THE ARGONAUTS OF CALIFORNIA.
PIONEER HALL--OLD MIKE EXPLAINS--SOMETHING WRONG--THE BUSINESS OF MINING--MIKE’S PHILOSPHY--YANK AT THE BAY--THE EXPRESSMAN AND THE BROOM PEDDLER--LUCKY BILL AND THE GAMBLERS--SAM PLUNKET, THE ARKANSAS BEAUTY--PETE, THE BOSS LIAR OF THE YUBA.
MANY questions were asked in relation to the new Pioneer Hall. Jeff explained that it
was on Fourth street near the corner of Market; that it contained a large hall, used for meetings, lectures, festivals and other purposes, as well as for dancing by the young Pioneers. “I attended one of their dances and I noticed that some of the old boys themselves could just get around as lively as any of ‘em.
“Then there is the ladies’ parlor, which is grand I tell you, with its velvet sofas, divanzes and everything. There ain’t nothing around here in the mines that can compare with it. Then up-stairs is a fine billiard room, where I saw some of the old boys amusing themselves, and I noticed that the most of ‘em who played, were sure to get left every time, jest as many of us used to in mining. ‘Tis the same old game, clear through. (You bet ‘tis, was the general response.) There is also a big smoking-room, and here were a number of the old boys amusing themselves by playing checkers, dominoes and cards, and they all looked a kinder happy and contended, with a sort of a ‘well, now we have struck it’ kind of a look about ‘em. On, by the way, there was a large reading-room, too, containing several long tables which were all covered with books and newspapers. And there were a number of old boys sitting around in just the biggest kind of rocking chairs that you ever did see. Some were reading, and some were asleep and just dreaming about their old mining days.” Some one asked how many of the boys were there now in the society, who were living, and how many had joined since its organization in ‘50?
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He explained that Mr. Graves, the Secretary, informed him that the whole number who had joined the society was about 3,350, and of this number there were now living about 1,300.
“Well, Jeff, did you make out to find the old ship once more that brought you to California?”
“No, boys, but I found the great building that was built over her hull on Sansome street, but the hull of the old ship is buried deep below the mud and water out of sight entirely, and all the remains now of the old ship is the name, the ‘Niantic.’”
After Jeff had concluded, an old-timer remarked that it was a great pleasure to him to hear that so many of the old-timers were yet living, and said he.
“I wish there was some way of finding out how many of the old-timers are yet living, and what part of the world they are in.”
“Faith thin,” replied Mike, “Indade an’ ‘twud be er fine thing if we wer afther knowin’ thet same. An’ if we wer afther knowin’ of ther by’s who are above the ground at ther prisint toime, thet we sailed with around ther Horn so many long years since, an’ indade, if we could only be afther mateing with some of thim, an talk ov ther ould times and incidints av ther voyage, an’ ov ther lives ov thim since we landed upon ther coast, do yez moind, pwhat tales we could be afther relatin’ to aich other, ov evints an’ incidints av a California loife.
“Pwhat a foine thing ‘twould be, now, if some one wud jest be afther gittin’ ther names ov ther by’s who are now livin’. ‘Twould be a hape ov trouble an’ ixpensive, too, but bedad thin, twould be interestin’ to all ov us. Now, Yank, yez had better undertake ther job ov gittin’ ther names of thim for yez own satisfaction.”
Yank remarked that he had been thinking of doing so, and as soon as he had an opportunity he would see what could be done.
Mike again remarked:
“Well now, me by’s, ‘tis many long years since ther news was afther bein sint across ther continint that ther was jest slathers av gould lyin’ around loose here, an’ aisy to git, do yez moind, an’ indade thin thet’s jest what brought us here too, the lot av us. An’ pwhat a change, begorra, has been afther takin’ place since we landed upon the shores of California, for ‘twas thin a-wilderness, an’ the Indians, the grizzlies an’ a variety ov other strange animiles, were monarchs ov all they surveyed, thin, with not a blessed wan to
dispute ther title, do yez moind. But ther discovery ov gold changed all this, do yez see? Fur now, where we was afther finin’ a wilderness thin, we see a number ov towns an’ cities, an’ in the short space ov toime ov forty years we now are afther obsarvin’ an empoire containin’ a million ov paple or more, begorra. Doorin’ that space ov toime, too, there has been taken from our gould moines an amount excadin’ a billion and a half dollars, which has been scattered about among ther paple of ther country, do yez moind. Indade, thin, ‘tis thrue enough, be jabers, that ther by’s who was afther diggin’ it from ther sile, received a moity small share ov the same for ther labor ov diggin’ it from the hills an’ mountains about, for it saimed the whole toime to obsarve the same law as runnin’ wather, do yez moind; an’ as fast as ‘twas afther bein’ taken from the earth, it run in a containious straim down to ther big cities below, an’ divil a bit could we be afther stoppin’ it, at all, at all.”
