was in a great
hurry, and was talking to itself like a man who has been detained and
is now at last making up time to his important engagement. And from the
deep black shadow beneath the pine skeleton, occasionally flashed white
bodies that made concentric circles where they broke the surface of the
water, and which fought you to a finish in the glory of battle. The
casting was against the current, so your flies could rest but the
briefest possible moment on the surface of the stream. That moment was
enough. Day after day you could catch your required number from an
apparently inexhaustible supply.
I might inform you further of the gorge downstream, where you lie
flat on your stomach ten feet above the river, and with one hand
cautiously extended over the edge cast accurately into the angle of the
cliff. Then when you get your strike, you tow him downstream, clamber
precariously to the water's level -- still playing your fish -- and
there land him, -- if he has accommodatingly stayed hooked. A
three-pound fish will make you a lot of tribulation at this game.
We lived on fish and venison, and had all we wanted. The
bear-trails were plenty enough, and the signs were comparatively fresh,
but at the time of our visit the animals themselves had gone over the
mountains on some sort of a picnic. Grouse, too, were numerous in the
popple thickets, and flushed much like our ruffed grouse of the East.
They afforded first-rate wing-shooting for Sure-Pop, the little
But these things occupied, after all, only a small part of every
day. We had loads of time left. Of course we explored the valley up and
down. That occupied two days. After that we became lazy. One always
does in a permanent camp. So did the horses. Active -- or rather
restless interest in life seemed to die away. Neither we nor they had
to rustle hard for food. They became fastidious in their choice, and at
all times of day could be seen sauntering in Indian file from one part
of the meadow to the other for the sole purpose apparently of cropping
a half dozen indifferent mouthfuls. The rest of the time they roosted
under trees, one hind leg relaxed, their eyes half closed, their ears
wabbling, the pictures of imbecile content. We were very much the same.
Of course we had our outbursts of virtue. While under their
influence we undertook vast works. But after their influence had died
out, we found ourselves with said vast works on our hands, and so came
to cursing ourselves and our fool spasms of industry.
For instance, Wes and I decided to make buckskin from the hide of
the latest deer. We did not need the buckskin -- we already had two in
the pack. Our ordinary procedure would have been to dry the hide for
future treatment by a Mexican, at a dollar a hide, when we should have
returned home. But, as I said, we were afflicted by sporadic activity,
and wanted to do something.
We began with great ingenuity by constructing a graining-tool out
of a table-knife. We bound it with rawhide, and encased it with wood,
and wrapped it with cloth, and filed its edge square across, as is
proper. After this we hunted out a very smooth, barkless log, laid the
hide across it, straddled it, and began graining.
Graining is a delightful process. You grasp the tool by either end,
hold the square edge at a certain angle, and push away from you
mightily. A half- dozen pushes will remove a little patch of hair;
twice as many more will scrape away half as much of the seal-brown
grain, exposing the white of the hide. Then, if you want to, you can
stop and establish in your mind a definite proportion between the
amount thus exposed, the area remaining unexposed, and the muscular
fatigue of these dozen and a half of mighty pushes. The proportion will
be wrong. You have left out of account the fact that you are going to
get almighty sick of the job; that your arms and upper back are going
to ache shrewdly before you are done; and that as you go on it is going
to be increasingly difficult to hold down the edges firmly enough to
offer the required resistance to your knife. Besides -- if you get
careless -- you'll scrape too hard: hence little holes in the completed
buckskin. Also -- if you get careless -- you will probably leave the
finest, tiniest shreds of grain, and each of them means a hard
transparent spot in the product. Furthermore, once having started in on
the job, you are like the little boy who caught the trolley: you cannot
let go. It must be finished immediately, all at one heat, before the
Be it understood, your first enthusiasm has evap- orated, and you
are thinking of fifty pleasant things you might just as well be doing.
Next you revel in grease, -- lard oil, if you have it; if not, then
lard, or the product of boiled brains. This you must rub into the skin.
You rub it in until you suspect that your finger-nails have worn away,
and you glisten to the elbows like an Eskimo cutting blubber.
By the merciful arrangement of those who invented buckskin, this
entitles you to a rest. You take it -- for several days -- until your
conscience seizes you by the scruff of the neck.
Then you transport gingerly that slippery, clammy, soggy, snaky,
cold bundle of greasy horror to the bank of the creek, and there for
endless hours you wash it. The grease is more reluctant to enter the
stream than you are in the early morning. Your hands turn purple. The
others go by on their way to the trout-pools, but you are chained to
By and by you straighten your back with creaks, and walk home like
a stiff old man, carrying your hide rid of all superfluous oil. Then if
you are just learning how, your instructor examines the result.
``That's all right,'' says he cheerfully. ``Now when it dries, it
will be buckskin.''
That encourages you. It need not. For during the process of drying
it must be your pastime constantly to pull and stretch at every square
inch of that boundless skin in order to loosen all the fibres.
Otherwise it would dry as stiff as whalebone. Now there is nothing on
earth that seems to dry slower than buckskin. You wear your fingers
down to the first joints, and, wishing to preserve the remainder for
future use, you carry the hide to your instructor.
``Just beginning to dry nicely,'' says he.
You go back and do it some more, putting the entire strength of
your body, soul, and religious convictions into the stretching of that
buckskin. It looks as white as paper; and feels as soft and warm as the
turf on a southern slope. Nevertheless your tyrant declares it will not
``It looks dry, and it feels dry,'' says he, ``but it is 't dry. Go
But at this point your outraged soul arches its back and bucks. You
sneak off and roll up that piece of buckskin, and thrust it into the
alforja. You know it is dry. Then with a deep sigh of relief you come
out of prison into the clear, sane, lazy atmosphere of the camp.
``Do you mean to tell me that there is any one chump enough to do
that for a dollar a hide?'' you inquire.
``Sure,'' say they.
``Well, the Fool Killer is certainly behind on his dates,'' you
About a week later one of your companions drags out of the alforja
something crumpled that resembles in general appearance and texture a
rusted five-gallon coal-oil can that has been in a wreck. It is only
imperceptibly less stiff and angular and cast-iron than rawhide.
``What is this?'' the discoverer inquires.
Then quietly you go out and sit on a high place before recognition
brings inevitable -- and sickening -- chaff. For you know it at a
glance. It is your buckskin.
Along about the middle of that century an old prospector with four
burros descended the Basin Trail and went into camp just below us.
Towards evening he sauntered in.
I sincerely wish I could sketch this man for you just as he came
down through the fire-lit trees. He was about six feet tall, very
leanly built, with a weather-beaten face of mahogany on which was
superimposed a sweeping mustache and beetling eye- brows. These had
originally been brown, but the sun had bleached them almost white in
remarkable contrast to his complexion. Eyes keen as sunlight twinkled
far down beneath the shadows of the brows and a floppy old sombrero
hat. The usual flannel shirt, waistcoat, mountain-boots, and
six-shooter completed the outfit. He might have been forty, but was
probably nearer sixty years of age.
``Howdy, boys,'' said he, and dropped to the fireside, where he
promptly annexed a coal for his pipe.
We all greeted him, but gradually the talk fell to him and Wes. It
was commonplace talk enough from one point of view: taken in essence
it was merely like the inquiry and answer of the civilized man as to
another's itinerary -- ``Did you visit Florence? Berlin? St.
Petersburg?'' -- and then the comparing of impressions. Only here again
that old familiar magic of unfamiliar names threw its glamour over the
``Over beyond the Piute Monument,'' the old prospector explained,
``down through the Inyo Range, a leetle north of Death Valley -- ''
``Back in seventy-eight when I was up in Bay Horse Cañon over by
Lost River -- ''
``Was you ever over in th' Panamit Mountains? -- North of th'
Telescope Range?'' --
That was all there was to it, with long pauses for drawing at the
pipes. Yet somehow in the aggregate that catalogue of names gradually
established in the minds of us two who listened an impression of long
years, of wide wilderness, of wandering far over the face of the earth.
The old man had wintered here, summered a thousand miles away, made his
strike at one end of the world, lost it somehow, and cheerfully tried
for a repetition of his luck at the other. I do not believe the
possibility of wealth, though always of course in the background, was
ever near enough his hope to be considered a motive for action. Rather
was it a dream, remote, something to be gained to-morrow, but never
to-day, like the mediæval Christian's idea of heaven. His interest was
in the search. For that one could see in him a real enthusiasm. He had
his smattering of theory, his very real empirical knowledge, and his
superstitions, like all prospectors. So long as he could keep in grub,
own a little train of burros, and lead the life he loved, he was happy.
Perhaps one of the chief elements of this remarkable interest in
the game rather than the prizes of it was his desire to vindicate his
guesses or his conclusions. He liked to predict to himself the outcome
of his solitary operations, and then to prove that prediction through
laborious days. His life was a gigantic game of solitaire. In fact, he
mentioned a dozen of his claims many years apart which he had developed
to a certain point, -- ``so I could see what they was,'' -- and then
abandoned in favor of fresher discoveries. He cherished the illusion
that these were properties to whose completion some day he would
return. But we knew better; he had carried them to the point where the
result was no longer in doubt and then, like one who has no interest in
playing on in an evidently prescribed order, had laid his cards on the
table to begin a new game.
This man was skilled in his profession; he had pursued it for
thirty odd years; he was frugal and industrious; undoubtedly of his
long series of discoveries a fair percentage were valuable and are
producing-properties to-day. Yet he confessed his bank balance to be
less than five hundred dollars. Why was this? Simply and solely
because he did not care. At heart it was entirely immaterial to him
whether he ever owned a dollar above his expenses. When he sold his
claims, he let them go easily, loath to bother himself with business
details, eager to get away from the fuss and nuisance. The few hundred
dollars he received he probably sunk in unproductive mining work, or
was fleeced out of in the towns. Then joyfully he turned back to his
beloved mountains and the life of his slow deep delight and his pecking
away before the open doors of fortune. By and by he would build himself
a little cabin down in the lower pine mountains, where he would grow a
white beard, putter with occult wilderness crafts, and smoke long
contemplative hours in the sun before his door. For tourists he would
braid rawhide reins and quirts, or make buckskin. The jays and
woodpeckers and Douglas squirrels would become fond of him. So he would
be gathered to his fathers, a gentle old man whose life had been spent
harmlessly in the open. He had had his ideal to which blindly he
reached; he had in his indirect way contributed the fruits of his labor
to mankind; his recompenses he had chosen according to his desires.
When you consider these things, you perforce have to revise your first
notion of him as a useless sort of old ruffian. As you come to know him
better, you must love him for the kindliness, the simple honesty, the
modesty, and charity that he seems to draw from his mountain
environment. There are hundreds of him buried in the great cañons of
Our prospector was a little uncertain as to his plans. Along toward
autumn he intended to land at some reputed placers near Dinkey Creek.
There might be something in that district. He thought he would take a
look. In the mean time he was just poking up through the country -- he
and his jackasses. Good way to spend the summer. Perhaps he might run
across something 'most anywhere; up near the top of that mountain
opposite looked mineralized. Did 't know but what he'd take a look at
He camped near us during three days. I never saw a more modest,
self-effacing man. He seemed genuinely, childishly, almost helplessly
interested in our fly-fishing, shooting, our bear-skins, and our
travels. You would have thought from his demeanor -- which was sincere
and not in the least ironical -- that he had never seen or heard
anything quite like that before, and was struck with wonder at it. Yet
he had cast flies before we were born, and shot even earlier than he
had cast a fly, and was a very Ishmael for travel. Rarely could you get
an account of his own experiences, and then only in illustration of
``If you-all likes bear-hunting,'' said he, ``you ought to get up
in eastern Oregon. I summered there once. The only trouble is, the
brush is thick as hair. You 'most always have to bait them, or wait
for them to come and drink. The brush is so small you ain't got much
chance. I run onto a she- bear and cubs that way once. Did 't have
nothin' but my six-shooter, and I met her within six foot.''
He stopped with an air of finality.
``Well, what did you do?'' we asked.
``Me?'' he inquired, surprised. ``Oh, I just leaked out of th'
He prospected the mountain opposite, loafed with us a little, and
then decided that he must be going. About eight o'clock in the morning
he passed us, hazing his burros, his tall, lean figure elastic in
defiance of years.
``So long, boys,'' he called; ``good luck!''
``So long,'' we responded heartily. ``Be good to yourself.''
He plunged into the river without hesitation, emerged dripping on
the other side, and disappeared in the brush. From time to time during
the rest of the morning we heard the intermittent tinkling of his
bell-animal rising higher and higher above us on the trail.
In the person of this man we gained our first connection, so to
speak, with the Golden Trout. He had caught some of them, and could
tell us of their habits.
Few fishermen west of the Rockies have not heard of the Golden
Trout, though, equally, few have much definite information concerning
it. Such information usually runs about as follows:
It is a medium size fish of the true trout family, resembling a
rainbow except that it is of a rich golden color. The peculiarity that
makes its capture a dream to be dreamed of is that it swims in but one
little stream of all the round globe. If you would catch a Golden
Trout, you must climb up under the very base of the end of the High
Sierras. There is born a stream that flows down from an elevation of
about ten thousand feet to about eight thousand before it takes a long
plunge into a branch of the Kern River. Over the twenty miles of its
course you can cast your fly for Golden Trout; but what is the nature
of that stream, that fish, or the method of its capture, few can tell
you with any pretense of accuracy.
