Halt at "Robber's Roost.” 6th October.
The last night's sound sleep was allowed to last through the morning. This day was perforce a halt: the old white mare and her colt had been left at the mouth of the kanyon, and one of the Shoshonee Indian servants of the station had been persuaded by a bribe of a blanket and some gunpowder to return for them. About noon we arose, expecting a black fog, and looked down upon Butte Valley, whose northern edge we had traversed last night. Snow still lay there—that bottom is rarely without frost - but in the fine clear sunny day, with the mercury at 43° F. in the shade, the lowest levels re-became green, the hill cedars turned once more black, earth steamed like a garment hung out to dry, and dark spots here and there mottled the hills, which were capped with huge turbans of muslin-like mist. While the Shoshonee is tracking and driving the old mare, we will glance around the “Robber's Roost," which will answer for a study of the Western man's home.
It is about as civilized as the Galway shanty, or the normal dwelling-place in Central Equatorial Africa. A cabin fronting east and west, long walls thirty feet, with port-holes for windows, short ditto fifteen; material, sandstone and bog ironstone slabs compacted with mud, the whole roofed with split cedar trunks, reposing on horizontals which rested on perpendiculars. Behind the house a corral of rails planted in the ground; the inclosed space a mass of earth, and a mere shed in one corner the only shelter. Outside the door—the hingeless and lockless backboard of a wagon, bearing the wounds of bullets—and resting on lintels and staples, which also had formed parts of locomotives, a slab acting stepping-stone over a mass of soppy black soil strewed with ashes, gobs of meat offals, and other delicacies. On the right hand a load of wood; on the left a tank formed by damming a dirty pool which had flowed through a corral behind the “Roost.” There was a regular line of drip distilling from the caked and hollowed snow which toppled from the thick thatch above the cedar braces.
The inside reflected the outside. The length was divided by two perpendiculars, the southernmost of which, assisted by a halfway canvas partition, cut the hut into unequal parts. Behind it were two bunks for four men: standing bedsteads of poles planted in the ground, as in Australia and Unyamwezi, and covered with piles of ragged blankets. Beneath the frame-work were heaps of rubbish, saddles, cloths, harness, and straps, sacks of wheat, oats, meal, and potatoes, defended from the ground by underlying logs, and dogs nestled where they found room. The floor, which also frequently represented bedstead, was rough, uneven earth, neither tamped nor swept, and the fine end of a spring oozing through the western wall kept part of it in a state of eternal mud. A redeeming point was the fireplace, which occupied half of the northern short wall: it might have belonged to Guy of Warwick's great hall; its ingle nooks boasted dimensions which one connects with an idea of hospitality and jollity; while a long hook hanging down it spoke of the bouillon-pot, and the iron oven of hot rolls, Nothing could be more simple than the furniture. The chairs were either posts mounted on four legs spread out for a base, or three-legged stools with reniform seats. The tables were rough-dressed planks, two feet by two, on rickety trestles. One stood in the centre for feeding purposes; the other was placed as buffet in the corner near the fire, with eating apparatus-tin coffee-pot and gamelles, rough knives, “pitchforks," and pewter spoons. The walls were pegged to support spurs and pistols, whips, gloves, and leggins. Over the door, in a niche, stood a broken coffee-mill, for which a flat stone did duty. Near the entrance, on a broad shelf raised about a foot from the ground, lay a tin skillet and its "dipper.” Soap was supplied by a handful of gravel, and evaporation was expected to act towel. Under the board was a pail of water with a floating can, which enabled the inmates to supply the drainage of everlasting chaws. There was no sign of Bible, Shakspeare, or Milton; a Holywell-Street romance or two was the only attempt at literature. En revanche, weapons of the flesh, rifles, guns, and pistols, lay and hung all about the house, carelessly stowed as usual, and tools were not wanting-hammers, large borers, axe, saw, and chisel. An almost invariable figure in these huts is an Indian standing cross-legged at the door, or squatting uncomfortably close to the fire. He derides the whites for their wastefulness, preferring to crouch in parties of three or four over a little bit of fuel than to sit before a blazing log. These savages act, among other things, as hunters, bringing home rabbits and birds. We tried our revolvers against one of them, and beat him easily; yet they are said to put, three times out of four, an arrow through a keyhole forty paces off. In shooting they place the thumb and forefinger of the right hand upon the notch, and strengthen the pull by means of the second finger stretched along the bowstring. The left hand holds the whipped handle, and the shaft rests upon the knuckle of the index.
From Mr. Thomas we heard an account of the affair which took place near Egan's Kanyon. In the last August, Lieutenant Weed happened to be “on a scout," with seventeen mounted riflemen, after Indians. An express rider from the West had ridden up to the station, which, being in a hollow, can not be seen from afar, and found it surrounded by Gosh Yuta Indians. The fellows had tied up the master and the boy, and were preparing with civilized provisions a good dinner for themselves, to be followed by a little treat in the form of burning down the house and roasting their captives. The Indians allowed the soldiers brought up by the express rider to draw near, thinking that the dust was raised by fresh arrivals of their own people; and when charged, at once fled. The mounted riflemen were armed with revolvers, not with sabres, or they would have done considerable execution; as it was, seventeen of the enemy remained upon the field, besides those who were carried off by their friends. The Indian will always leave a scalped and wounded fellow-tribesman in favor of an unscalped corpse.
In the evening the Shoshonee returned, bringing with him the white mare and her colt, which he had recovered selon lui from the hands of two Gosh Yutas. The weather still held up; we had expected to be snowed up in five days or so; our departure, therefore, was joyfully fixed for the morrow.