Another old-timer remarked that although the boys who dug out the gold retained but a small proportion of it, yet the whole country in general received the full benefit of it.
“Yis,” Mike replied, “thrue enough that same was the case, an’ do yez call to moind, thin, ther wise spaich in ther Bible where it says that to him who hath much more will be afther being given to that same, and to him av the same trifling quantity, begorra. Well, me by’s, that’s jest the style av it, for ‘tis a law av money now, do yez obsarve, that, ‘twill be afther continually concintratin’ into the hands av the by’s who have got the most av it, do yez see? An’, in me own opinion, ’tis jest as well, for they are the by’s generally who know how to use it for the benefit av the rest av us, do yez moind. For didn’t Mr. Lick, thin, use his money in a dacint manner for the benefit av all the by’s? An’ didn’t he give thim a fine Hall down at the big city below, where they can howld their matins’ to talk about old-timers, rade ther papers, an’ enj’y a quiet nap, begorra! and indade, thin, did not the same ould gintleman spind his money frayly in erectin’ an observatory with a big tilliscope, do yez moind, to sarch ther hinvens with, expictin’ the whoile to discover in some av ther planets above anither rich moining country where yez can be afther emigratin’ to whin yez have worked out this wan? An’, indade, thin, wasn’t it another wan av ther by’s who gathered
up more than his share afther spindin’ his kine fraly in the building’ av an ixtinsive univarsity, to give our children a bit av larnin’ av a louder style, begorra? Yis, indade thin, the construction av fine buildin’s, av big warehouses, ther monstrous staim ships, ther great manufactories, and ther railroads all over the counthry, as well as ther exinsive canals and ditches, constructed to give wather to ther barren places in ther counthry, begorra, is in me own opinion an evidince that a fair portion ov the gould, at laist, that we by’s helped to dig from the river beds an’ mountains in ther moinin’ ragion has collected into ther hands ov the by’s who are jest afther knowin’ how to use ther same for the binefit ov all, do yez moind.”
Another old miner declared that there was something wrong about it; that he couldn’t understand at all why so many of the miners who dug so many millions of gold from the earth should all be so poor now, and he believed ‘twas owing to the greed and selfishness of the business classes. They took all the advantage to rob the miners of their well-earned share of gold.
“No, not at all,” said Mike; “that, indade, is not the raison, but ‘tis all owin’ to ther nater ov the moinin’ industry, an’ that I’ll be afther explaining’, thin. Do yez obsarve the difference now betwain the business ov mining an’ all other kinds; for, indade thin, has not the moiner got his rich moin in ther beginnin’, whilst in all other kinds it requoires long years to wurruk for it. As a man puts in his toime and his money in any business, sure thin is it not incrasin’ in vally continually? An’ so it is with the lawyer, the doctor an’ with the mechanic too, now, do yez moind. Wan ov the by’s takes up a pace ov land; spends his toime an’ money in improvin’ that same, and, begorra, the longer he works upon it, thin, the more valuable it is afther growin’ the whoile; but divil a bit is the rich moine growin’ in vally at all, at all. But do yez moind, thin, the longer yez are afther wurrukin’ it thin the poorer ‘tis growin’, an’ when ‘tis wurruked out, devil a cint can many of yez show for the toime an’ labor yes have spint upon the same.”
Another one remarked, “Well, ‘tis true enough, as you say, that the gold we dig out flows into the big cities into the hands of a few wealthy men, and ‘tis for that reason that the rich are getting richer whilst the poor are gittin’ poorer.”
