Submitted by scott on Fri, 11/12/2021 - 11:56

To Carson Lake. 17th October.

Sand-Springs Station deserved its name. Like the Brazas de San Diego and other mauvaises terres near the Rio Grande, the land is cumbered here and there with drifted ridges of the finest sand, sometimes 200 feet high, and shifting before every gale. Behind the house stood a mound shaped like the contents of an hour-glass, drifted up by the stormy S.E. gale in esplanade shape, and falling steep to northward or against the wind. The water near this vile hole was thick and stale with sulphury salts: it blistered even the hands. The station-house was no unfit object in such a scene, roofless and chairless, filthy and squalid, with a smoky fire in one corner, and a table in the centre of an impure floor, the walls open to every wind, and the interior full of dust. Hibernia herself never produced aught more characteristic. Of the ernployés, all loitered and sauntered about desceuvrés as cretins, except one, who lay on the ground crippled and apparently dying by the fall of a horse upon his breast-bone.

About 11 A.M. we set off to cross the ten miles of valley that stretched between us and the summit of the western divide still separating us from Carson Lake. The land was a smooth saleratus plain, with curious masses of porous red and black basalt protruding from a ghastly white. The water-shed was apparently to the north, the benches were distinctly marked, and the bottom looked as if it were inundated every year. It was smooth except where broken up by tracks, but all off the road was dangerous ground: in one place the horses sank to their hocks, and were not extricated without difficulty. After a hot drive-the glass at 9 A.M. showed 74° F.—we began to toil up the divide, a sand formation mixed with bits of granite, red seeds, and dwarf shells, whose lips were for the most part broken off. Over the fine loose surface was a floating haze of the smaller particles, like the film that veils the Arabian desert. Arrived at the summit, we sighted for the first time Carson Lake, or rather the sink of the Carson River. It derives its name from the well-known mountaineer whose adventurous roamings long anticipated scientific exploration. Supplied by the stream from the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada, it is just such a lake as might be formed in any of the basins which we had traversed—a shallow sheet of water, which, in the cloudy sky and mitigated glare of the sun, looked pale and muddy. Apparently it was divided by a long, narrow ruddy line, like ochre-colored sand; a near approach showed that water on the right was separated from a saleratus bed on the left by a thick bed of tule rush. Stones imitated the sweep of the tide, and white particles the color of a wash.

Our conscientious informant at Sand-Springs Station had warned us that upon the summit of the divide we should find a perpendicular drop, down which the wagons could be lowered only by means of lariats affixed to the axle-trees and lashed round strong “stubbing-posts." We were not, however, surprised to find a mild descent of about 30°. From the summit of the divide five miles led us over a plain too barren for sage, and a stretch of stone and saleratus to the watery margin, which was troublesome with sloughs and mud. The cattle relished the water, although tainted by the rush; we failed, however, to find any of the freshwater clams, whose shells were scattered along the shore.

Remounting at 5:15 P.M. we proceeded to finish the ten miles which still separated us from the station, by a rough and stony road, perilous to wheel conveyances, which rounded the southern extremity of the lake. After passing a promontory whose bold projection had been conspicuous from afar, and threading a steep kanyon leading toward the lake, we fell into its selvage, which averaged about one mile in breadth. The small crescent of the moon soon ceased to befriend us, and we sat in the sadness of the shade, till presently a light glimmered under Arcturus, the road bent toward it, and all felt “jolly.” But,

“ Heu, heu! nos miseros, quam totus homuncio nil est !"

A long dull hour still lay before us, and we were approaching civilized lands. "Sink Station” looked well from without; there was a frame house inside an adobe inclosure, and a pile of wood and a stout haystack promised fuel and fodder. The inmates, however, were asleep, and it was ominously long before a door was opened. At last appeared a surly cripple, who presently disappeared to arm himself with his revolver. The judge asked civilly for a cup of water; he was told to fetch it from the lake, which was not more than a mile off, though, as the road was full of quagmires, it would be hard to travel at night. Wood the churl would not part with: we offered to buy it, to borrow it, to replace it in the morning; he told us to go for it ourselves, and that after about two miles and a half we might chance to gather some. Certainly our party was a law-abiding and a self-governing one; never did I see men so tamely bullied; they threw back the fellow's sticks, and cold, hungry, and thirsty, simply began to sulk. An Indian standing by asked $20 to herd the stock for a single night. At last, George the Cordon Blue took courage; some went for water, others broke up a wagon-plank, and supper after a fashion was concocted.

I preferred passing the night on a side of bacon in the wagon to using the cripple's haystack, and allowed sleep to steep my senses in forgetfulness, after deeply regretting that the Mormons do not extend somewhat farther westward.

To Fort Churchill. 18th October.

