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. A 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 again—in! 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, A 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.