“Well, says Mike, “now yez are afther encroaching upon a
question in political economy that we ould miners are hardly competint to dale with, begorra. But in me own opinion ‘tis not thrue, as yez have stated, that the rich are afther gittin’ richer, whoile the poor are gittin’ poorer, at all, at all. It only saims to be the case, but not so in fact, as oi will explain to yez. “Tis thrue enough, that in consequence ov the large quantity ov gould yez by’s have dug from ther hills above an’ thrown in circulation, the facilities ov scrapin’ large quantities ov it in a hape by a few ov the by’s in the big cities was an aisy job, an’ by use ov the same, in a few years they were rich men. An’ if all the by’s who were fortunate enough to do that same could continue to live in the same manner, and ther children afther thim, to inherit such conditions ov great wealth, why, then, ‘twould be thrue as yez hav sthated. But divil a bit is that the case. But why not, are yez asking?
“Well, thin, jist be afther lookin’ back for a few years an’ callin’ to yez recollection ther by’s who were wealthy thin, and where do yez foind thim or ther descindents now? An’, indade, thin, couldn’t yez spake ov many ov the by’s who were ther poorest ov the lot a few years ago, an’ are now the richest ov thim? An’ don’t that prove ov to-day may be the wealthy by’s ov next wake, an’ the sons ov the by’s who are now rejicin’ over ther good fortunes may be the by’s who’ll hav the hard wurruk to do in ther future, do yez moind. An’, agin, me by’s to-day were poor, or the sons ov poor murrain’ min wanst, which is an ividince that the opportunities for scrapin’ together a hape ov wealth is not confoined to any won class ov min, at all, at all; but ivery divil a won ov yez has an aiqual opportunity wid all if yez only go ther right way to wurruk to git it, be jabbers.
“Now, these changes prove that altho’ at wan pariod in the lives ov the wealthy by’s they do increase in wealth, but yez’ll foind in toime that noine-tinths ov thim grow poorer as they grow older, which is not the case with the whiskey yez are afther drinking, thin, for that is improving’ the whoile. And yez’ll be after observin’, too, that ther ranks ov the wealthy by’s are bein’ containualy recruited from the ranks ov the workin’ min ov the counthry, be jabers. ‘Tis for these raisons, me by’s, acquoired by long exparience an’ observation, that divil a bit are ther rich gitting richer or ther poor poorer, at all, at all. Oh, yis, ‘tis thrue enough thet it saims
to be the case thet the gould ov the country is being gobbled up by a few ov the by’s, but divil a bit is it thrue in fact, for to make money yez must use the saime, an’ for that raison ‘tis evident that the circulation ov money is constant an’ aiqual, an’ all ov yez hav aiqual opportunities for usin’ that samine, begorra!”
Mike was now asked if he didn’t think that it would be better for the country in general, or for the working classes in particular, if this co-operative plan that we have heard so much about lately should be adopted:
“No, indade, thin, it would not, and for the raisins, me by’s, that if yez will only investigate ther incentives - that is the ground wurruk ov all human action - yez will be afther foindin’ that all depinds upon our future ixpictations. Now, me by’s, what is it that kape ther lot ov yez er thrampin’ around among ther hills and the mountains from Arizoni to Alasky, thin, but ther containual ixpictation of sthrikin’ er rich mine? An’, indade, thin, is it not thrue ov all other human affairs, begorra? What, thin, me b’y’s, becomes ov all ixpictations when yez hav all jined with the co-operative union, be jabers? Indade, thin, yez can hav none at all, for yez are all shure of a livin’ an’ nothin’ more to ixpict, an’ all ov yez are livin’ upon an aquality. Yis, indade, thin, jist ask the workin’ min ov the country if they wud be contint to live in such a style, whin they wud all be afther bein’ shure ov er livin’, shure enough, but wid no ixpictations that aither themselves or ther children wud iver be inythin’ higher than workin’ min. An’, be jabers, thin, they wud be afther sayin’ to yez: ’Give us poverty, thin, an’ hard wurruk, but divil a bit shall yez be afther deprivin’ us ov ther continual ixpictations we hav that our by’s may be in ther future able to live like gintlemin widout ther necessity ov labor, at all, at all.’ An’, faith, thin, do yez moind ther lad who was afther robbin’ ther melon patch, but accidentally got among ther punkins, an’ whin tould thet the owner ov ther melons wud give him all he wanted for the askin’, said he: ‘Indade, thin, its meself, thing, who had rather ate a grane punkin that I could stale than to ate a fine melon presented to me.’