To be sure, there are legends. One, particularly striking, claims
that the Golden Trout occurs in one other stream -- situated in Central
Asia! -- and that the fish is therefore a remnant of some pre-glacial
period, like Sequoia trees, a sort of grand-daddy of all trout, as it
were. This is but a sample of what you will hear discussed.
Of course from the very start we had had our eye on the Golden
Trout, and intended sooner or later to work our way to his habitat. Our
prospector had just come from there.
``It's about four weeks south, the way you and me travels,'' said
he. ``You don't want to try Harrison's Pass; it's chock full of
tribulation. Go around by way of the Giant Forest. She's pretty good
there, too, some sizable timber. Then over by Redwood Meadows, and
Timber Gap, by Mineral King, and over through Farewell Gap. You turn
east there, on a new trail. She's steeper than straight- up-an'-down,
but shorter than the other. When you get down in the cañon of Kern
River, -- say, she's a fine cañon, too, -- you want to go downstream
about two mile to where there's a sort of natural over- flowed lake
full of stubs stickin' up. You'll get some awful big rainbows in there.
Then your best way is to go right up Whitney Creek Trail to a big high
meadows mighty nigh to timber-line. That's where I camped. They's lots
of them little yaller fish there. Oh, they bite well enough. You'll
catch 'em. They's a little shy.''
So in that guise -- as the desire for new and distant things -- did
our angel with the flaming sword finally come to us.
We caught reluctant horses reluctantly. All the first day was to be
a climb. We knew it; and I suspect that they knew it too. Then we
packed and addressed ourselves to the task offered us by the Basin
XIV. ON CAMP COOKERY
ONE morning I awoke a little before the others, and lay on my back
staring up through the trees. It was not my day to cook. We were camped
at the time only about sixty-five hundred feet high, and the weather
was warm. Every sort of green thing grew very lush all about us, but
our own little space was held dry and clear for us by the needles of
two enormous red cedars some four feet in diameter. A variety of
thoughts sifted through my mind as it followed lazily the shimmering
filaments of loose spider- web streaming through space. The last
thought stuck. It was that that day was a holiday. Therefore I un-
limbered my six-shooter, and turned her loose, each shot being
accompanied by a meritorious yell.
The outfit boiled out of its blankets. I explained the situation,
and after they had had some breakfast they agreed with me that a
celebration was in order. Unanimously we decided to make it
``We will ride till we get to good feed,'' we concluded, ``and then
we'll cook all the afternoon. And nobody must eat anything until the
whole business is prepared and served.''
It was agreed. We rode until we were very hungry, which was eleven
o'clock. Then we rode some more. By and by we came to a log cabin in a
wide fair lawn below a high mountain with a ducal coronet on its top,
and around that cabin was a fence, and inside the fence a man chopping
wood. Him we hailed. He came to the fence and grinned at us from the
elevation of high-heeled boots. By this token we knew him for a
``How are you?'' said we.
``Howdy, boys,'' he roared. Roared is the accurate expression. He
was not a large man, and his hair was sandy, and his eye mild blue. But
undoubtedly his kinsmen were dumb and he had as birthright the voice
for the entire family. It had been subsequently developed in the
shouting after the wild cattle of the hills. Now his ordinary
conversational tone was that of the announcer at a circus. But his
heart was good. Can we camp here?'' we inquired.
``Sure thing,'' he bellowed. ``Turn your horses into the meadow.
Camp right here.''
But with the vision of a rounded wooded knoll a few hundred yards
distant we said we'd just get out of his way a little. We crossed a
creek, mounted an easy slope to the top of the knoll, and were
delighted to observe just below its summit the peculiar fresh green
hump which indicates a spring. The Tenderfoot, however, knew nothing of
springs, for shortly he trudged a weary way back to the creek, and so
returned bearing kettles of water. This performance hugely astonished
the cowboy, who subsequently wanted to know if a ``critter had died in
Wes departed to borrow a big Dutch oven of the man and to invite
him to come across when we raised the long yell. Then we began
Now camp cooks are of two sorts. Anybody can with a little practice
fry bacon, steak, or flapjacks, and boil coffee. The reduction of the
raw material to its most obvious cooked result is within the reach of
all but the most hopeless tenderfoot who never knows the salt-sack from
the sugar-sack. But your true artist at the business is he who can from
six ingredients, by permutation, combination, and the genius that is in
him turn out a full score of dishes. For simple example: Given, rice,
oatmeal, and raisins. Your expert accomplishes the following:
Item -- Boiled rice.
Item -- Boiled oatmeal.
Item -- Rice boiled until soft, then stiffened by the addition of
quarter as much oatmeal.
Item -- Oatmeal in which is boiled almost to the dissolving point a
third as much rice.
These latter two dishes taste entirely unlike each other or their
separate ingredients. They are moreover great in nutrition.
Item -- Boiled rice and raisins.
Item -- Dish number three with raisins.
Item -- Rice boiled with raisins, sugar sprinkled on top, and then
Item -- Ditto with dish number three.
All these are good -- and different.
Some people like to cook and have a natural knack for it. Others
hate it. If you are one of the former, select a propitious moment to
suggest that you will cook, if the rest will wash the dishes and supply
the wood and water. Thus you will get first crack at the fire in the
chill of morning; and at night you can squat on your heels doing light
labor while the others rustle.
In a mountain trip small stout bags for the provisions are
necessary. They should be big enough to contain, say, five pounds of
corn-meal, and should tie firmly at the top. It will be absolutely
labor lost for you to mark them on the outside, as the outside soon
will become uniform in color with your marking. Tags might do, if
occasionally renewed. But if you have the instinct, you will soon come
to recognize the appearance of the different bags as you recognize the
features of your family. They should contain small quantities for
immediate use of the provisions the main stock of which is carried on
another pack- animal. One tin plate apiece and ``one to grow on''; the
same of tin cups; half a dozen spoons; four knives and forks; a big
spoon; two frying-pans; a broiler; a coffee-pot; a Dutch oven; and
three light sheet-iron pails to nest in one another was what we carried
on this trip. You see, we had horses. Of course in the woods that
outfit would be materially reduced.
For the same reason, since we had our carrying done for us, we took
along two flat iron bars about twenty-four inches in length. These,
laid across two stones between which the fire had been built, we used
to support our cooking-utensils stove-wise. I should never carry a
stove. This arrangement is quite as effective, and possesses the added
advantage that wood does not have to be cut for it of any definite
length. Again, in the woods these iron bars would be a senseless
burden. But early you will learn that while it is foolish to carry a
single ounce more than will pay in comfort or convenience for its own
transportation, it is equally foolish to refuse the comforts or
conveniences that modified circumstance will permit you. To carry only
a forest equipment with pack-animals would be as silly as to carry only
a pack-animal outfit on a Pullman car. Only look out that you do not
Even if you do not intend to wash dishes, bring along some ``Gold
Dust.'' It is much simpler in getting at odd corners of obstinate
kettles than any soap. All you have to do is to boil some of it in that
kettle, and the utensil is tamed at once.
That's about all you, as expert cook, are going to need in the way
of equipment. Now as to your fire.
There are a number of ways of building a cooking fire, but they
share one first requisite: it should be small. A blaze will burn
everything, including your hands and your temper. Two logs laid side
by side and slanted towards each other so that small things can go on
the narrow end and big things on the wide end; flat rocks arranged in
the same manner; a narrow trench in which the fire is built; and the
flat irons just described -- these are the best- known methods. Use dry
wood. Arrange to do your boiling first -- in the flame; and your frying
and broiling last -- after the flames have died to coals.
So much in general. You must remember that open-air cooking is in
many things quite different from indoor cooking. You have different
utensils, are exposed to varying temperatures, are limited in
resources, and pursued by a necessity of haste. Pre- conceived notions
must go by the board. You are after results; and if you get them, do
not mind the feminines of your household lifting the hands of horror
over the unorthodox means. Mighty few women I have ever seen were good
camp-fire cooks; not because camp-fire cookery is especially difficult,
but because they are temperamentally incapable of ridding themselves of
the notion that certain things should be done in a certain way, and
because if an ingredient lacks, they cannot bring themselves to
substitute an approximation. They would rather abandon the dish than do
violence to the sacred art.
Most camp-cookery advice is quite useless for the same reason. I
have seen many a recipe begin with the words: ``Take the yolks of four
eggs, half a cup of butter, and a cup of fresh milk -- '' As if any one
really camping in the wilderness ever had eggs, butter, and milk!
Now here is something I cooked for this particular celebration.
Every woman to whom I have ever described it has informed me vehemently
that it is not cake, and must be ``horrid.'' Perhaps it is not cake,
but it looks yellow and light, and tastes like cake.
First I took two cups of flour, and a half cup of corn-meal to make
it look yellow. In this I mixed a lot of baking-powder, -- about twice
what one should use for bread, -- and topped off with a cup of sugar.
The whole I mixed with water into a light dough. Into the dough went
raisins that had previously been boiled to swell them up. Thus was the
cake mixed. Now I poured half the dough into the Dutch oven, sprinkled
it with a good layer of sugar, cinnamon, and unboiled raisins; poured
in the rest of the dough; repeated the layer of sugar, cinnamon, and
raisins; and baked in the Dutch oven. It was gorgeous, and we ate it at
one fell swoop.
While we are about it, we may as well work backwards on this
particular orgy by describing the rest of our dessert. In addition to
the cake and some stewed apricots, I, as cook of the day, constructed
also a pudding.
The basis was flour -- two cups of it. Into this I dumped a handful
of raisins, a tablespoonful of baking- powder, two of sugar, and about
a pound of fat salt pork cut into little cubes. This I mixed up into a
mess by means of a cup or so of water and a quantity of larrupy-dope.3
Then I dipped a flour- sack in hot water, wrung it out, sprinkled it
with dry flour, and half filled it with my pudding mixture. The whole
outfit I boiled for two hours in a kettle. It, too, was good to the
palate, and was even better sliced and fried the following morning.
This brings us to the suspension of kettles. There are two ways. If
you are in a hurry, cut a springy pole, sharpen one end, and stick it
perpendicular in the ground. Bend it down towards your fire. Hang your
kettle on the end of it. If you have jabbed it far enough into the
ground in the first place, it will balance nicely by its own spring and
the elasticity of the turf. The other method is to plant two forked
sticks on either side your fire over which a strong cross-piece is
laid. The kettles are hung on hooks cut from forked branches. The
forked branches are attached to the cross-piece by means of thongs or
On this occasion we had deer, grouse, and ducks in the larder. The
best way to treat them is as follows. You may be sure we adopted the
When your deer is fresh, you will enjoy greatly a dish of liver
and bacon. Only the liver you will discover to be a great deal tenderer
and more delicate than any calf's liver you ever ate. There is this
difference: a deer's liver should be parboiled in order to get rid of a
green bitter scum that will rise to the surface and which you must skim
Next in order is the ``back strap'' and tenderloin, which is always
tender, even when fresh. The hams should be kept at least five days.
Deer-steak, to my notion, is best broiled, though occasionally it is
pleasant by way of variety to fry it. In that case a brown gravy is
made by thoroughly heating flour in the grease, and then stirring in
water. Deer-steak threaded on switches and ``barbecued'' over the coals
is delicious. The outside will be a little blackened, but all the
juices will be retained. To enjoy this to the utmost you should take it
in your fingers and *gnaw. The only permissible implement is your
hunting- knife. Do not forget to peel and char slightly the switches on
which you thread the meat, otherwise they will impart their fresh-wood
By this time the ribs are in condition. Cut little slits between
them, and through the slits thread in and out long strips of bacon. Cut
other little gashes, and fill these gashes with onions chopped very
fine. Suspend the ribs across two stones between which you have allowed
a fire to die down to coals.
There remain now the hams, shoulders, and heart. The two former
furnish steaks. The latter you will make into a ``bouillon.'' Here
inserts itself quite naturally the philosophy of boiling meat. It may
be stated in a paragraph.
If you want boiled meat, put it in hot water. That sets the juices.
If you want soup, put it in cold water and bring to a boil. That sets
free the juices. Remember this.
Now you start your bouillon cold. Into a kettle of water put your
deer hearts, or your fish, a chunk of pork, and some salt. Bring to a
boil. Next drop in quartered potatoes, several small whole onions, a
half cupful of rice, a can of tomatoes -- if you have any. Boil slowly
for an hour or so -- until things pierce easily under the fork. Add
several chunks of bread and a little flour for thickening. Boil down to
about a chowder consistency, and serve hot. It is all you will need for
that meal; and you will eat of it until there is no more.
I am supposing throughout that you know enough to use salt and
pepper when needed.
So much for your deer. The grouse you can split and fry, in which
case the brown gravy described for the fried deer-steak is just the
thing. Or you can boil him. If you do that, put him into hot water,
boil slowly, skim frequently, and add dumplings mixed of flour,
baking-powder, and a little lard. Or you can roast him in your Dutch
oven with your ducks.
Perhaps it might be well here to explain the Dutch oven. It is a
heavy iron kettle with little legs and an iron cover. The theory of it
is that coals go among the little legs and on top of the iron cover.
This heats the inside, and so cooking results. That, you will observe,
is the theory.