The b'hoys and the stock were doomed to remain near the Carson Lake, where forage was abundant, while we made our way to Carson Valley - an arrangement not effected without excessive grumbling. At last the deserted ones were satisfied with the promise that they should exchange their desert quarters for civilization on Tuesday, and we were permitted to start. Crossing a long plain bordering on the Sink, we "snaked up" painfully a high divide which a little engineering skill would have avoided. From the summit, bleak with west wind, we could descry, at a distance of fifty miles, a snowy saddle-back—the Sierra Nevada. When the deep sand had fatigued our cattle, we halted for an hour to bait in a patch of land rich with bunch-grass. Descending from the eminence, we saw a gladdening sight: the Carson River, winding through its avenue of dark cotton-woods, and afar off the quarters and barracks of Fort Churchill. The nearer view was a hard-tamped plain, besprinkled with black and red porous stones and a sparse vegetation, with the ruddy and yellow autumnal hues; a miserable range of low, brown, sunburnt rocks and hills, whose ravines were choked with white sand-drifts, bounded the basin. The farther distance used it as a foil; the Sierra developed itself into four distinct magnificent tiers of snow-capped and cloud-veiled mountain, whose dissolving views faded into thin darkness as the sun disappeared behind their gigantic heads.

While we admired these beauties night came on; the paths intersected one another, and, despite the glow and gleam of a campfire in the distance, we lost our way among the tall cotton-woods. Dispersing in search of information, the marshal accidentally stumbled upon his predecessor in office, Mr. Smith, who hospitably insisted upon our becoming his guests. He led us to a farm-house already half roofed in against the cold, fetched the whisky for which our souls craved, gave to each a peach that we might be good boys, and finally set before us a prime beefsteak. Before sleeping we heard a number of "shooting stories." Where the corpse is, says the Persian, there will be the kites. A mining discovery never fails to attract from afar a flock of legal vultures - attorneys, lawyers, and judges. As the most valuable claims are mostly parted with by the ignorant fortunate for a song, it is usual to seek some flaw in the deed of sale, and a large proportion of the property finds its way into the pockets of the acute professional, who works on half profits. Consequently, in these parts there is generally a large amount of unscrupulous talent. One gentleman judge had knived a waiter and shot a senator; another, almost as “heavy on the shyoot," had in a single season killed one man and wounded another. My informants declared that in and about Carson a dead man for breakfast was the rule; besides accidents perpetually occurring to indifferent or to peace-making parties, they reckoned per annum fifty murders. In a peculiar fit of liveliness, an intoxicated gentleman will discharge his revolver in a ballroom, and when a “shyooting” begins in the thin walled frame houses, those not concerned avoid bullets and splinters by jumping into their beds. During my three days' stay at Carson City I heard of three murders. A man “heavy on the shoulder," who can “hit out straight from the hip," is a valuable acquisition. The gambler or professional player, who in the Eastern States is exceptionably peaceful, because he fears the publicity of a quarrel, here must distinguish himself as a fighting-man. A curious story was told to illustrate how the ends of justice might, at a pinch, in the case of a popular character, be defeated. man was convicted of killing his adversary after saying to the bystanders, “Stoop down while I shoot the son of a dog (female)." Counsel for the people showed malice. prepense; counsel for defense pleaded that his client was rectus in curia, and manifestly couldn't mean a man, but a dog. The judge ratified the verdict of acquittal. .

Such was the state of things, realizing the old days of the Californian gold-diggings, when I visited in 1860 Carson City. Its misrule, or rather want of rule, has probably long since passed away, leaving no more traces than a dream. California has been transformed by her Vigilance Committee, so ignorantly and unjustly declaimed against in Europe and in the Eastern States of the Union, from a savage autonomy to one of the most orderly of the American republics, and San Francisco, her capital, from a den of thieves and prostitutes, gamblers and miners, the offscourings of nations, to a social status not inferior to any of the most favored cities.

Hurrah againin! 19th October.

This day will be the last of my diary. We have now emerged from the deserts of the Basin State, and are debouching upon lands where coaches and the electric telegraph ply.

After a cold night at the hospitable Smith's, and losing the cattle, we managed to hitch to, and crossed, not without difficulty, the deep bed of the Carson River, which runs over sands glittering with mica. A little beyond it we found the station-house, and congratulated ourselves that we had escaped a twelve hours' durance vile in its atmosphere of rum, kornschnapps, stale tobacco, flies, and profane oaths, not to mention the chance of being “wiped out" in a “difference” between a soldier and a gambler, or a miner and a rider.