“Tis thrue enough,” continued Mike, “that the poor saims to be continually incrasing in numbers in all ther large cities ov ther country, begorra! But ther raisons for this are that the inducements
are greater there, an’ to the minds ov the by’s the prospects ov gittin’ money much quicker an’ aisier saim more encouraging to thim, do yez moind; but in me own opinion ‘twould be better for ther most ov thim to come out into ther country an’ try to make an honest living from ther sile; that would aqualize ther labor ov ther country, begorra, an’ tind to solve ther labor problem, begob!”
Mike was now asked the question, what method could be adopted that would have the effect to bring all classes more upon an equality? “None at all,” Mike answered, “Divil a bit is it necessary to do that saim for I tell yez, me by’s, that poverty, which saims to the most ov yez to be a curse put upon man for his sins, is in fact ther base an’ foundation ov all human enterprise, industry, and prosperity; now was it not poverty, with a desire to escape from it, that brought thousands ov yez old pioneers here to dig an’ thramp about among ther mountains for gould? Indade, thin, it was, for if yez, hadn’t been poor, divil a bit would one ov yez come at all, at all. An’ indade, thin, was it not in consequence ov this same poverty (that many ov the by’s all over ther counthry are howling and cursing about,) that has been ther mains ov ilivating ther whole country to such high conditions ov developments, shure, and it is thin, an’ ther prosperous condition ov ther counthry to day with its great commarcial enterprises, its railroads runnin’ in all directions from ther Atlantic to ther Pacific Oceans, an’ with its mariads ov growing towns and cities springing into existence among ther desert places, where but a few years since was a vast wilderness occupied only by ther buffalo droves, and savage Indian; all ov these wonderful changes, me b’y’s, are only ther effects ov poverty, be jabers. It must be plain to yez, thin, that poverty is a necessity, an’ ther incintive to escape from it is ther bottom of ther whole business, begorra!”
“Yes, that may all be very true” remarked another, “but when we take a view of life around us and witness the great amount of misery and suffering in all of our large cities, while a great portion of the more fortunate are rolling in wealth, don’t you think that it would be just and right to adopt some policy that would prevent such extreme conditions of great wealth of a few and the poverty of the many?”
“Faith thin” says Mike “an’ ‘tis this same idea upon which is founded all ov thim isms that are after creating so much excitement
among ther workingmen ov ther country, begorra; it makes thim discontinted with their conditions for ther raisons that ther laiders ov socialism, ov Georgeism, anti-povertyism, nationalism an’ ther rest ov thim, are all the toime taiching the b’y’s that ther only raisons why they are so poor is because others ov thim are so wealthy, begorra, and if their ideas in relation to human affairs can only be carried out by preventing them by’s from increasing their wealth who are, owing to their good habits and suparior abilities, the best able to do so, be jabers, will in their opinion give ther poor b’y’s a better opportunity to incraise their wealth whether they are capable ov doing so or not; now, me b’y’s, is this a raisonable view ov the situation, for aint you b’y’s who are jest afther putting in your toime tramping ’round among the mountains for a rich mine, begorra, more loikely to foind it than ther by’s who are all ther whoile contint to hang around in the cities, thin, huntin’ for an aisy job, and who are continually howling for yez to prisint thim with an interest in yez mine, be jabers. Yis, m’ b’y’s, observation is afther taichin’ us ther fact that as a gineral rule thim b’y’s who are industrious thin, an’ who are afther acquiring good habits only, are ther b’y’s who are prosperous and, faith thin, in me own opinion they desarve it, too.
“Now for these raisons, me b’y’s, it is in me own opinion all darmed nonsense to talk about anti-poverty an’ an aiquality of conditions, for we don’t want thim at all, at all.”