In practice you will have to remember a good many things. In the
first place, while other affairs are preparing, lay the cover on the
fire to heat it through; but not on too hot a place nor too long, lest
it warp and so fit loosely. Also the oven itself is to be heated
through, and well greased. Your first baking will undoubtedly be burned
on the bottom. It is almost impossible without many trials to
understand just how little heat suffices underneath. Sometimes it seems
that the warmed earth where the fire has been is enough. And on top you
do not want a bonfire. A nice even heat, and patience, are the proper
ingredients. Nor drop into the error of letting your bread chill, and
so fall to unpalatable heaviness. Probably for some time you will
alternate between the extremes of heavy crusts with doughy insides, and
white weighty boiler-plate with no distinguishable crusts at all. Above
all, do not lift the lid too often for the sake of taking a look. Have
There are other ways of baking bread. In the North Country forests,
where you carry everything on your back, you will do it in the
frying-pan. The mixture should be a rather thick batter or a rather
thin dough. It is turned into the frying-pan and baked first on one
side, then on the other, the pan being propped on edge facing the
fire. The whole secret of success is first to set your pan horizontal
and about three feet from the fire in order that the mixture may be
thoroughly warmed -- not heated -- before the pan is propped on edge.
Still another way of baking is in a reflector oven of tin. This is
highly satisfactory, provided the oven is built on the scientific
angles to throw the heat evenly on all parts of the bread-pan and
equally on top and bottom. It is not so easy as you might imagine to
get a good one made. These reflectors are all right for a permanent
camp, but too fragile for transportation on pack-animals.
As for bread, try it unleavened once in a while by way of change.
It is really very good, -- just salt, water, flour, and a very little
sugar. For those who like their bread ``all crust,'' it is especially
toothsome. The usual camp bread that I have found the most successful
has been in the proportion of two cups of flour to a teaspoonful of
salt, one of sugar, and three of baking-powder. Sugar or cinnamon
sprinkled on top is sometimes pleasant. Test by thrusting a splinter
into the loaf. If dough adheres to the wood, the bread is not done.
Biscuits are made by using twice as much baking-powder and about two
tablespoonfuls of lard for shortening. They bake much more quickly than
the bread. Johnny-cake you mix of corn-meal three cups, flour one cup,
sugar four spoonfuls, salt one spoonful, baking-powder four spoonfuls,
and lard twice as much as for biscuits. It also is good, very good.
The flapjack is first cousin to bread, very palatable, and
extremely indigestible when made of flour, as is ordinarily done.
However, the self-raising buckwheat flour makes an excellent flapjack,
which is likewise good for your insides. The batter is rather thin, is
poured into the piping hot greased pan, ``flipped'' when brown on one
side, and eaten with larrupy-dope or brown gravy.
When you come to consider potatoes and beans and onions and such
matters, remember one thing: that in the higher altitudes water boils
at a low temperature, and that therefore you must not expect your
boiled food to cook very rapidly. In fact, you'd better leave beans at
home. We did. Potatoes you can sometimes tease along by quartering
Rolled oats are better than oatmeal. Put them in plenty of water
and boil down to the desired consistency. In lack of cream you will
probably want it rather soft.
Put your coffee into cold water, bring to a boil, let boil for
about two minutes, and immediately set off. Settle by letting a half
cup of cold water flow slowly into the pot from the height of a foot or
so. If your utensils are clean, you will surely have good coffee by
this simple method. Of course you will never boil your tea.
The sun was nearly down when we raised our long yell. The
cow-puncher promptly responded. We ate. Then we smoked. Then we basely
left all our dishes until the morrow, and followed our cow- puncher to
his log cabin, where we were to spend the evening.
By now it was dark, and a bitter cold swooped down from the
mountains. We built a fire in a huge stone fireplace and sat around in
the flickering light telling ghost-stories to one another. The place
was rudely furnished, with only a hard earthen floor, and chairs hewn
by the axe. Rifles, spurs, bits, revolvers, branding-irons in turn
caught the light and vanished in the shadow. The skin of a bear looked
at us from hollow eye-sockets in which there were no eyes. We talked of
the Long Trail. Outside the wind, rising, howled through the shakes of
the roof  Camp-lingo for any kind of syrup.
XV. ON THE WIND AT NIGHT
THE winds were indeed abroad that night. They rattled our cabin,
they shrieked in our eaves, they puffed down our chimney, scattering
the ashes and leaving in the room a balloon of smoke as though a shell
had burst. When we opened the door and stepped out, after our
good-nights had been said, it caught at our hats and garments as though
it had been lying in wait for us.
To our eyes, fire-dazzled, the night seemed very dark. There would
be a moon later, but at present even the stars seemed only so many
pinpoints of dull metal, lustreless, without illumination. We felt our
way to camp, conscious of the softness of grasses, the uncertainty of
At camp the remains of the fire crouched beneath the rating of the
storm. Its embers glowed sullen and red, alternately glaring with a
half-formed resolution to rebel, and dying to a sulky resignation. Once
a feeble flame sprang up for an instant, but was immediately pounced on
and beaten flat as though by a vigilant antagonist.
We, stumbling, gathered again our tumbled blankets. Across the brow
of the knoll lay a huge pine trunk. In its shelter we respread our
bedding, and there, standing, dressed for the night. The power of the
wind tugged at our loose garments, hoping for spoil. A towel, shaken by
accident from the interior of a sweater, departed white-winged, like a
bird, into the outer blackness. We found it next day caught in the
bushes several hundred yards distant. Our voices as we shouted were
snatched from our lips and hurled lavishly into space. The very breath
of our bodies seemed driven back, so that as we faced the elements, we
breathed in gasps, with difficulty.
Then we dropped down into our blankets.
At once the prostrate tree-trunk gave us its protection. We lay in
a little back-wash of the racing winds, still as a night in June. Over
us roared the battle. We felt like sharpshooters in the trenches; as
though, were we to raise our heads, at that instant we should enter a
zone of danger. So we lay quietly on our backs and stared at the
The first impression thence given was of stars sailing serene and
unaffected, remote from the turbulence of what until this instant had
seemed to fill the universe. They were as always, just as we should see
them when the evening was warm and the tree- toads chirped clearly
audible at half a mile. The importance of the tempest shrank. Then
below them next we noticed the mountains; they too were serene and
Immediately it was as though the storm were an hallucination;
something not objective; something real, but within the soul of him who
looked upon it. It claimed sudden kinship with those blackest days when
nevertheless the sun, the mere external unimportant sun, shines with
superlative brilliancy. Emotions of a power to shake the foundations of
life seemed vaguely to stir in answer to these their hollow symbols.
For after all, we were contented at heart and tranquil in mind, and
this was but the outer gorgeous show of an intense emotional experience
we did not at the moment prove. Our nerves responded to it
automatically. We became excited, keyed to a high tension, and so lay
rigid on our backs, as though fighting out the battles of our souls.
It was all so unreal and yet so plain to our senses that perforce
automatically our experience had to conclude it psychical. We were in
air absolutely still. Yet above us the trees writhed and twisted and
turned and bent and struck back, evidently in the power of a mighty
force. Across the calm heavens the murk of flying atmosphere -- I have
always maintained that if you looked closely enough you could *see the
wind -- the dim, hardly-made-out, fine débris fleeing high in the air;
-- these faintly hinted at intense movement rushing down through space.
A roar of sound filled the hollow of the sky. Occasionally it
intermitted, falling abruptly in volume like the mysterious rare
hushings of a rapid stream. Then the familiar noises of a summer night
became audible for the briefest instant, -- a horse sneezed, an owl
hooted, the wild call of birds came down the wind. And with a howl the
legions of good and evil took up their warring. It was too real, and
yet it was not reconcilable with the calm of our resting-places.
For hours we lay thus in all the intensity of an inner storm and
stress, which it seemed could not fail to develop us, to mould us, to
age us, to leave on us its scars, to bequeath us its peace or remorse
or despair, as would some great mysterious dark experience direct from
the sources of life. And then abruptly we were exhausted, as we should
have been by too great emotion. We fell asleep. The morning dawned
still and clear, and garnished and set in order as though such things
had never been. Only our white towel fluttered like a flag of truce in
the direction the mighty elements had departed.
XVI. THE VALLEY
ONCE upon a time I happened to be staying in a hotel room which had
originally been part of a suite, but which was then cut off from the
others by only a thin door through which sounds carried clearly. It was
about eleven o'clock in the evening. The occupants of that next room
came home. I heard the door open and close. Then the bed shrieked aloud
as somebody fell heavily upon it. There breathed across the silence a
deep restful sigh.
``Mary,'' said a man's voice, ``I'm mighty sorry I did 't join that
Association for Artificial Vacations. They guarantee to get you just as
tired and just as mad in two days as you could by yourself in two
We thought of that one morning as we descended the Glacier Point
Trail in Yosemite.
The contrast we need not have made so sharp. We might have taken
the regular wagon-road by way of Chinquapin, but we preferred to stick
to the trail, and so encountered our first sign of civilization within
an hundred yards of the brink. It, the sign, was tourists. They were
male and female, as the Lord had made them, but they had improved on
that idea since. The women were freckled, hatted with alpines, in
which edelweiss -- artificial, I think -- flowered in abundance; they
sported severely plain flannel shirts, bloomers of an aggressive and
unnecessary cut, and enormous square boots weighing pounds. The men had
on hats just off the sunbonnet effect, pleated Norfolk jackets,
bloomers ditto ditto to the women, stockings whose tops rolled over
innumerable times to help out the size of that which they should have
contained, and also enormous square boots. The female children they put
in skin-tight blue overalls. The male children they dressed in
bloomers. Why this should be I cannot tell you. All carried toy
hatchets with a spike on one end built to resemble the pictures of
They looked business-like, trod with an assured air of veterans and
a seeming of experience more extended than it was possible to pack into
any one human life. We stared at them, our eyes bulging out. They
painfully and evidently concealed a curiosity as to our pack-train. We
wished them good-day, in order to see to what language heaven had
fitted their extraordinary ideas as regards raiment. They inquired the
way to something or other -- I think Sentinel Dome. We had just
arrived, so we did not know, but in order to show a friendly spirit we
blandly pointed out a way. It may have led to Sentinel Dome for all I
know. They departed uttering thanks in human speech.
Now this particular bunch of tourists was evidently staying at the
Glacier Point, and so was fresh. But in the course of that morning we
descended straight down a drop of, is it four thousand feet? The trail
was steep and long and without water. During the descent we passed
first and last probably twoscore of tourists, all on foot. A good half
of them were delicate women, -- young, middle-aged, a few gray- haired
and evidently upwards of sixty. There were also old men, and fat men,
and men otherwise out of condition. Probably nine out of ten, counting
in the entire outfit, were utterly unaccustomed, when at home where
grow street-cars and hansoms, to even the mildest sort of exercise.
They had come into the Valley, whose floor is over four thousand feet
up, without the slightest physical preparation for the altitude. They
had submitted to the fatigue of a long and dusty stage journey. And
then they had merrily whooped it up at a gait which would have appalled
seasoned old stagers like ourselves. Those blessed lunatics seemed
positively unhappy unless they climbed up to some new point of view
every day. I have never seen such a universally tired out, frazzled,
vitally exhausted, white-faced, nervous community in my life as I did
during our four days' stay in the Valley. Then probably they go away,
and take a month to get over it, and have queer residual impressions of
the trip. I should like to know what those impressions really are.
Not but that Nature has done everything in her power to oblige
them. The things I am about to say are heresy, but I hold them true.
Yosemite is not as interesting nor as satisfying to me as some of
the other big box cañons, like those of the Tehipite, the Kings in its
branches, or the Kawweah. I will admit that its waterfalls are better.
Otherwise it possesses no features which are not to be seen in its
sister valleys. And there is this difference. In Yosemite everything is
jumbled together, apparently for the benefit of the tourist with a
linen duster and but three days' time at his disposal. He can turn from
the cliff-headland to the dome, from the dome to the half dome, to the
glacier formation, the granite slide and all the rest of it, with
hardly the necessity of stirring his feet. Nature has put samples of
all her works here within reach of his cataloguing vision. Everything
is crowded in together, like a row of houses in forty-foot lots. The
mere things themselves are here in profusion and wonder, but the
appropriate spacing, the approach, the surrounding of subordinate
detail which should lead in artistic gradation to the supreme feature
-- these things, which are a real and essential part of esthetic
effect, are lacking utterly for want of room. The place is not natural
scenery; it is a junk-shop, a storehouse, a sample-room wherein the
elements of natural scenery are to be viewed. It is not an arrangement
of effects in accordance with the usual laws of landscape, but an
abnormality, a freak of Nature.
All these things are to be found elsewhere. There are cliffs which
to the naked eye are as grand as El Capitan; domes, half domes, peaks
as noble as any to be seen in the Valley; sheer drops as breath-taking
as that from Glacier Point. But in other places each of these is led up
to appropriately, and stands the central and satisfying feature to
which all other things look. Then you journey on from your cliff, or
whatever it happens to be, until, at just the right distance, so that
it gains from the presence of its neighbor without losing from its
proximity, a dome or a pinnacle takes to itself the right of
prominence. I concede the waterfalls; but in other respects I prefer
the sister valleys.
That is not to say that one should not visit Yosemite; nor that one
will be disappointed. It is grand beyond any possible human belief; and
no one, even a nerve-frazzled tourist, can gaze on it without the
strongest emotion. Only it is not so intimately satisfying as it should
be. It is a show. You do not take it into your heart. ``Whew!'' you
cry. ``Is 't that a wonder!'' then after a moment, ``Looks just like
the photographs. Up to sample. Now let's go.''
