A Summer in a Canyon: A California Story
Kate Douglas Wiggin

Part 4 out of 4

passed him, yet he heard the clatter of hoofs and the tinkle of
spurs, and, turning, saw a mysterious horseman, whose pale face and
streaming hair melted into the mountain mist, as it floated down from
the purple Santa Ynez peaks into the lap of the vine-covered foot-
hills below.'


'And still they watched the flickering of the blaze,
And talked together of the good old days.'

'Brava!' 'Bravissima!' 'Splendid, Polly!' exclaimed the boys.
'Bell, you're a great author!'

'Couldn't have done better myself--give you my word!' cried Jack,
bowing profoundly to Bell and Polly in turn, and presenting them with
bouquets of faded leaves hastily gathered from the ground.

'Polly covered herself with glory,' said the doctor; 'and I am very
proud of your part in it, too, my little daughter. I have some
knowledge of Pancho's capabilities as a narrator, and I think the
"Story of Valerio" owes a good deal to you. Now, who comes next?

'No, please,' said Margery, 'for I have another story. Take one of
the boys, and let's have more facts.'

'Yes, something historic and profound, out of the encyclopaedia, from
Jack,' said Polly, saucily.

'Thanks, Miss Oliver. With you for an audience any man might be
inspired; but--'

'But not a BOY?'

'Mother, dear, remove that child from my sight, or I shall certainly
shake her! Phil, go on, just to keep Polly quiet.'

'Very well. Being the oldest Californian present, I--'

'What about Dr. Paul?' asked the irrepressible Polly.

'He wasn't born here,' responded Philip, dryly, 'and I was.'

'I think that's a quibble,' interrupted Bell. 'Papa was here twenty
years before you were.'

'It's not my fault that he came first,' answered Philip. 'Margery
and I are not only the oldest Californians present, but the only
ones. Isn't that so, sir?'

'Quite correct.'

'Oh, if you mean that way, I suppose you are; but still papa helped
frame the Constitution, and was here on the first Admission Day, and
was one of the Vigilantes--and I think that makes him more of a real
Californian than you. You've just "grown up with the country."'

'Bless my soul! What else could I do? I would have been glad to
frame the Constitution, admit the State, and serve on the Vigilance
Committee, if they had only waited for me; but they went straight
ahead with the business, and when I was born there was nothing to do
but stand round and criticise what they had done, or, as you express
it, "grow up with the country." Well, as I was saying when I was

'Beg pardon.'

'Don't mention it. Uncle Doc has asked me to tell Mrs. Howard and
Elsie how they carried on the rodeos ten or fifteen years ago. Of
course I was only a little chap'--('VERY little,' murmured his
sister)--'but never too small to stick on a horse, and my father used
often to take me along. The rodeos nowadays are neither as great
occasions, nor as exciting ones, as they used to be; but this is the
way a rodeo is managed. When the spring rains are mostly over, and
the grass is fine,--say in April--the ranchero of a certain ranch
sends word to all his neighbours that he will hold a rodeo on a
certain day or days. Of course the cattle used to stray all over the
country, and get badly mixed, as there were no fences; so the rodeo
was held for the purpose of separating the cattle and branding the
calves that had never been marked.

'The owners of the various ranches assemble the night before,
bringing their vaqueros with them. They start out very early in the
morning, having had a cup of coffee, and ride to the "rodeo-ground,"
which is any flat, convenient place where canyons converge. Many of
the cattle on the hills round about know the place, having been there
before, and the vaqueros start after them and drive them to the

'How many vaqueros would there be?' asked Elsie.

'Oh, nine or ten, perhaps; and often from one thousand to three
thousand cattle--it depends on the number of ranches and cattle
represented. Some of the vaqueros form a circle round the cattle
that they have driven to the rodeo-ground, and hold them there while
others go back to the ranch for breakfast and fresh horses.'

'Fresh horses so soon?' said Mrs. Howard. 'I thought the mustangs
were tough, hardy little beasts, that would go all day without

'Yes, so they are; but you always have to begin to "part out" the
cattle with the freshest and best-trained horses you have. The
owners and their best vaqueros now go into the immense band of
cattle, and try to get the cows and the unbranded calves separated
from the rest. You can imagine what skilful engineering this takes,
even though you never saw it. Two work together; they start a
certain cow and calf and work them through the band of cattle until
they near the outside, and then "rush" them to a place three or four
hundred yards beyond, where other vaqueros are stationed to receive
and hold them. Of course the cattle don't want to leave the band,
and of course they don't want to stay in the spot to which they are

'I don't blame them!' cried Bell impetuously. 'Probably the cows
remember the time when they were branded themselves, and they don't
want their dear little bossies put through the same operation.'

'Very likely. Then more cows and calves are started in the same way;
the greatest difficulty being had with the first lot, for the cattle
always stay more contentedly together as the group grows larger.
Occasionally one "breaks" and runs off on the hills, and a vaquero
starts after him, throws the reata and lassos him, or "lass's" him,
as the California boys say.'

'There must be frightful accidents,' said Mrs. Winship.