Yank next related his experience at the Bay. When he was down last spring an acquaintance persuaded him to attend a reunion of the Old Hangtown residents, or rather the old-timers of Eldorado County. Yank explained that the residents of Tuolumne, Nevada and Eldorado Counties hold what they call a reunion every year, generally about May 1. They have them in Oakland at one of the numerous parks; generally; but sometimes at other localities. He said that the one he attended was in Badger’s Park, and there were as many as 1,500 people there. But among all that crowd there was only one old Forty-niner whom he knew before, although it was said that there were several others around on the ground somewhere.
“I tell you” said he, “there were lots of people there whom I used to know around old Hangtown in ’51 and ’52, and they all seemed kind of glad to meet one another. Then there was a whole
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regiment of youngsters and girls dancing in the hall, but they were all babies when I left the diggings, so I didn’t know a single one of them. They hold these meetings down there every year, and, boys, blamed if I won’t try to go down every time if I can make a raise, for I tell you it sets a fellow up again to meet all of these old-timers, and to have a chat about old times.
“I came across an old acquaintance very unexpectedly down there whom I thought was dead, and by consent of my old pard, Tennessee, I’ll tell the whole story. You remember, boys, that in ‘52 an old miner in Shasta County discovered somewhere in the mountains a very rich cañon but none could ever find it. In the spring of ‘54 a company, consisting of Tennessee, five others, and myself, concluded to go in search of it, but, unfortunately, we started a little too early in the spring, for on the fourth day out there came on a terrible cold snow-storm, and of course we started home again. We got lost and wandered about for three or four days, not knowing what course to take, and, worse than all, we were nearly out of provisions. There was a young Swede with us. He was a sailor chap who had come from San Francisco to try his fortune in mining, and, being anxious to go with us, we had brought him along. He was a smart, good-natured boy, and we all thought a heap of him. Well, in the evening, we were all lounging around the fire, talking over the situation, when one of the boys, just for sport, proposed that we now right there and then cast lots to see which one of us must be cut up to save the lives of the rest, as we only had grub enough to last about one day longer. Of course the boy was elected, as we intended, just to see if ‘twould scare him any; but he didn’t seem to mind it at all, for he laughed and joked about it, when we had all decided to have him for breakfast in the morning.
“The sun rose clear the next morning, but we were astonished to find upon getting up that Pete, the sailor boy, had vanished. He had become frightened, believing that we were in earnest, and had started off alone through the snowdrifts, only to get lost and perhaps destroyed by bears. We determined to find him if ‘twas possible, so without stopping to make a fire we ate a cold breakfast and were soon following his trail, which we were enabled to trace easily for about twenty miles to the bottom of a deep cañon. From
that point, however, all traces of it were lost. We returned home, determined to continue the search as soon as possible. In a day or two we procured mules and searched among the hills and cañons thoroughly in all directions for several days, but nothing was ever heard of him, it being the conclusion of all that he had been destroyed by a grizzly, which were very numerous at that time. Well, I came across an old mining acquaintance in San Francisco who was following the sea, and we took a walk down among the vessels. We were lounging along down one of the wharves and I saw a man on board of a small coasting schooner whom I though had rather a familiar look about him. My acquaintance said that he didn’t know his name, but that he was the owner of that vessel. I told my friend that I was going to see him, so I jumped down on to the deck and spoke to the man, asking him if he was the captain. He answered that he was, and he wanted to know if I was looking for a job. I told him no, but that I had a great curiosity to see him, as he reminded me very much of a young chap I once knew in the mines. He asked me when. Said I: ‘More than thirty years ago, up in Shasta County.’
“’Well,’ said he, ‘I was up in that county about that time and got out of there as quick as I could, as some of the old miners were talking about eating me up.’
“As he said that I just grabbed hold of his hand, and said I: “’This is Pete, the sailor boy, isn’t it?’
“’Yes,’ he answered, ‘but who are you?’
“’Don’t you remember Yank?’ I asked; ‘one of those old miners who were going to make a breakfast off of you?’
“Well, boys, he did remember me now, you bet.
“’Mine gracious, is this Yank? Well ! well ! now come down into mine cabin.’
“After we had both recovered a little from our astonishment, and I had explained how we had hunted for him for several days among the hills and cañons, he told me how he had managed to find his way out of the mountains, after remaining up in a tree for more than two days to get away from a big grizzly which he thought must have been some relation to us old miners, some way, for the brute seemed determined to eat him up, anyhow.