As we descended the trail, we and the tourists aroused in each
other a mutual interest. One husband was trying to encourage his young
and handsome wife to go on. She was beautifully dressed for the part in
a marvelous, becoming costume of whipcord -- short skirt, high laced
elkskin boots and the rest of it; but in all her magnificence she had
sat down on the ground, her back to the cliff, her legs across the
trail, and was so tired out that she could hardly muster interest
enough to pull them in out of the way of our horses' hoofs. The man
inquired anxiously of us how far it was to the top. Now it was a long
distance to the top, but a longer to the bottom, so we lied a lie that
I am sure was immediately forgiven us, and told them it was only a
short climb. I should have offered them the use of Bullet, but Bullet
had come far enough, and this was only one of a dozen such cases. In
marked contrast was a jolly white- haired clergyman of the bishop type
who climbed vigorously and hailed us with a shout.
The horses were decidedly unaccustomed to any such sights, and we
sometimes had our hands full getting them by on the narrow way. The
trail was safe enough, but it did have an edge, and that edge jumped
pretty straight off. It was interesting to observe how the tourists
acted. Some of them were perfect fools, and we had more trouble with
them than we did with the horses. They could not seem to get the notion
into their heads that all we wanted them to do was to get on the inside
and stand still. About half of them were terrified to death, so that at
the crucial moment, just as a horse was passing them, they had little
fluttering panics that called the beast's attention. Most of the
remainder tried to be bold and help. They reached out the hand of
assist- ance toward the halter rope; the astonished animal promptly
snorted, tried to turn around, cannoned against the next in line. Then
there was a mix-up. Two tall clean-cut well-bred looking girls of our
slim patrician type offered us material assistance. They seemed to
understand horses, and got out of the way in the proper manner, did
just the right thing, and made sensible suggestions. I offer them my
They spoke to us as though they had penetrated the disguise of long
travel, and could see we were not necessarily members of Burt Alvord's
gang. This phase too of our descent became increasingly interesting to
us, a species of gauge by which we measured the perceptions of those we
encountered. Most did not speak to us at all. Others responded to our
greetings with a reserve in which was more than a tinge of distrust.
Still others patronized us. A very few overlooked our faded flannel
shirts, our soiled trousers, our floppy old hats with their rattlesnake
bands, the wear and tear of our equipment, to respond to us heartily.
Them in return we generally perceived to belong to our totem.
We found the floor of the Valley well sprinkled with campers. They
had pitched all kinds of tents; built all kinds of fancy permanent
conveniences; erected all kinds of banners and signs advertising their
identity, and were generally having a nice, easy, healthful, jolly kind
of a time up there in the mountains. Their outfits they had either
brought in with their own wagons, or had had freighted. The store near
the bend of the Merced supplied all their needs. It was truly a
pleasant sight to see so many people enjoying themselves, for they were
mostly those in moderate circumstances to whom a trip on tourist lines
would be impossible. We saw bakers' and grocers' and butchers' wagons
that had been pressed into service. A man, his wife, and little baby
had come in an ordinary buggy, the one horse of which, led by the man,
carried the woman and baby to the various points of interest.
We reported to the official in charge, were allotted a camping and
grazing place, and proceeded to make ourselves at home.
During the next two days we rode comfortably here and there and
looked at things. The things could not be spoiled, but their effect was
very materially marred by the swarms of tourists. Sometimes they were
silly, and cracked inane and obvious jokes in ridicule of the grandest
objects they had come so far to see; sometimes they were detestable and
left their insignificant calling-cards or their unimportant names where
nobody could ever have any object in reading them; sometimes they were
pathetic and helpless and had to have assistance; sometimes they were
amusing; hardly ever did they seem entirely human. I wonder what there
is about the traveling public that seems so to set it apart, to make of
it at least a sub-species of mankind?
Among other things, we were vastly interested in the guides. They
were typical of this sort of thing. Each morning one of these men took
a pleasantly awe-stricken band of tourists out, led them around in the
brush awhile, and brought them back in time for lunch. They wore broad
hats and leather bands and exotic raiment and fierce expressions, and
looked dark and mysterious and extra-competent over the most trivial of
Nothing could be more instructive than to see two or three of these
imitation bad men starting out in the morning to ``guide'' a flock, say
to Nevada Falls. The tourists, being about to mount, have outdone
themselves in weird and awesome clothes -- especially the women. Nine
out of ten wear their stirrups too short, so their knees are hunched
up. One guide rides at the head -- great deal of silver spur, clanking
chain, and the rest of it. Another rides in the rear. The third rides
up and down the line, very gruff, very preoccupied, very careworn over
the dangers of the way. The cavalcade moves. It proceeds for about a
mile. There arise sudden cries, great but subdued excitement. The
leader stops, raising a commanding hand. Guide number three gallops up.
There is a consultation. The cinch-strap of the brindle shave-tail is
taken up two inches. A catastrophe has been averted. The noble three
look volumes of relief. The cavalcade moves again.
Now the trail rises. It is a nice, safe, easy trail. But to the
tourists it is made terrible. The noble three see to that. They pass
more dangers by the exercise of superhuman skill than you or I could
discover in a summer's close search. The joke of the matter is that
those forty-odd saddle-animals have been over that trail so many times
that one would have difficulty in heading them off from it once they
Very much the same criticism would hold as to the popular notion of
the Yosemite stage-drivers. They drive well, and seem efficient men.
But their wonderful reputation would have to be upheld on rougher roads
than those into the Valley. The tourist is, of course, encouraged to
believe that he is doing the hair-breadth escape; but in reality, as
mountain travel goes, the Yosemite stage-road is very mild.
This that I have been saying is not by way of depreciation. But it
seems to me that the Valley is wonderful enough to stand by itself in
men's appreciation without the unreality of sickly sentimentalism in
regard to imaginary dangers, or the histrionics of playing wilderness
where no wilderness exists.
As we went out, this time by the Chinquapin wagon-road, we met one
stage-load after another of tourists coming in. They had not yet donned
the outlandish attire they believe proper to the occasion, and so
showed for what they were, -- prosperous, well-bred, well-dressed
travelers. In contrast to their smartness, the brilliancy of
new-painted stages, the dash of the horses maintained by the Yosemite
Stage Company, our own dusty travel-worn outfit of mountain ponies, our
own rough clothes patched and faded, our sheath-knives and firearms
seemed out of place and curious, as though a knight in medieval armor
were to ride down Broadway.
I do not know how many stages there were. We turned our pack-horses
out for them all, dashing back and forth along the line, coercing the
diabolical Dinkey. The road was too smooth. There were no obstructions
to surmount; no dangers to avert; no difficulties to avoid. We could
not get into trouble, but proceeded as on a county turnpike. Too tame,
too civilized, too representative of the tourist element, it ended by
getting on our nerves. The wilderness seemed to have left us forever.
Never would we get back to our own again. After a long time Wes,
leading, turned into our old trail branching off to the high country.
Hardly had we traveled a half mile before we heard from the advance
guard a crash and a shout.
``What is it, Wes?'' we yelled.
In a moment the reply came, --
``Lily's fallen down again, -- thank God!''
We understood what he meant. By this we knew that the tourist zone
was crossed, that we had left the show country, and were once more in
XVII. THE MAIN CREST
THE traveler in the High Sierras generally keeps to the west of the
main crest. Sometimes he approaches fairly to the foot of the last
slope; sometimes he angles away and away even down to what finally
seems to him a lower country, -- to the pine mountains of only five or
six thousand feet. But always to the left or right of him, according to
whether he travels south or north, runs the rampart of the system,
sometimes glittering with snow, sometimes formidable and rugged with
splinters and spires of granite. He crosses spurs and tributary ranges
as high, as rugged, as snow-clad as these. They do not quite satisfy
him. Over beyond he thinks he ought to see something great, -- some
wide outlook, some space bluer than his trail can offer him. One day or
another he clamps his decision, and so turns aside for the simple and
only purpose of standing on the top of the world.
We were bitten by that idea while crossing the Granite Basin. The
latter is some ten thousand feet in the air, a cup of rock five or six
miles across, surrounded by mountains much higher than itself. That
would have been sufficient for most moods, but, rest- ing on the edge
of a pass ten thousand six hundred feet high, we concluded that we
surely would have to look over into Nevada.
We got out the map. It became evident, after a little study, that
by descending six thousand feet into a box cañon, proceeding in it a
few miles, and promptly climbing out again, by climbing steadily up the
long narrow course of another box cañon for about a day and a half's
journey, and then climbing out of that to a high ridge country with
little flat valleys, we would come to a wide lake in a meadow eleven
thousand feet up. There we could camp. The mountain opposite was
thirteen thousand three hundred and twenty feet, so the climb from the
lake became merely a matter of computation. This, we figured, would
take us just a week, which may seem a considerable time to sacrifice to
the gratification of a whim. But such a glorious whim!
We descended the great box cañon, and scaled its upper end,
following near the voices of a cascade. Cliffs thousands of feet high
hemmed us in. At the very top of them strange crags leaned out looking
down on us in the abyss. From a projection a colossal sphinx gazed
solemnly across at a dome as smooth and symmetrical as, but vastly
larger than, St. Peter's at Rome.
The trail labored up to the brink of the cascade. At once we
entered a long narrow aisle between regular palisaded cliffs.
The formation was exceedingly regular. At the top the precipice
fell sheer for a thousand feet or so; then the steep slant of the
débris, like buttresses, down almost to the bed of the river. The lower
parts of the buttresses were clothed with heavy chaparral, which,
nearer moisture, developed into cottonwoods, alders, tangled vines,
flowers, rank grasses. And away on the very edge of the cliffs, close
under the sky, were pines, belittled by distance, solemn and aloof,
like Indian warriors wrapped in their blankets watching from an
eminence the passage of a hostile force.
We caught rainbow trout in the dashing white torrent of the river.
We followed the trail through delicious thickets redolent with perfume;
over the roughest granite slides, along still dark aisles of forest
groves, between the clefts of boulders so monstrous as almost to seem
an insult to the credulity. Among the chaparral, on the slope of the
buttress across the river, we made out a bear feeding. Wes and I sat
ten minutes waiting for him to show sufficiently for a chance. Then we
took a shot at about four hundred yards, and hit him somewhere so he
angled down the hill furiously. We left the Tenderfoot to watch that he
did not come out of the big thicket of the river bottom where last we
had seen him, while we scrambled upstream nearly a mile looking for a
way across. Then we trailed him by the blood, each step one of
suspense, until we fairly had to crawl in after him; and shot him five
times more, three in the head, before he gave up not six feet from us;
and shouted gloriously and skinned that bear. But the meat was badly
bloodshot, for there were three bullets in the head, two in the chest
and shoulders, one through the paunch, and one in the hind quarters.
Since we were much in want of meat, this grieved us. But that noon
while we ate, the horses ran down toward us, and wheeled, as though in
cavalry formation, looking toward the hill and snorting. So I put down
my tin plate gently, and took up my rifle, and without rising shot that
bear through the back of the neck. We took his skin, and also his hind
quarters, and went on.
By the third day from Granite Basin we reached the end of the long
narrow cañon with the high cliffs and the dark pine-trees and the very
blue sky. Therefore we turned sharp to the left and climbed laboriously
until we had come up into the land of big boulders, strange spare
twisted little trees, and the singing of the great wind.
The country here was mainly of granite. It out- cropped in dikes,
it slid down the slopes in aprons, it strewed the prospect in boulders
and blocks, it seamed the hollows with knife-ridges. Soil gave the
impression of having been laid on top; you divined the granite beneath
it, and not so very far beneath it, either. A fine hair-grass grew
close to this soil, as though to produce as many blades as possible in
the limited area.
But strangest of all were the little thick twisted trees with the
rich shaded umber color of their trunks. They occurred rarely, but
still in sufficient regularity to lend the impression of a scattered
grove- cohesiveness. Their limbs were sturdy and reaching
fantastically. On each trunk the colors ran in streaks, patches, and
gradations from a sulphur yellow, through browns and red-orange, to a
rich red-umber. They were like the earth-dwarfs of German legend, come
out to view the roof of their workshop in the interior of the hill; or,
more subtly, like some of the more fantastic engravings of Gustave
We camped that night at a lake whose banks were pebbled in the
manner of an artificial pond, and whose setting was a thin meadow of
the fine hair- grass, for the grazing of which the horses had to bare
their teeth. All about, the granite mountains rose. The timber-line,
even of the rare shrub-like gnome- trees, ceased here. Above us was
nothing whatever but granite rock, snow, and the sky.
It was just before dusk, and in the lake the fish were jumping
eagerly. They took the fly well, and before the fire was alight we had
caught three for supper. When I say we caught but three, you will
understand that they were of good size. Firewood was scarce, but we
dragged in enough by means of Old Slob and a riata to build us a good
fire. And we needed it, for the cold descended on us with the sharpness
and vigor of eleven thousand feet.
For such an altitude the spot was ideal. The lake just below us was
full of fish. A little stream ran from it by our very elbows. The
slight elevation was level, and covered with enough soil to offer a
fairly good substructure for our beds. The flat in which was the lake
reached on up narrower and narrower to the foot of the last slope,
furnishing for the horses an admirable natural corral about a mile
long. And the view was magnificent.
First of all there were the mountains above us, towering grandly
serene against the sky of morning; then all about us the tumultuous
slabs and boulders and blocks of granite among which dare-devil and
hardy little trees clung to a footing as though in defiance of some
great force exerted against them; then below us a sheer drop, into
which our brook plunged, with its suggestion of depths; and finally
beyond those depths the giant peaks of the highest Sierras rising lofty
as the sky, shrouded in a calm and stately peace.
Next day the Tenderfoot and I climbed to the top. Wes decided at
the last minute that he had 't lost any mountains, and would prefer to
The ascent was accompanied by much breathlessness and a heavy
pounding of our hearts, so that we were forced to stop every twenty
feet to recover our physical balance. Each step upward dragged at our
feet like a leaden weight. Yet once we were on the level, or once we
ceased our very real exertions for a second or so, the difficulty left
us, and we breathed as easily as in the lower altitudes.
