To Ruby Valley. 7th October.
A frosty night was followed by a Tuscan day: å cold tramontana from the south, and a clear hot sun, which expanded the mercury at 10 A.M. to 70° F. After taking leave of the hospitable station-master, we resumed the road which ran up the short and heavy ascent, through a country here and there eighteen inches deep in snow, and abounding in large sage and little rabbits. A descent led into Long Valley, whose northern end we crossed, and then we came upon a third ascent, where, finding a sinking creek, a halt was called for lunch. The formation of the whole country is a succession of basins and divides. Ensued another twelve miles' descent, which placed us in sight of Ruby Valley, and a mile beyond carried us to the station.
Ruby Valley is a half-way house, about 300 miles from Great Salt Lake City, and at the same distance from Carson Valley. It derives its name from the small precious stones which are found like nuggets of gold in the crevices of primitive rock. The length of the valley is about 100 miles, by three or four broad, and springs are scattered in numbers along the base of the western mountains. The cold is said to be here more severe than in any place on the line of road, Spring Valley excepted. There is, however, excellent bench-land for grazing. In this season the scenery is really pretty. The white peaks tower over hill-land black with cedar, and this looks down upon the green bottom scattered over with white sage—winter above lying by the side of summer below.
We were received at the Ruby-Valley Station by Colonel Rogers, better known as “Uncle Billy." He had served in the troublous days of California as marshal, and has many a hairbreadth escape to relate. He is now assistant Indian agent, the superintendent of a government model farm, and he lives en garçon, having left his wife and children at Frogtown. We were soon introduced to the chief of the country, Chýūkŭpĭchyă (the "old man'), a word of unpronounceable slur, changed by whites into Chokop (“earth”). His lands are long to the north and south, though of little breadth. He commands about 500. warriors, and, as Uncle Billy is returning to Frogtown, he is collecting a large hunting-party for the autumnal battue. In 1849 his sister was wantonly shot by emigrants to California. He attacked the train, and slew in revenge five men, a fact with which we were not made acquainted till after our departure. His father and grandfather are both alive, but they have abdicated under the weight of years and infirmities, reserving their voices for the powwow.
We dined in the colonel's stone hut, and then saw the lions feed; after us, Chokop and five followers sat down with knife and fork before a huge tureen full of soft pie, among which they did terrible execution, champing and chewing with the noisiness of wild beasts, and eating each enough for three able-bodied sailors. The chief, a young man twenty-five years old, had little to denote the Indian except vermilion where soap should have been; one of his companions, however, crowned with eagle's feathers disposed in tulip shape, while the claws depended gracefully down his back, was an object worthy of Guinea. All were, however, to appearance, happy, and for the first time I heard an Indian really laugh outright. Outside squatted the common herd in a costume which explains the prevalence of rheumatism. The men were in rags, yet they had their coquetry, vermilion streaked down their cheeks and across their foreheads—the Indian fashion of the omnilocal rouge. The women, especially the elders, were horrid objects, shivering and half dressed in breech-cloths and scanty capes or tippets of wolf and rabbit skin: the existence of old age, however, speaks well for the race. Both are unclean; they use no water where Asiatics would; they ignore soap, and rarely repair to the stream, except, like animals, in hot weather.
We then strolled about the camp and called upon the two Mistresses Chokop. One was a buxom dame, broad and strong, with hair redolent of antelope marrow, who boasted of a “wikeap" or wigwam in the shape of a conical tent. The other, much her junior, and rather pretty, was sitting apart in a bower of bushes, with a newly-born pappoose in a willow cage to account for her isolation: the poor thing would have been driven out even in the depth of winter, and were she to starve, she must do without meat. As among the Jews, whenever the Great Father is angry with the daughters of Red Men, they sit apart; they never touch a cooking utensil, although it is not held impure to address them, and they return only when the signs of wrath have passed away. The abodes of the poorer clansmen were three-quarter circles of earth, sticks, and sage-bush to keep off the southerly wind. A dog is usually one of the occupants. Like the African, the Indian is cruel to his brute, starves it and kicks it for attempting to steal a mouthful: “Love me, love my dog," however, is his motto, and he quarrels with the stranger that follows his example. The furniture was primitive. Upon a branch hung a dried antelope head used in stalking: concerning this sport Uncle Billy had a story of his nearly being shot by being mistaken for the real animal; and tripods of timber supporting cloths and moccasins, pans, camp-kettles, stones for grinding grass-seed, and a variety of baskets. The material was mostly willow twig, with a layer of gum, probably from the pine-tree. Some were watertight like the "Hán” of Somaliland; others, formed like the Roman amphora, were for storing grain; while others, in giant cocked-hat shape, were intended for sweeping in crickets and the grass seeds upon which these Indians feed. The chief gramineæ are the atriplex and chenopodaceous plants. After inspecting the camp we retired precipitately: its condition was that of an Egyptian army's last nighting-place.
About two miles from the station there is a lake covered with water-fowl, from the wild swan to the rail. I preferred, however, to correct my Shoshonee vocabulary under the inspection of Mose Wright, an express rider from a neighboring station. None of your "one-horse” interpreters, he had learned the difficult dialect in his youth, and he had acquired all the intonation of an Indian. Educated beyond the reach of civilization, he was in these days an oddity; he was convicted of having mistaken a billiard cue for a whip handle, and was accused of having mounted the post supporting the electric telegraph wire in order to hear what it was saying. The evening was spent in listening to Uncle Billy's adventures among the whites and reds. He spoke highly of his protégés, especially of their affection and fidelity in married life: they certainly appeared to look upon him as a father. He owed something to legerdemain; here, as in Algeria, a Houdin or a Love would be great medicine-men with whom nobody would dare to meddle. Uncle Billy managed to make the post pay by peltries of the mink, wolf, woodchuck or ground-hog, fox, badger, antelope, black-tailed deer, and others. He illustrated the peculiarities of the federal government by a curious anecdote. The indirect or federal duties are in round numbers $100,000,000, of which $60,000,000 are spent, leaving a surplus of forty for the purpose of general corruption: the system seems to date from the days of the “ultimus Romanorum,” President Jackson. None but the largest claimants can expect to be recognized. A few years ago one of the Indian agents in — was asked by a high official what might be about the cost of purchasing a few hundred acres for a government farm. After reckoning up the amount of beads, wire, blankets, and gunpowder, the total was found to be $240. The high official requested his friend to place the statement on paper, and was somewhat surprised the next morning to see the $240 swollen to $40,000. The reason given was characteristic: “What great government would condescend to pay out of £8,000,000 a paltry £48, or would refuse to give £8000 ?"