“’But,’ said he, ‘the bear got tired and hungry waiting for me to come down and finally went away, and then I came down and
made tracks for San Francisco pooty quick, and don’t want to go out prospecting any more at all.”
Yank continued by asking if any of them remembered the chap they called “Razor Bill.”
“Oh, yis,” Mike answered, “indade I remember him well whin he wurruked down near Angel’s camp, an’ whin he wurruked up at Poverty Point, near Hangtown, an’ he made a good dale ov money too, but, begorra, he wasn’t the b’y to save it. I see him play cards with that same chap they called ‘Lucky Bill,’ an’ he lost more than $800 at the game.”
“Well, said Yank, “I saw him at the Bay. He is driving an express wagon, and says that he is doing a very good business. He is married now, and has five children.”
Tennessee remarked that any man who played the game of seven up with “Lucky Bill” was sure to leave his dust there, for he was one of the best card-players in California.
“Do you remember the time when he cleaned out them chaps from San Francisco?” resumed Tennessee. “Twas in August of ‘50, soon after his arrival in Hangtown from the East. These two chaps had heard of him, and that he had plenty of money, and they came up to clean him out. His house was crowded that evening by the boys who wanted to see the fun. It was agreed that one of these ‘Frisco chaps should play ten games, and then if luck was against him he should have the privilege of quitting the game if he wished, and the other one could take his place and play in the same manner. They brought (as was said) $11,000 with them, all in $50 slugs, which was piled upon the table, and an equal sum was placed alongside of Bill. Both piles were decorated in the usual manner, with a big revolver placed in a convenient position for an emergency. The play was for $1,000 a game, and I tell you ‘twas interesting to see them piles of slugs travel back and forth in a rapid manner from one side of the table to the other. But it was soon noticed that many of these stacks of slugs that had waltzd across to Lucky Bill’s side didn’t seem to be inclined to waltz back again. The consequence was that at the end of two hours they had played thirty-one games, and every slug was under the protection of Bill’s gun.
“’Well,’ says one of the chaps, ‘that ends our game, for you have got it all.’
“Bill shoved a stack of slugs over to them, remarking: ‘There, boys, take that to pay your expenses.’
“’No, no; not a cent,’ one of them replied, ‘it is all yours, for you have played a straight square game, and we will not take a dollar of it.’”
Some one enquired of Jersey if he knew what ever became of Pete, the boss liar of the Yuba? As the boys called him; Jersey replied that he was killed by a bear up in Plumas County sometime in ‘54. Pete and two others were prospecting in a ravine one day, when a big grizzly came upon them from the brush; his pardners got away by climbing up a steep hill and went for assistance, but Pete had been caved upon a short time before and couldn’t run, so he and the bear had the whole circus to themselves for a while; they rescued him but ‘twas too late, he was torn all to pieces. But he was true to his colors to the last, for after they had taken him to his cabin to die, almost his last words were, “well boys, I got away with one of ‘em any how, and if I’d only had a fair show I’d ‘er cleaned ‘em both out” but when told that there was but one bear there, he answered: “Oh, yes, ther was, for didn’t yer notice lots of hair and bear’s grease scattered about on ther rocks?” the boys said
they did. “Well,” says Pete with his dying breath, “that’s ther, ther tother one.”
“Ah!” continued Jersey, “but Pete was a fine talker and his persuasive eloquence was almost irresistible; he said once that his father was a life-insurance agent down in Connecticut, and that he himself had inherited a faculty for the business, and intended to follow it when he returned East.”
There was an old Irishman living on the bar at that time by the name of Pat Flynn. Pete was in his cabin one Sunday morning, and Pat wanted to trim up his long hair with a large pair of shears, but couldn’t find his piece of looking-glass. Pete said that he would go and get his own for him, so we went and found a brick, and bet the drinks with one of the boys that he would convince Pat that it was a looking-glass and that he could use it to cut his hair with. Well, it was hard work, and it took a great deal of talking to convince Pat, but after looking it all over, and turning it in his hand, he remarked, “that ‘twas a quare glass but, be jabers, I’ll give it a thry, any how,” and he did; in a few moments, however, he come near clipping off one of his ears; grabbing the brick from the table, as Pete started to run he threw it at him, at the same time exclaiming, “Pete, yez are a damned liar.” “I know it, that’s my trade, Pat” says Pete as he started away, and he won the drinks.