The air itself was of a quality impossible to describe to you
unless you have traveled in the high countries. I know it is trite to
say that it had the exhilaration of wine, yet I can find no better
simile. We shouted and whooped and breathed deep and wanted to do
The immediate surroundings of that mountain peak were absolutely
barren and absolutely still. How it was accomplished so high up I do
not know, but the entire structure on which we moved -- I cannot say
walked -- was composed of huge granite slabs. Sometimes these were laid
side by side like exaggerated paving flags; but oftener they were up-
ended, piled in a confusion over which we had precariously to scramble.
And the silence. It was so still that the very ringing in our ears came
to a prominence absurd and almost terrifying. The wind swept by
noiseless, because it had nothing movable to startle into noise. The
solid eternal granite lay heavy in its statics across the possibility
of even a whisper. The blue vault of heaven seemed emptied of sound.
But the wind did stream by unceasingly, weird in the
unaccustomedness of its silence. And the sky was blue as a turquoise,
and the sun burned fiercely, and the air was cold as the water of a
We stretched ourselves behind a slab of granite, and ate the
luncheon we had brought, cold venison steak and bread. By and by a
marvelous thing happened. A flash of wings sparkled in the air, a brave
little voice challenged us cheerily, a pert tiny rock- wren flirted his
tail and darted his wings and wanted to know what we were thinking of
anyway to enter his especial territory. And shortly from nowhere
appeared two Canada Jays, silent as the wind itself, hoping for a share
in our meal. Then the Tenderfoot discovered in a niche some strange,
hardy alpine flowers. So we established a connection, through these
wondrous brave children of the great mother, with the world of living
After we had eaten, which was the very first thing we did, we
walked to the edge of the main crest and looked over. That edge went
straight down. I do not know how far, except that even in contemplation
we entirely lost our breaths, before we had fallen half way to the
bottom. Then intervened a ledge, and in the ledge was a round glacier
lake of the very deepest and richest ultramarine you can find among
your paint-tubes, and on the lake floated cakes of dazzling white ice.
That was enough for the moment.
Next we leaped at one bound direct down to some brown hazy liquid
shot with the tenderest filaments of white. After analysis we
discovered the hazy brown liquid to be the earth of the plains, and the
filaments of white to be roads. Thus instructed we made out specks
which were towns. That was all. The rest was too insignificant to
classify without the aid of a microscope.
And afterwards, across those plains, oh, many, many leagues, were
the Inyo and Panamit mountains, and beyond them Nevada and Arizona, and
blue mountains, and bluer, and still bluer rising, rising, rising
higher and higher until at the level of the eye they blended with the
heavens and were lost somewhere away out beyond the edge of the world.
We said nothing, but looked for a long time. Then we turned inland
to the wonderful great titans of mountains clear-cut in the crystalline
air. Never was such air. Crystalline is the only word which will
describe it, for almost it seemed that it would ring clearly when
struck, so sparkling and delicate and fragile was it. The crags and
fissures across the way -- two miles across the way -- were revealed
through it as through some medium whose transparence was absolute. They
challenged the eye, stereoscopic in their relief. Were it not for the
belittling effects of the distance, we felt that we might count the
frost seams or the glacial scorings on every granite apron. Far below
we saw the irregular outline of our lake. It looked like a pond a few
hundred feet down. Then we made out a pin-point of white moving
leisurely near its border. After a while we realized that the pin-point
of white was one of our pack-horses, and immediately the flat little
scene shot backwards as though moved from behind and acknowledged its
due number of miles. The miniature crags at its back became gigantic;
the peaks beyond grew thousands of feet in the establishment of a
proportion which the lack of ``atmosphere'' had denied. We never
succeeded in getting adequate photographs. As well take pictures of any
eroded little arroyo or granite cañon. Relative sizes do not exist,
unless pointed out.
``See that speck there?'' we explain. ``That's a big pine-tree. So
by that you can see how tremendous those cliffs really are.''
And our guest looks incredulously at the speck.
There was snow, of course, lying cold in the hot sun. This
phenomenon always impresses a man when first he sees it. Often I have
ridden with my sleeves rolled up and the front of my shirt open, over
drifts whose edges, even, dripped no water. The direct rays seem to
have absolutely no effect. A scientific explanation I have never heard
expressed; but I suppose the cold nights freeze the drifts and pack
them so hard that the short noon heat cannot penetrate their density. I
may be quite wrong as to my reason, but I am entirely correct as to my
Another curious thing is that we met our mosquitoes only rarely
below the snow-line. The camping in the Sierras is ideal for lack of
these pests. They never bite hard nor stay long even when found. But
just as sure as we approached snow, then we renewed acquaintance with
our old friends of the north woods. It is analogous to the fact that
the farther north you go into the fur countries, the more abundant they
By and by it was time to descend. The camp lay directly below us.
We decided to go to it straight, and so stepped off on an impossibly
steep slope covered, not with the great boulders and granite blocks,
but with a fine loose shale. At every stride we stepped ten feet and
slid five. It was gloriously near to flying. Leaning far back, our arms
spread wide to keep our balance, spying alertly far ahead as to where
we were going to land, utterly unable to check until we encountered a
half-buried ledge of some sort, and shouting wildly at every plunge, we
fairly shot downhill. The floor of our valley rose to us as the earth
to a descending balloon. In three quarters of an hour we had reached
the first flat.
There we halted to puzzle over the trail of a mountain lion clearly
printed on the soft ground. What had the great cat been doing away up
there above the hunting country, above cover, above everything that
would appeal to a well-regulated cat of any size whatsoever? We
theorized at length, but gave it up finally, and went on. Then a
familiar perfume rose to our nostrils. We plucked curiously at a bed of
catnip and wondered whether the animal had journeyed so far to enjoy
what is always such a treat to her domestic sisters.
It was nearly dark when we reached camp. We found Wes contentedly
scraping away at the bearskins.
``Hello,'' said he, looking up with a grin. ``Hello, you dam fools!
I've been having a good time. I've been fishing.''
XVIII. THE GIANT FOREST
EVERY one is familiar, at least by reputation and photograph, with
the Big Trees of California. All have seen pictures of stage-coaches
driving in passageways cut through the bodies of the trunks; of troops
of cavalry ridden on the prostrate trees. No one but has heard of the
dancing-floor or the dinner- table cut from a single cross-section; and
probably few but have seen some of the fibrous bark of unbelievable
thickness. The Mariposa, Calaveras, and Santa Cruz groves have become
The public at large, I imagine, meaning by that you and me and our
neighbors, harbor an idea that the Big Tree occurs only as a remnant,
in scattered little groves carefully fenced and piously visited by the
tourist. What would we have said to the information that in the very
heart of the Sierras there grows a thriving forest of these great
trees; that it takes over a day to ride throughout that forest; and
that it comprises probably over five thousand specimens?
Yet such is the case. On the ridges and high plateaus north of the
Kaweah River is the forest I describe; and of that forest the trees
grow from fifteen to twenty-six feet in diameter. Do you know what
that means? Get up from your chair and pace off the room you are in.
If it is a very big room, its longest dimension would just about
contain one of the bigger trunks. Try to imagine a tree like that.
It must be a columnar tree straight and true as the supports of a
Greek façade. The least deviation from the perpendicular of such a mass
would cause it to fall. The limbs are sturdy like the arms of Hercules,
and grow out from the main trunk direct instead of dividing and leading
that main trunk to themselves, as is the case with other trees. The
column rises with a true taper to its full height; then is finished
with the conical effect of the top of a monument. Strangely enough the
frond is exceedingly fine, and the cones small.
When first you catch sight of a Sequoia, it does not impress you
particularly except as a very fine tree. Its proportions are so perfect
that its effect is rather to belittle its neighbors than to show in its
true magnitude. Then, gradually, as your experience takes cognizance of
surroundings, -- the size of a sugar-pine, of a boulder, of a stream
flowing near, -- the giant swells and swells before your very vision
until he seems at the last even greater than the mere statistics of his
inches had led you to believe. And after that first surprise over
finding the Sequoia something not monstrous but beautiful in proportion
has given place to the full realization of what you are beholding, you
will always wonder why no one who has seen has ever given any one who
has not seen an adequate idea of these magnificent old trees.
Perhaps the most insistent note, besides that of mere size and
dignity, is of absolute stillness. These trees do not sway to the wind,
their trunks are constructed to stand solid. Their branches do not bend
and murmur, for they too are rigid in fiber. Their fine thread-like
needles may catch the breeze's whisper, may draw together and apart for
the exchange of confidences as do the leaves of other trees, but if so,
you and I are too far below to distinguish it. All about, the other
forest growths may be rustling and bowing and singing with the voices
of the air; the Sequoia stands in the hush of an absolute calm. It is
as though he dreamed, too wrapt in still great thoughts of his youth,
when the earth itself was young, to share the worldlier joys of his
neighbor, to be aware of them, even himself to breathe deeply. You feel
in the presence of these trees as you would feel in the presence of a
kindly and benignant sage, too occupied with larger things to enter
fully into your little affairs, but well disposed in the wisdom of
clear spiritual insight.
This combination of dignity, immobility, and a certain serene
detachment has on me very much the same effect as does a mountain
against the sky. It is quite unlike the impression made by any other
tree, however large, and is lovable.
We entered the Giant Forest by a trail that climbed. Always we
entered desirable places by trails that climbed or dropped. Our access
to paradise was never easy. About halfway up we met five pack-mules and
two men coming down. For some reason, unknown, I suspect, even to the
god of chance, our animals behaved themselves and walked straight ahead
in a beautiful dignity, while those weak-minded mules scattered and
bucked and scraped under trees and dragged back on their halters when
caught. The two men cast on us malevolent glances as often as they were
able, but spent most of their time swearing and running about. We
helped them once or twice by heading off, but were too thankfully
engaged in treading lightly over our own phenomenal peace to pay much
attention. Long after we had gone on, we caught bursts of rumpus
ascending from below. Shortly we came to a comparatively level country,
and a little meadow, and a rough sign which read
``Feed 20¢ a night.''
Just beyond this extortion was the Giant Forest.
We entered it toward the close of the afternoon, and rode on after
our wonted time looking for feed at less than twenty cents a night. The
great trunks, fluted like marble columns, blackened against the western
sky. As they grew huger, we seemed to shrink, until we moved fearful as
prehistoric man must have moved among the forces over which he had no
control. We discovered our feed in a narrow ``stringer'' a few miles
on. That night, we, pigmies, slept in the setting before which should
have stridden the colossi of another age. Perhaps eventually, in spite
of its magnificence and wonder, we were a little glad to leave the
Giant Forest. It held us too rigidly to a spiritual standard of which
our normal lives were incapable; it insisted on a loftiness of soul, a
dignity, an aloofness from the ordinary affairs of life, the ordinary
occupations of thought hardly compatible with the powers of any
creature less noble, less aged, less wise in the passing of centuries
XIX. ON COWBOYS
YOUR cowboy is a species variously subdivided. If you happen to be
traveled as to the wild countries, you will be able to recognize whence
your chance acquaintance hails by the kind of saddle he rides, and the
rigging of it; by the kind of rope he throws, and the method of the
throwing; by the shape of hat he wears; by his twist of speech; even by
the very manner of his riding. Your California ``vaquero'' from the
Coast Ranges is as unlike as possible to your Texas cowman, and both
differ from the Wyoming or South Dakota article. I should be puzzled to
define exactly the habitat of the ``typical'' cowboy. No matter where
you go, you will find your individual acquaintance varying from the
type in respect to some of the minor details.
Certain characteristics run through the whole tribe, however. Of
these some are so well known or have been so adequately done elsewhere
that it hardly seems wise to elaborate on them here. Let us assume that
you and I know what sort of human beings cowboys are, -- with all their
taciturnity, their surface gravity, their keen sense of humor, their
courage, their kindness, their freedom, their lawlessness, their
foulness of mouth, and their supreme skill in the handling of horses
and cattle. I shall try to tell you nothing of all that.
If one thinks down doggedly to the last analysis, he will find that
the basic reason for the differences between a cowboy and other men
rests finally on an individual liberty, a freedom from restraint either
of society or convention, a lawlessness, an accepting of his own
standard alone. He is absolutely self- poised and sufficient; and that
self-poise and that sufficiency he takes pains to assure first of all.
After their assurance he is willing to enter into human relations. His
attitude toward everything in life is, not suspicious, but watchful. He
is ``gathered together,'' his elbows at his side.
This evidences itself most strikingly in his terseness of speech. A
man dependent on himself naturally does not give himself away to the
first comer. He is more interested in finding out what the other fellow
is than in exploiting his own importance. A man who does much
promiscuous talking he is likely to despise, arguing that man
incautious, hence weak.
Yet when he does talk, he talks to the point and with a vivid and
direct picturesqueness of phrase which is as refreshing as it is
unexpected. The delightful remodeling of the English language in Mr.
Alfred Lewis's ``Wolfville'' is exaggerated only in quantity, not in
quality. No cowboy talks habitually in quite as original a manner as
Mr. Lewis's Old Cattleman; but I have no doubt that in time he would
be heard to say all the good things in that volume. I myself have
note-books full of just such gorgeous language, some of the best of
which I have used elsewhere, and so will not repeat here.