From the station-house we walked, accompanied by a Mr. 0. who, after being an editor in Texas, had become a mail-rider in Utah Territory — to the fort. It was, upon the principle of its eastern neighbors, a well-disposed cantonment, containing quarters for the officers and barracks for the men. Fort Churchill had been built during the last few months: it lodged about two companies of infantry, and required at least 2000 men. Captain F. F. Flint (6th Regiment) was then commanding, and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Swords, a deputy quarter-master general, was on a tour of inspection. We went straight to the quarter-master's office, and there found Lieutenant Moore, who introduced us to all present, and supplied us with the last newspapers and news. The camp was Teetotalist, and avoided cards like good Moslems: we were not, however, expected to drink water except in the form of strong waters, and the desert had disinclined us to abstain from whisky. Finally, Mr. Byrne, the sutler, put into our ambulance a substantial lunch, with a bottle of cocktail, and another of cognac, especially intended to keep the cold out.

The dull morning had threatened snow, and shortly after noon the west wind brought up cold heavy showers, which continued with intervals to the end of the stage. Our next station was Miller's, distant 15 to 16 miles. The road ran along the valley of Carson River, whose trees were a repose to our eyes, and we congratulated ourselves when we looked down the stiff clay banks, 30 feet high, and wholly unfenced, that our journey was by day. The desert was now “done.” At every few miles was a drinking “calaboose:'* where sheds were not a kettle hung under a tree, and women peeped out of the log huts. They were probably not charming, but, next to a sea yoyage, a desert march is the finest cosmetic ever invented. We looked upon each as if

"Her face was like the Milky Way i' the sky, meeting of gentle lights without a name."

At Miller's Station, which we reached at 2:30 P.M., there really was one pretty girl — which, according to the author of the Art of Pluck, induces proclivity to temulency. While the rain was heavy we sat round the hot stove, eating bread and cheese, sausages and anchovies, which Rabelais, not to speak of other honest drinkers, enumerates among provocatives to thirst. When we started at 4 P.M. through the cold rain, along the bad road up the river bed, to “liquor up” was manifestly a duty we owed to our. selves. And, finally, when my impatient companions betted a supper that we should reach Carson City before 9 P.M., and sealed it with a "smile," I knew that the only way to win was to ply Mr. Kennedy, the driver, with as many pocula as possible.

Colder waxed the weather and heavier the rain as, diverging from the river, we ascended the little bench upon which Chinatown lies. The line of ranches and frame houses, a kind of length without-breadth place, once celebrated in the gold-digging days, looked dreary and grim in the evening gloom. At 5:30 P.M. we were still fourteen miles distant from our destination. The benches and the country round about had been turned topsy-turvy in the search for precious metal, and the soil was still burrowed with shaft and tunnel, and crossed at every possible spot by flumes, at which the natives of the Flowery Land still found it worth their while to work. Beyond China-town we quitted the river, and in the cold darkness of night we slowly began to breast the steep ascent of a long divide.

We had been preceded on the way by a young man, driving in a light cart a pair of horses, which looked remarkable by the side of the usual Californian teams, three pair with the near wheeler ridden. Arriving at a bad place, he kindly called out to us, but before his warning could be taken a soft and yielding sensation, succeeded by a decided leaning to the right, and ending with a loud crash, announced an overturn. In due time we were extricated, the pieces were picked up, and, though the gun was broken, the bottle of cocktail fortunately remained whole. The judge, probably and justly offended by my evil habit of laughing out of season, informed us that he had never been thrown before, an announcement which made us expect more “spills.” The unhappy Kennedy had jumped off before the wheels pointed up hill; he had not lost å hoof, it is true, on the long march, but he wept spirits and water at the disappointing thought that the ambulance, this time drawn by his best team, and laden with all the dignities, had come to grief, and would not be fit to be seen. After 100 yards more another similar series of sensations announced a repetition of the scene, which deserved the epitaph,

"Hic jacet amphora vini.”

This time, however, falling down a bank, we came to smash," the bottle (eheu!) was broken, so was the judge's head, while the ear of the judgeling — serve him right for chaffing !—was cut, the pistols and powder-flasks were half buried in the sand, a variety of small objects were lost, and the flying gear of the ambulance was a perfect wreck. Unwilling to risk our necks by another trial, we walked over the rest of the rough ground, and, conducted by the good Croly, found our way to “Dutch Nick's," a ranch and tavern apparently much frequented by the teamsters and other roughs, who seemed, honest fellows! deeply to regret that the accident had not been much more serious.

Remounting after a time, we sped forward, and sighted in front a dark line, but partially lit up about the flanks, with a brilliant illumination in the centre, the Kursaal of Mr. Hopkins, the local Crockford. Our entrance to Penrod House, the Fifth Avenue of Carson City, was by no means of a triumphal order; Nature herself seemed to sympathize with us, besplashing us with tears heavier than Mr. Kennedy's. But after a good supper and change of raiment, a cigar, “something warm," and the certainty of a bed, combined to diffuse over our minds the calm satisfaction of having surmounted our difficulties tant bien que mal.

(The City of the Saints)

Reader Feedback Webform

Type of Feedback