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Some one asked Bolzer what became of Sam Plunkett, the Arkansas beauty, as they called him. Bolzer stated that after they had finished working out their joint claim in Georgetown cañon, in the spring of ‘50, Sam went north, and was supposed to have been killed by the Modoc Indians in the summer of ‘56, as he went on a prospecting expedition up into that country about that time, and was never heard of afterwards.
“If the Indians did kill him,” Bolzer continued, “they must have done it when he was asleep some dark night, for they never dared to go near enough to kill him in the daylight. Why, Sam told me once that he was offered a big salary to travel with a show as a natural curiosity, and I asked why he didn’t. Well, he said he would, but there was another chap in his native State who was jealous of him, and told him if he joined that show he would kill him later, sure. Sam said they hired ‘tother chap, but they didn’t keep him long, for the farmers all over the country made such a fuss, and threatened to kill him if he didn’t git out. I asked Sam why the farmers were all down on him, and he said that in every section of the country he passed through, the milk all turned sour.
Bolzer then related an incident to show why the Indians were afraid to get near enough to Sam to kill him.
“Upon one occasion,” said Bolzer “Sam, in company with a chap they called ‘Sleepy Ben,’ started upon a prospecting expedition away up north, and Ben tells for a fact that when, in passing around a point near the mouth of a ravine, they saw, just a short distance beyond, four or five Indians who were apparently very badly scared at something upon the opposite side of the ravine, for they ran for their ponies, which they mounted in a great hurry, and were out of sight among the rocks and brush beyond in a jiffy, Ben said they were astonished, and couldn’t imagine what the Indians were so badly scared at, but, upon coming in sight of the opposite side of the ravine, there upon the face of a high ledge of rock was the shadow of Sam with his roll of blankets upon his back, looking for all the world like a huge camel walking upon its hind legs.
Bolzer was asked if he believed the yarn that was told about Sam frightening a bear to death up in Nevada County, in the fall of ‘50. Bolzer replied that Dutch Pete, who was with Sam at the time, said ‘twas true. Upon some one asking about the circumstances,
Bolzer related that Sam and Pete had been into town and were on their way home again with a sack of flour and other articles upon their shoulders. Sam was in the lead, and just as they were opposite a cluster of bushes a huge grizzly bear met them in the trail, and, raising itself upon its hind legs, laid its forepaws in a playful manner upon Sam’s shoulders. Sam had a heavy load on his back, and being somewhat astonished at the sudden appearance of the bear he stood perfectly still, and looked his unwelcome visitor square in the face. The bear also, by the way, seemed to be as much astonished as Sam was, and Pete said that it would look very earnestly at Sam, first out of one eye and then turning its head it would gaze at him for a minute with the other, and then it would lower its head, and closing both eyes, seemed to be thinking to itself whether it had ever in the course of its life come across such a looking object before, and whether ‘twas dangerous or not. Pete said the animal seemed to think that the queer-looking thing was dangerous, and that he had “shust got dem paws into it, for he shost rolled his eyes up and pooty sudden all at vunce he falls over on top mit his back, und den he durns his eye up to Sam, strikes at him mit his paw, und daking von long breath vas dead right avay as von big nail, by shiminy.”
“This was Pete’s account of the affair,” concluded Bolzer. “Well, Sam was the ugliest man in the universe, and he seemed to be proud of it, too. He said once that he would be remembered after he was dead a spell longer ‘than you good-lookin’ chaps,’ and that seemed to console him for his ugliness. It was stated by a man who crossed the plains in the same train with Sam, that the whole train was at one time in the greatest danger of being run over and trampled to death by an immense drove of buffaloes, but Sam, seeing the danger just in time, walked towards the drove when it was almost upon them, and it divided, passing upon either side. His presence of mind in showing himself to the drove at the right time saved the lives of more than one hundred men, women and children.”
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Proofread by Betty Vickroy.
© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.