This vividness manifests itself quite as often in the selection of
the apt word as in the construction of elaborate phrases with a
half-humorous intention. A cowboy once told me of the arrival of a
tramp by saying, ``He sifted into camp.'' Could any verb be more
expressive? Does not it convey exactly the lazy, careless, out-at-heels
shuffling gait of the hobo? Another in the course of description told
of a saloon scene, ``They all bellied up to the bar.'' Again, a range
cook, objecting to purposeless idling about his fire, shouted: ``If you
fellows come moping around here any more, I'll sure make you hard to
catch!'' ``Fish in that pond, son? Why, there's some fish in there big
enough to rope,'' another advised me. ``I quit shoveling,'' one
explained the story of his life, ``because I could 't see nothing ahead
of shoveling but dirt.'' The same man described ploughing as, ``Looking
at a mule's tail all day.'' And one of the most succinct epitomes of
the motifs of fiction was offered by an old fellow who looked over my
shoulder as I was reading a novel. ``Well, son,'' said he, ``what they
doing now, kissing or killing?''
Nor are the complete phrases behind in aptness. I have space for
only a few examples, but they will illustrate what I mean. Speaking of
a companion who was ``putting on too much dog,'' I was informed, ``He
walks like a man with a new suit of wooden underwear!'' Or again, in
answer to my inquiry as to a mutual acquaintance, ``Jim? Oh, poor old
Jim! For the last week or so he's been nothing but an insignificant
atom of humanity hitched to a boil.''
But to observe the riot of imagination turned loose with the bridle
off, you must assist at a burst of anger on the part of one of these
men. It is mostly unprintable, but you will get an entirely new idea of
what profanity means. Also you will come to the conclusion that you,
with your trifling damns, and the like, have been a very good boy
indeed. The remotest, most obscure, and unheard of conceptions are
dragged forth from earth, heaven, and hell, and linked together in a
sequence so original, so gaudy, and so utterly blasphemous, that you
gasp and are stricken with the most devoted admiration. It is genius.
Of course I can give you no idea here of what these truly
magnificent oaths are like. It is a pity, for it would liberalize your
education. Occasionally, like a trickle of clear water into an alkali
torrent, a straight English sentence will drop into the flood. It is
refreshing by contrast, but weak.
``If your brains were all made of dynamite, you could 't blow the
top of your head off.''
``I would 't speak to him if I met him in hell carrying a lump of
ice in his hand.''
``That little horse'll throw you so high the black- birds will
build nests in your hair before you come down.''
These are ingenious and amusing, but need the blazing settings from
which I have ravished them to give them their due force.
In Arizona a number of us were sitting around the feeble camp-fire
the desert scarcity of fuel permits, smoking our pipes. We were all
contemplative and comfortably silent with the exception of one very
youthful person who had a lot to say. It was mainly about himself.
After he had bragged awhile without molestation, one of the older
cow-punchers grew very tired of it. He removed his pipe deliberately,
and spat in the fire.
``Say, son,'' he drawled, ``if you want to say something big, why
don't you say `elephant'?''
The young fellow subsided. We went on smoking our pipes.
Down near the Chiracahua Range in southeastern Arizona, there is a
butte, and halfway up that butte is a cave, and in front of that cave
is a ramshackle porch-roof or shed. This latter makes the cave into a
dwelling-house. It is inhabited by an old ``alkali'' and half a dozen
bear dogs. I sat with the old fellow one day for nearly an hour. It was
a sociable visit, but economical of the English language. He made one
remark, outside our initial greeting. It was enough, for in terseness,
accuracy, and compression, I have never heard a better or more
comprehensive description of the arid countries.
``Son,'' said he, ``in this country thar is more cows and less
butter, more rivers and less water, and you kin see farther and see
less than in any other country in the world.''
Now this peculiar directness of phrase means but one thing, --
freedom from the influence of convention. The cowboy respects neither
the dictionary nor usage. He employs his words in the manner that best
suits him, and arranges them in the sequence that best expresses his
idea, untrammeled by tradition. It is a phase of the same lawlessness,
the same reliance on self, that makes for his taciturnity and
In essence, his dress is an adaptation to the necessities of his
calling; as a matter of fact, it is an elaboration on that. The broad
heavy felt hat he has found by experience to be more effective in
turning heat than a lighter straw; he further runs to variety in the
shape of the crown and in the nature of the band. He wears a silk
handkerchief about his neck to turn the sun and keep out the dust, but
indulges in astonishing gaudiness of color. His gauntlets save his
hands from the rope; he adds a fringe and a silver star. The heavy wide
``chaps'' of leather about his legs are necessary to him when he is
riding fast through brush; he indulges in such frivolities as stamped
leather, angora hair, and the like. High heels to his boots prevent his
foot from slipping through his wide stirrup, and are useful to dig into
the ground when he is roping in the corral. Even his six-shooter is
more a tool of his trade than a weapon of defense. With it he frightens
cattle from the heavy brush; he slaughters old or diseased steers; he
``turns the herd'' in a stampede or when rounding it in; and especially
is it handy and loose to his hip in case his horse should fall and
commence to drag him.
So the details of his appearance spring from the practical, but in
the wearing of them and the using of them he shows again that fine
disregard for the way other people do it or think it.
Now in civilization you and I entertain a double respect for
firearms and the law. Firearms are dangerous, and it is against the law
to use them promiscuously. If we shoot them off in unexpected places,
we first of all alarm unduly our families and neighbors, and in due
course attract the notice of the police. By the time we are grown up we
look on shooting a revolver as something to be accomplished after an
especial trip for the purpose.
But to the cowboy shooting a gun is merely what lighting a match
would be to us. We take reasonable care not to scratch that match on
the wall nor to throw it where it will do harm. Likewise the cow- boy
takes reasonable care that his bullets do not land in some one's
anatomy nor in too expensive bric-a- brac. Otherwise any time or place
The picture comes to me of a bunk-house on an Arizona range. The
time was evening. A half-dozen cowboys were sprawled out on the beds
smoking, and three more were playing poker with the Chinese cook. A
misguided rat darted out from under one of the beds and made for the
empty fireplace. He finished his journey in smoke. Then the four who
had shot slipped their guns back into their holsters and resumed their
cigarettes and drawling low-toned conversation.
On another occasion I stopped for noon at the Circle I ranch. While
waiting for dinner, I lay on my back in the bunk-room and counted three
hundred and sixty-two bullet-holes in the ceiling. They came to be
there because the festive cowboys used to while away the time while
lying as I was lying, waiting for supper, in shooting the flies that
crawled about the plaster.
This beautiful familiarity with the pistol as a parlor toy accounts
in great part for a cowboy's propensity to ``shoot up the town'' and
his indignation when arrested therefor.
The average cowboy is only a fair target-shot with the revolver.
But he is chain lightning at getting his gun off in a hurry. There are
exceptions to this, however, especially among the older men. Some can
handle the Colts 45 and its heavy recoil with almost uncanny accuracy.
I have seen individuals who could from their saddles nip lizards
darting across the road; and one who was able to perforate twice before
it hit the ground a tomato-can tossed into the air. The cowboy is
prejudiced against the double-action gun, for some reason or other. He
manipulates his single-action weapon fast enough, however.
His sense of humor takes the same unexpected slants, not because
his mental processes differ from those of other men, but because he is
unshackled by the subtle and unnoticed nothingnesses of precedent which
deflect our action toward the common uniformity of our neighbors. It
must be confessed that his sense of humor possesses also a certain
The J. H. outfit had been engaged for ten days in busting broncos.
This the Chinese cook, Sang, a newcomer in the territory, found vastly
amusing. He liked to throw the ropes off the prostrate broncos, when
all was ready; to slap them on the flanks; to yell shrill Chinese
yells; and to dance in celestial delight when the terrified animal
arose and scattered out of there. But one day the range men drove up a
little bunch of full-grown cattle that had been bought from a smaller
owner. It was necessary to change the brands. Therefore a little fire
was built, the stamp-brand put in to heat, and two of the men on
horseback caught a cow by the horns and one hind leg, and promptly
upset her. The old brand was obliterated, the new one burnt in. This
irritated the cow. Promptly the branding-men, who were of course afoot,
climbed to the top of the corral to be out of the way. At this moment,
before the horsemen could flip loose their ropes, Sang appeared.
``Hol' on!'' he babbled. ``I take him off;'' and he scrambled over
the fence and approached the cow.
Now cattle of any sort rush at the first object they see after
getting to their feet. But whereas a steer makes a blind run and so can
be avoided, a cow keeps her eyes open. Sang approached that wild- eyed
cow, a bland smile on his countenance.
A dead silence fell. Looking about at my companions' faces I could
not discern even in the depths of their eyes a single faint flicker of
Sang loosened the rope from the hind leg, he threw it from the
horns, he slapped the cow with his hat, and uttered the shrill Chinese
yell. So far all was according to programme.
The cow staggered to her feet, her eyes blazing fire. She took one
good look, and then started for Sang.
What followed occurred with all the briskness of a tune from a
circus band. Sang darted for the corral fence. Now, three sides of the
corral were railed, and so climbable, but the fourth was a solid adobe
wall. Of course Sang went for the wall. There, finding his nails would
not stick, he fled down the length of it, his queue streaming, his eyes
popping, his talons curved toward an ideal of safety, gibbering strange
monkey talk, pursued a scant arm's length behind by that infuriated
cow. Did any one help him? Not any. Every man of that crew was hanging
weak from laughter to the horn of his saddle or the top of the fence.
The preternatural solemnity had broken to little bits. Men came running
from the bunk-house, only to go into spasms outside, to roll over and
over on the ground, clutching handfuls of herbage in the agony of their
At the end of the corral was a narrow chute. Into this Sang escaped
as into a burrow. The cow came too. Sang, in desperation, seized a
pole, but the cow dashed such a feeble weapon aside. Sang caught sight
of a little opening, too small for cows, back into the main corral. He
squeezed through. The cow crashed through after him, smashing the
boards. At the crucial moment Sang tripped and fell on his face. The
cow missed him by so close a margin that for a moment we thought she
had hit. But she had not, and before she could turn, Sang had topped
the fence and was halfway to the kitchen. Tom Waters always maintained
that he spread his Chinese sleeves and flew. Shortly after a tremendous
smoke arose from the kitchen chimney. Sang had gone back to cooking.
Now that Mongolian was really in great danger, but no one of the
outfit thought for a moment of any but the humorous aspect of the
affair. Analogously, in a certain small cow-town I happened to be
transient when the postmaster shot a Mexican. Nothing was done about
it. The man went right on being postmaster, but he had to set up the
drinks because he had hit the Mexican in the stomach. That was
considered a poor place to hit a man.
The entire town of Willcox knocked off work for nearly a day to
while away the tedium of an enforced wait there on my part. They wanted
me to go fishing. One man offered a team, the other a saddle-horse. All
expended much eloquence in directing me accurately, so that I should be
sure to find exactly the spot where I could hang my feet over a bank
beneath which there were ``a plumb plenty of fish.'' Somehow or other
they raked out miscellaneous tackle. But they were a little too eager.
I excused myself and hunted up a map. Sure enough the lake was there,
but it had been dry since a previous geological period. The fish were
undoubtedly there too, but they were fossil fish. I borrowed a pickaxe
and shovel and announced myself as ready to start.
Outside the principal saloon in one town hung a gong. When a
stranger was observed to enter the saloon, that gong was sounded. Then
it behooved him to treat those who came in answer to the summons.
But when it comes to a case of real hospitality or helpfulness,
your cowboy is there every time. You are welcome to food and shelter
without price, whether he is at home or not. Only it is etiquette to
leave your name and thanks pinned somewhere about the place. Otherwise
your intrusion may be considered in the light of a theft, and you may
be pursued accordingly.
Contrary to general opinion, the cowboy is not a dangerous man to
those not looking for trouble. There are occasional exceptions, of
course, but they belong to the universal genus of bully, and can be
found among any class. Attend to your own business, be cool and
good-natured, and your skin is safe. Then when it is really ``up to
you,'' be a man; you will never lack for friends.
The Sierras, especially towards the south where the meadows are
wide and numerous, are full of cattle in small bands. They come up from
the desert about the first of June, and are driven back again to the
arid countries as soon as the autumn storms begin. In the very high
land they are few, and to be left to their own devices; but now we
entered a new sort of country.
Below Farewell Gap and the volcanic regions one's surroundings
change entirely. The meadows become high flat valleys, often miles in
extent; the mountains -- while registering big on the aneroid -- are so
little elevated above the plateaus that a few thousand feet is all of
their apparent height; the passes are low, the slopes easy, the trails
good, the rock outcrops few, the hills grown with forests to their very
tops. Altogether it is a country easy to ride through, rich in grazing,
cool and green, with its eight thousand feet of elevation. Consequently
during the hot months thousands of desert cattle are pastured here; and
with them come many of the desert men.
Our first intimation of these things was in the volcanic region
where swim the golden trout. From the advantage of a hill we looked far
down to a hair-grass meadow through which twisted tortuously a brook,
and by the side of the brook, belittled by distance, was a miniature
man. We could see distinctly his every movement, as he approached
cautiously the stream's edge, dropped his short line at the end of a
stick over the bank, and then yanked bodily the fish from beneath.
Behind him stood his pony. We could make out in the clear air the coil
of his raw- hide ``rope,'' the glitter of his silver bit, the metal
points on his saddle skirts, the polish of his six- shooter, the gleam
of his fish, all the details of his costume. Yet he was fully a mile
distant. After a time he picked up his string of fish, mounted, and
jogged loosely away at the cow-pony's little Spanish trot toward the
south. Over a week later, having caught golden trout and climbed Mount
Whitney, we followed him and so came to the great central camp at
Imagine an island-dotted lake of grass four or five miles long by
two or three wide to which slope regular shores of stony soil planted
with trees. Imagine on the very edge of that lake an especially fine
grove perhaps a quarter of a mile in length, beneath whose trees a
dozen different outfits of cowboys are camped for the summer. You must
place a herd of ponies in the foreground, a pine mountain at the back,
an unbroken ridge across ahead, cattle dotted here and there, thousands
of ravens wheeling and croaking and flapping everywhere, a marvelous
clear sun and blue sky. The camps were mostly open, though a few
possessed tents. They differed from the ordinary in that they had racks
for saddles and equipments. Especially well laid out were the cooking
arrangements. A dozen accommodating springs supplied fresh water with
the conveniently regular spacing of faucets.
Towards evening the men jingled in. This summer camp was almost in
the nature of a vacation to them after the hard work of the desert. All
they had to do was to ride about the pleasant hills examining that the
cattle did not stray nor get into trouble. It was fun for them, and
they were in high spirits.
Our immediate neighbors were an old man of seventy-two and his
grandson of twenty-five. At least the old man said he was seventy-two.
I should have guessed fifty. He was as straight as an arrow, wiry,
lean, clear-eyed, and had, without food, ridden twelve hours after
some strayed cattle. On arriving he threw off his saddle, turned his
horse loose, and set about the construction of supper. This consisted
of boiled meat, strong tea, and an incredible number of flapjacks built
of water, baking-powder, salt, and flour, warmed through -- not cooked
-- in a frying- pan. He deluged these with molasses and devoured three
platefuls. It would have killed an ostrich, but apparently did this
decrepit veteran of seventy-two much good.
After supper he talked to us most interestingly in the dry cowboy
manner, looking at us keenly from under the floppy brim of his hat. He
confided to us that he had had to quit smoking, and it ground him --
he'd smoked since he was five years old.
``Tobacco does 't agree with you any more?'' I hazarded.
``Oh, 'taint that,'' he replied; ``only I'd ruther chew.''
The dark fell, and all the little camp-fires under the trees
twinkled bravely forth. Some of the men sang. One had an accordion.
Figures, indistinct and formless, wandered here and there in the
shadows, suddenly emerging from mystery into the clarity of firelight,
there to disclose themselves as visitors. Out on the plain the cattle
lowed, the horses nickered. The red firelight flashed from the metal of
suspended equipment, crimsoned the bronze of men's faces, touched with
pink the high lights on their gracefully recumbent forms. After a while
we rolled up in our blankets and went to sleep, while a band of coyotes
wailed like lost spirits from a spot where a steer had died.  See
especially Jackson Himes in The Blazed Trail; and The Rawhide.
XX. THE GOLDEN TROUT
AFTER Farewell Gap, as has been hinted, the country changes
utterly. Possibly that is why it is named Farewell Gap. The land is
wild, weird, full of twisted trees, strangely colored rocks, fantastic
formations, bleak mountains of slabs, volcanic cones, lava, dry powdery
soil or loose shale, close-growing grasses, and strong winds. You feel
yourself in an upper world beyond the normal, where only the freakish
cold things of nature, elsewhere crowded out, find a home. Camp is
under a lonely tree, none the less solitary from the fact that it has
companions. The earth beneath is characteristic of the treeless lands,
so that these seem to have been stuck alien into it. There is no
shelter save behind great fortuitous rocks. Huge marmots run over the
boulders, like little bears. The wind blows strong. The streams run
naked under the eye of the sun, exposing clear and yellow every detail
of their bottoms. In them there are no deep hiding-places any more than
there is shelter in the land, and so every fish that swims shows as
plainly as in an aquarium.
We saw them as we rode over the hot dry shale among the hot and
twisted little trees. They lay against the bottom, transparent; they
darted away from the jar of our horses' hoofs; they swam slowly against
the current, delicate as liquid shadows, as though the clear uniform
golden color of the bottom had clouded slightly to produce these
tenuous ghostly forms. We examined them curiously from the advantage
our slightly elevated trail gave us, and knew them for the Golden
Trout, and longed to catch some.
All that day our route followed in general the windings of this
unique home of a unique fish. We crossed a solid natural bridge; we
skirted fields of red and black lava, vivid as poppies; we gazed
marveling on perfect volcano cones, long since extinct: finally we
camped on a side hill under two tall branchless trees in about as bleak
and exposed a position as one could imagine. Then all three, we jointed
our rods and went forth to find out what the Golden Trout was like.
I soon discovered a number of things, as follows: The stream at
this point, near its source, is very narrow -- I could step across it
-- and flows beneath deep banks. The Golden Trout is shy of approach.
The wind blows. Combining these items of knowledge I found that it was
no easy matter to cast forty feet in a high wind so accurately as to
hit a three-foot stream a yard below the level of the ground. In fact,
the proposition was distinctly sporty; I became as interested in it as
in accurate target-shooting, so that at last I forgot utterly the
intention of my efforts and failed to strike my first rise. The second,
however, I hooked, and in a moment had him on the grass.
He was a little fellow of seven inches, but mere size was nothing,
the color was the thing. And that was indeed golden. I can liken it to
nothing more accurately than the twenty-dollar gold-piece, the same
satin finish, the same pale yellow. The fish was fairly molten. It did
not glitter in gaudy burnishment, as does our aquarium gold-fish, for
example, but gleamed and melted and glowed as though fresh from the
mould. One would almost expect that on cutting the flesh it would be
found golden through all its substance. This for the basic color. You
must remember always that it was a true trout, without scales, and so
the more satiny. Furthermore, along either side of the belly ran two
broad longitudinal stripes of exactly the color and burnish of the
copper paint used on racing yachts.
I thought then, and have ever since, that the Golden Trout, fresh
from the water, is one of the most beautiful fish that swims.
Unfortunately it fades very quickly, and so specimens in alcohol can
give no idea of it. In fact, I doubt if you will ever be able to gain a
very clear idea of it unless you take to the trail that leads up, under
the end of which is known technically as the High Sierras.
The Golden Trout lives only in this one stream, but occurs there in
countless multitudes. Every little pool, depression, or riffles has
its school. When not alarmed they take the fly readily. One afternoon I
caught an even hundred in a little over an hour. By way of parenthesis
it may be well to state that most were returned unharmed to the water.
They run small, -- a twelve-inch fish is a monster, -- but are of
extraordinary delicacy for eating. We three devoured sixty-five that
first evening in camp.
Now the following considerations seem to me at this point worthy of
note. In the first place, the Golden Trout occurs but in this one
stream, and is easily caught. At present the stream is comparatively
inaccessible, so that the natural supply probably keeps even with the
season's catches. Still the trail is on the direct route to Mount
Whitney, and year by year the ascent of this ``top of the Republic'' is
becoming more the proper thing to do. Every camping party stops for a
try at the Golden Trout, and of course the fish-hog is a sure
occasional migrant. The cowboys told of two who caught six hundred in a
day. As the certainly increasing tide of summer immigration gains in
volume, the Golden Trout, in spite of his extraordinary numbers at
present, is going to be caught out.
Therefore, it seems the manifest duty of the Fisheries to provide
for the proper protection and distribution of this species, especially
the distribution. Hundreds of streams in the Sierras are without trout
simply because of some natural obstruction, such as a waterfall too
high to jump, which prevents their ascent of the current. These are all
well adapted to the planting of fish, and might just as well be stocked
by the Golden Trout as by the customary Rainbow. Care should be taken
lest the two species become hybridized, as has occurred following
certain misguided efforts in the South Fork of the Kern.
So far as I know but one attempt has been made to transplant these
fish. About five or six years ago a man named Grant carried some in
pails across to a small lake near at hand. They have done well, and
curiously enough have grown to a weight of from one and a half to two
pounds. This would seem to show that their small size in Volcano Creek
results entirely from conditions of feed or opportunity for
development, and that a study of proper environment might result in a
game fish to rival the Rainbow in size and certainly to surpass him in
A great many well-meaning people who have marveled at the abundance
of the Golden Trout in their natural habitat laugh at the idea that
Volcano Creek will ever become ``fished out.'' To such it should be
pointed out that the fish in question is a voracious feeder, is without
shelter, and quickly landed. A simple calculation will show how many
fish a hundred moderate anglers, camping a week apiece, would take out
in a season. And in a short time there will be many more than a
hundred, few of them moderate, coming up into the mountains to camp
just as long as they have a good time. All it needs is better trails,
and better trails are under way. Well-meaning people used to laugh at
the idea that the buffalo and wild pigeons would ever disappear. They
XX. ON GOING OUT
THE last few days of your stay in the wilderness you will be
consumedly anxious to get out. It does not matter how much of a savage
you are, how good a time you are having, or how long you have been away
from civilization. Nor does it mean especially that you are glad to
leave the wilds. Merely does it come about that you drift unconcernedly
on the stream of days until you approach the brink of departure: then
irresistibly the current hurries you into haste. The last day of your
week's vacation; the last three of your month's or your summer's or
your year's outing, -- these comprise the hours in which by a mighty
but invisible transformation your mind forsakes its savagery,
epitomizes again the courses of social evolution, regains the poise and
cultivation of the world of men. Before that you have been content;
yes, and would have gone on being content for as long as you please
until the approach of the limit you have set for your wandering.
In effect this transformation from the state of savagery to the
state of civilization is very abrupt. When you leave the towns your
clothes and mind are new. Only gradually do they take on the color of
their environment; only gradually do the subtle influences of the great
forest steal in on your dulled faculties to flow over them in a tide
that rises imperceptibly. You glide as gently from the artificial to
the natural life as do the forest shadows from night to day. But at the
other end the affair is different. There you awake on the appointed
morning in complete resumption of your old attitude of mind. The tide
of nature has slipped away from you in the night.
Then you arise and do the most wonderful of your wilderness
traveling. On those days you look back fondly, of them you boast
afterwards in telling what a rapid and enduring voyager you are. The
biggest day's journey I ever undertook was in just such a case. We
started at four in the morning through a forest of the early
spring-time, where the trees were glorious overhead, but the walking
ankle deep. On our backs were thirty-pound burdens. We walked steadily
until three in the afternoon, by which time we had covered thirty miles
and had arrived at what then represented civilization to us. Of the
nine who started, two Indians finished an hour ahead; the half breed,
Billy, and I staggered in together, encouraging each other by words
concerning the bottle of beer we were going to buy; and the five white
men never got in at all until after nine o'clock that night. Neither
thirty miles, nor thirty pounds, nor ankle- deep slush sounds
formidable when considered as abstract and separate propositions.
In your first glimpse of the civilized peoples your appearance in
your own eyes will undergo the same instantaneous and tremendous
revulsion that has already taken place in your mental sphere.
Heretofore you have considered yourself as a decently well appointed
gentleman of the woods. Ten to one, in contrast to the voluntary or
enforced simplicity of the professional woodsman you have looked on
your little luxuries of carved leather hat-band, fancy knife sheath,
pearl-handled six-shooter, or khaki breeches as giving you slightly the
air of a forest exquisite. But on that depot platform or in presence of
that staring group on the steps of the Pullman, you suddenly discover
yourself to be nothing less than a disgrace to your bringing up.
Nothing could be more evident than the flop of your hat, the faded,
dusty appearance of your blue shirt, the beautiful black polish of your
khakis, the grime of your knuckles, the three days' beard of your face.
If you are a fool, you worry about it. If you are a sensible man, you
do not mind; -- and you prepare for amusing adventures.
The realization of your external unworthiness, however, brings to
your heart the desire for a hot bath in a porcelain tub. You gloat over
the thought; and when the dream comes to be a reality, you soak away in
as voluptuous a pleasure as ever falls to the lot of man to enjoy. Then
you shave, and array yourself minutely and preciously in clean clothes
from head to toe, building up a new respectability, and you leave
scornfully in a heap your camping garments. They have heretofore seemed
clean, but now you would not touch them, no, not even to put them in
the soiled-clothes basket, let your feminines rave as they may. And for
at least two days you prove an almost childish delight in mere raiment.
But before you can reach this blissful stage you have still to
order and enjoy your first civilized dinner. It tastes good, not
because your camp dinners have palled on you, but because your
transformation demands its proper aliment. Fortunate indeed you are if
you step directly to a transcontinental train or into the streets of a
modern town. Otherwise the transition through the small-hotel provender
is apt to offer too little contrast for the fullest enjoyment. But
aboard the dining-car or in the café you will gather to yourself such
ill-assorted succulence as thick, juicy beefsteaks, and creamed
macaroni, and sweet potatoes, and pie, and red wine, and real cigars
and other things.
In their acquisition your appearance will tell against you. We were
once watched anxiously by a nervous female head waiter who at last
mustered up courage enough to inform me that guests were not allowed to
eat without coats. We politely pointed out that we possessed no such
garments. After a long consultation with the proprietor she told us it
was all right for this time, but that we must not do it again. At
another place I had to identify myself as a re- sponsible person by
showing a picture in a magazine bought for the purpose.
The public never will know how to take you. Most of it treats you
as though you were a two-dollar a day laborer; some of the more astute
are puzzled. One February I walked out of the North Country on
snowshoes and stepped directly into a Canadian Pacific transcontinental
train. I was clad in fur cap, vivid blanket coat, corded trousers,
German stockings and moccasins; and my only baggage was the pair of
snowshoes. It was the season of light travel. A single Englishman
touring the world as the crow flies occupied the car. He looked at me
so askance that I made an opportunity of talking to him. I should like
to read his ``Travels'' to see what he made out of the riddle. In
similar circumstances, and without explanation, I had fun talking
French and swapping boulevard reminiscences with a member of a Parisian
theatrical troupe making a long jump through northern Wisconsin. And
once, at six of the morning, letting myself into my own house with a
latch-key, and sitting down to read the paper until the family awoke, I
was nearly brained by the butler. He supposed me a belated burglar, and
had armed himself with the poker. The most flattering experience of the
kind was voiced by a small urchin who plucked at his mother's sleeve:
``Look, mamma!'' he exclaimed in guarded but jubilant tones, ``there's
a real Indian!''
Our last camp of this summer was built and broken in the full
leisure of at least a three weeks' expectation. We had traveled south
from the Golden Trout through the Toowah range. There we had viewed
wonders which I cannot expect you to believe in, -- such as a spring of
warm water in which you could bathe and from which you could reach to
dip up a cup of carbonated water on the right hand, or cast a fly into
a trout stream, on the left. At length we entered a high meadow in the
shape of a maltese cross, with pine slopes about it, and springs of
water welling in little humps of green. There the long pine-needles
were extraordinarily thick and the pine- cones exceptionally large. The
former we scraped together to the depth of three feet for a bed in the
lea of a fallen trunk; the latter we gathered in arm- fuls to pile on
the camp-fire. Next morning we rode down a mile or so through the
grasses, exclaimed over the thousands of mountain quail buzzing from
the creek bottoms, gazed leisurely up at our well- known pines and
about at the grateful coolness of our accustomed green meadows and
leaves; -- and then, as though we had crossed a threshold, we emerged
into chaparral, dry loose shale, yucca, Spanish bayonet, heated air and
the bleached burned-out furnace-like country of arid California in
midsummer. The trail dropped down through sage-brush, just as it always
did in the California we had known; the mountains rose with the
fur-like dark-olive effect of the coast ranges; the sun beat hot. We
had left the enchanted land.
The trail was very steep and very long, and took us finally into
the country of dry brown grasses, gray brush, waterless stony ravines,
and dust. Others had traveled that trail, headed the other way, and
evidently had not liked it. Empty bottles blazed the path. Somebody had
sacrificed a pack of playing- cards, which he had stuck on thorns from
time to time, each inscribed with a blasphemous comment on the
discomforts of such travel. After an apparently interminable interval
we crossed an irrigating ditch, where the horses were glad to water,
and so came to one of those green flowering lush California villages so
startlingly in contrast to their surroundings.
By this it was two o'clock and we had traveled on horseback since
four. A variety of circumstances learned at the village made it
imperative that both the Tenderfoot and myself should go out without
the delay of a single hour. This left Wes to bring the horses home,
which was tough on Wes, but he rose nobly to the occasion.
When the dust of our rustling cleared, we found we had acquired a
team of wild broncos, a buckboard, an elderly gentleman with a white
goatee, two bottles of beer, some crackers and some cheese. With these
we hoped to reach the railroad shortly after midnight.
The elevation was five thousand feet, the road dusty and hot, the
country uninteresting in sage- brush and alkali and rattlesnakes and
general dryness. Constantly we drove, checking off the landmarks in the
good old fashion. Our driver had immigrated from Maine the year before,
and by some chance had drifted straight to the arid regions. He was
vastly disgusted. At every particularly atrocious dust-hole or unlovely
cactus strip he spat into space and remarked in tones of bottomless
This was evidently intended as a quotation.
Towards sunset we ran up into rounded hills, where we got out at
every rise in order to ease the horses, and where we hurried the old
gentleman beyond the limits of his Easterner's caution at every
It grew dark. Dimly the road showed gray in the twilight. We did
not know how far exactly we were to go, but imagined that sooner or
later we would top one of the small ridges to look across one of the
broad plateau plains to the lights of our station. You see we had
forgotten, in the midst of flatness, that we were still over five
thousand feet up. Then the road felt its way between two hills; -- and
the blackness of night opened below us as well as above, and from some
deep and tremendous abyss breathed the winds of space.
It was as dark as a cave, for the moon was yet two hours below the
horizon. Somehow the trail turned to the right along that tremendous
cliff. We thought we could make out its direction, the dimness of its
glimmering; but equally well, after we had looked a moment, we could
imagine it one way or another, to right and left. I went ahead to
investigate. The trail to left proved to be the faint reflection of a
clump of ``old man'' at least five hundred feet down; that to right was
a burned patch sheer against the rise of the cliff. We started on the
There were turns-in where a continuance straight ahead would
require an airship or a coroner; again turns-out where the direct line
would telescope you against the state of California. These we could
make out by straining our eyes. The horses plunged and snorted; the
buckboard leaped. Fire flashed from the impact of steel against rock,
momentarily blinding us to what we should see. Always we descended into
the velvet blackness of the abyss, the cañon walls rising steadily
above us shutting out even the dim illumination of the stars. From time
to time our driver, desperately scared, jerked out cheering bits of
``My eyes ain't what they was. For the Lord's sake keep a-lookin',
``That nigh hoss is deef. There don't seem to be no use saying whoa
``Them brakes don't hold fer sour peanuts. I been figgerin' on
tackin' on a new shoe for a week.''
``I never was over this road but onct, and then I was headed th'
other way. I was driving of a corpse.''
Then, after two hours of it, bing! bang! smash! our tongue collided
with a sheer black wall, no blacker than the atmosphere before it. The
trail here took a sharp V turn to the left. We had left the face of the
precipice and henceforward would descend the bed of the cañon.
Fortunately our collision had done damage to nothing but our nerves, so
we proceeded to do so.
The walls of the crevice rose thousands of feet above us. They
seemed to close together, like the sides of a tent, to leave only a
narrow pale lucent strip of sky. The trail was quite invisible, and
even the sense of its existence was lost when we traversed groves of
trees. One of us had to run ahead of the horses, determining its
general direction, locating the sharper turns. The rest depended on the
instinct of the horses and pure luck.
It was pleasant in the cool of night thus to run down through the
blackness, shouting aloud to guide our followers, swinging to the
slope, bathed to the soul in mysteries of which we had no time to take
By and by we saw a little spark far ahead of us like a star. The
smell of fresh wood smoke and stale damp fire came to our nostrils. We
gained the star and found it to be a log smouldering; and up the hill
other stars red as blood. So we knew that we had crossed the zone of
an almost extinct forest fire, and looked on the scattered camp-fires
of an army of destruction.
The moon rose. We knew it by touches of white light on peaks
infinitely far above us; not at all by the relieving of the heavy
velvet blackness in which we moved. After a time, I, running ahead in
my turn, became aware of the deep breathing of animals. I stopped short
and called a warning. Immediately a voice answered me.
``Come on, straight ahead. They're not on the road.''
When within five feet I made out the huge freight wagons in which
were lying the teamsters, and very dimly the big freight mules standing
tethered to the wheels.
``It's a dark night, friend, and you're out late.''
``A dark night,'' I agreed, and plunged on. Behind me rattled and
banged the abused buckboard, snorted the half-wild broncos, groaned the
unrepaired brake, softly cursed my companions.
Then at once the abrupt descent ceased. We glided out to the
silvered flat, above which sailed the moon.
The hour was seen to be half past one. We had missed our train.
Nothing was visible of human habitations. The land was frosted with the
moonlight, enchanted by it, etherealized. Behind us, huge and
formidable, loomed the black mass of the range we had descended.
Before us, thin as smoke in the magic lucence that flooded the world,
rose other mountains, very great, lofty as the sky. We could not
understand them. The descent we had just accomplished should have
landed us on a level plain in which lay our town. But here we found
ourselves in a pocket valley entirely surrounded by mountain ranges
through which there seemed to be no pass less than five or six thousand
feet in height.
We reined in the horses to figure it out.
``I don't see how it can be,'' said I. ``We've certainly come far
enough. It would take us four hours at the very least to cross that
range, even if the railroad should happen to be on the other side of
``I been through here only once,'' repeated the driver, -- ``going
the other way. -- Then I drew a corpse.'' He spat, and added as an
afterthought, ``Beau-ti-ful Cal-if-or-nia!''
We stared at the mountains that hemmed us in. They rose above us
sheer and forbidding. In the bright moonlight plainly were to be
descried the brush of the foothills, the timber, the fissures, the
cañons, the granites, and the everlasting snows. Almost we thought to
make out a thread of a waterfall high up where the clouds would be if
the night had not been clear.
``We got off the trail somewhere,'' hazarded the Tenderfoot.
``Well, we're on a road, anyway,'' I pointed out. ``It's bound to
go somewhere. We might as well give up the railroad and find a place to
``It can't be far,' encouraged the Tenderfoot; ``this valley can't
be more than a few miles across.''
``Gi dap!'' remarked the driver.
We moved forward down the white wagon trail approaching the
mountains. And then we were witnesses of the most marvelous
transformation. For as we neared them, those impregnable mountains, as
though panic-stricken by our advance, shrunk back, dissolved, dwindled,
went to pieces. Where had towered ten-thousand-foot peaks, perfect in
the regular succession from timber to snow, now were little flat hills
on which grew tiny bushes of sage. A passage opened between them. In a
hundred yards we had gained the open country, leaving behind us the
mighty but unreal necromancies of the moon.
Before us gleamed red and green lights. The mass of houses showed
half distinguishable. A feeble glimmer illuminated part of a white sign
above the depot. That which remained invisible was evidently the name
of the town. That which was revealed was the supplementary information
which the Southern Pacific furnishes to its patrons. It read:
``Elevation 482 feet.'' We were definitely out of the mountains.
XXII. THE LURE OF THE TRAIL
THE trail's call depends not at all on your common sense. You know
you are a fool for answering it; and yet you go. The comforts of
civilization, to put the case on its lowest plane, are not lightly to
be renounced: the ease of having your physical labor done for you; the
joy of cultivated minds, of theatres, of books, of participation in the
world's progress; these you leave behind you. And in exchange you enter
a life where there is much long hard work of the hands -- work that is
really hard and long, so that no man paid to labor would consider it
for a moment; you undertake to eat simply, to endure much, to lie on
the rack of anxiety; you voluntarily place yourself where cold, wet,
hunger, thirst, heat, monotony, danger, and many discomforts will wait
upon you daily. A thousand times in the course of a woods life even the
stoutest-hearted will tell himself softly -- very softly if he is
really stout-hearted, so that others may not be annoyed -- that if ever
the fates permit him to extricate himself he will never venture again.
These times come when long continuance has worn on the spirit. You
beat all day to windward against the tide toward what should be but an
hour's sail: the sea is high and the spray cold; there are sunken
rocks, and food there is none; chill gray evening draws dangerously
near, and there is a foot of water in the bilge. You have swallowed
your tongue twenty times on the alkali; and the sun is melting hot, and
the dust dry and pervasive, and there is no water, and for all your
effort the relative distances seem to remain the same for days. You
have carried a pack until your every muscle is strung white-hot; the
woods are breathless; the black flies swarm persistently and bite until
your face is covered with blood. You have struggled through clogging
snow until each time you raise your snowshoe you feel as though some
one had stabbed a little sharp knife into your groin; it has come to be
night; the mercury is away below zero, and with aching fingers you are
to prepare a camp which is only an anticipation of many more such camps
in the ensuing days. For a week it has rained, so that you, pushing
through the dripping brush, are soaked and sodden and comfortless, and
the bushes have become horrible to your shrinking goose-flesh. Or you
are just plain tired out, not from a single day's fatigue, but from the
gradual exhaustion of a long hike. Then in your secret soul you utter
these sentiments: --
``You are a fool. This is not fun. There is no real reason why you
should do this. If you ever get out of here, you will stick right home
where common sense flourishes, my son!''
Then after a time you do get out, and are thankful. But in three
months you will have proved in your own experience the following axiom
-- I should call it the widest truth the wilderness has to teach: --
In memory the pleasures of a camping trip strengthen with time, and
the disagreeables weaken.''
I don't care how hard an experience you have had, nor how little of
the pleasant has been mingled with it, in three months your general
impression of that trip will be good. You will look back on the hard
times with a certain fondness of recollection.
I remember one trip I took in the early spring following a long
drive on the Pine River. It rained steadily for six days. We were
soaked to the skin all the time, ate standing up in the driving
downpour, and slept wet. So cold was it that each morning our blankets
were so full of frost that they crackled stiffly when we turned out.
Dispassionately I can appraise that as about the worst I ever got into.
Yet as an impression the Pine River trip seems to me a most enjoyable
So after you have been home for a little while the call begins to
make itself heard. At first it is very gentle. But little by little a
restlessness seizes hold of you. You do not know exactly what is the
matter: you are aware merely that your customary life has lost savor,
that you are doing things more or less perfunctorily, and that you are
a little more irritable than your naturally evil disposition.
And gradually it is borne in on you exactly what is the matter.
Then say you to yourself: --
``My son, you know better. You are no tenderfoot. You have had too
long an experience to admit of any glamour of indefiniteness about this
thing. No use bluffing. You know exactly how hard you will have to
work, and how much tribulation you are going to get into, and how
hungry and wet and cold and tired and generally frazzled out you are
going to be. You've been there enough times so it's pretty clearly
impressed on you. You go into this thing with your eyes open. You know
what you're in for. You're pretty well off right here, and you'd be a
fool to go.''
``That's right,'' says yourself to you. ``You're dead right about
it, old man. Do you know where we can get another pack-mule?''