'Yes; but not so many as you would suppose, for the horsemanship, in
its particular way, is something wonderful. When an ugly steer is
lassoed and he feels the reata or lariat round his neck, he sometimes
turns and "makes" for the horse, and unless the vaquero is
particularly skilful he will be gored and his horse too; but he gives
a dexterous turn to the lariat, the animal steps over it, gets
tangled and thrown. Frequently an animal breaks a horn or a leg.
Sometimes one fall is not enough; the steer jumps up and pursues the
horse. Then the vaquero keeps a little ahead of him and leads him
back to the rodeo-ground, where another vaquero lassos him by the
hind legs and throws him, while the reata is taken off his neck.'

'There is another danger, too,' added Dr. Winship. 'The vaquero
winds the reata very tightly round the pommel of his saddle to hold
the steer, and he is likely to have his finger caught in the hair-
rope and cut off.'

'Yes, I forgot that. Two or three of the famous old vaqueros about
Santa Barbara--Jose Maria, Jose Antonio, and old Clemente--have each
lost a finger. Well, the vaqueros at length form in a circle round
the band of selected cattle. The ranch owner who gives the rodeo
takes his own cattle that he has found--the ones bearing his brand,
you know--and drives them in with the ones to be branded, leaving in
the rodeo-ground the cattle bearing the brands of all the other
rancheros. There has been much drinking of aguardiente (brandy) and
everybody by this time is pretty reckless. Then they drive this
selected band to the home corral, the vaqueros yelling, the cattle
"calling," and the reatas whizzing and whistling through the air. If
any unfortunate tries to escape his fate he is pursued, "lass'd," and
brought back. By this time the cattle are pretty well heated and
angry, and when they get into the crowded corral they horn each other
and try to gore the horses. A fire is then built in one corner of
the corral and the branding-irons are heated.'

'Oh! hold my hand, Polly, if the branding is going to begin, I hate
it so,' exclaimed Elsie.

'I won't say much about it, but it's no worse than a thousand things
that people have to bear every year of their lives. Animals never
have to have teeth filled, for instance, nor limbs amputated--'

'Oh, just think of a calf with a wooden leg, or a cow with false
teeth! Wouldn't it be funny?' laughed Bell.

'They don't have a thousand ills that human flesh is heir to, so they
must be thankful they get off so easy. Well! the branding-irons are
heated, as I say--each cattle-owner having his special brand, which
is properly recorded, and which may be any device not previously
used. Two men now catch the calves; one lassoing them by the head,
the other by the legs. A third man takes the iron from the fire and
brands the chosen letter or hieroglyphic on the animal's hind

'Sometimes on the fore quarter, don't they?' asked Bell. 'I've seen
brands there,--your horse has two, and our cow has one also.'

'Yes, a brand on the fore quarter shows that the animal has been
sold, but it always has the original brand on the hind quarter. When
a sale is effected, the new brand is put anywhere in front of the
fifth rib, and this constitutes what they call a venta, or sale. If
you notice some of the little "plugs" ridden by Santa Barbara boys,
you'll see that they bear half a dozen brands. By the way, if the
rodeo has been a very large one, they are several days branding the
cattle, so they are turned out to pastorear a little while each day.'

'The brand was absolute sign of ownership, you know, girls,' said Dr.
Winship; 'and though there was the greatest care exercised in
choosing and recording the brands, there was plenty of opportunity
for cheating. For instance, a man would often see unbranded cattle
when riding about, and there was nothing to prevent his dismounting,
building a fire, heating his iron, and putting his own brand on them.
Then, at the next rodeo, they were simply turned over to him, for, as
I say, the brand was absolute ownership.'

'Whene'er I take my rides abroad,
How many calves I see;
And, as I brand them properly,
They all belong to me,'

said Bell.

'How I should like to see a rodeo!' sighed Elsie. 'I can't imagine
how the vaqueros can fling the reata while they are riding at full

'It isn't so very wonderful,' said Polly, nonchalantly 'the most
ordinary people can learn it; why! your brother Jack can lasso almost
as well as a Mexican.'

'And I can "lass" any stationary object myself,' cried Bell; 'a
hitching-post, or even a door-knob; I can do it two or three times
out of ten.'

'That shows immense skill,' answered Jack, 'but, as the thing you
want to "lass" never does stay still, and as it is absolutely
necessary to catch it more than three times out of ten, you probably
wouldn't make a name and fortune as a vaquero. Juan Capistrano, by
the way, used to be famous with the lariat. I had heard of his
adventure with a bull on the island of Santa Rosa, and I asked him
about it to-day; but he had so exhausted himself telling stories to
Bell that he had very few words for me. You see there was a bull, on
Santa Rosa island, so wild that they wanted to kill him; but nobody
could do it, though he was a terror to any one who ventured on the
island. They called him "Antiguelo," because of his long horns and
long tail. He was such a terrible fighter that all the vaqueros were
afraid to lass' him, for he always broke away with the lariat. You
see a horse throws a bull by skill and not by strength, of course.
You can choke almost any bull; but this one was too smart! he would
crouch on his haunches and pull back until the rope nearly choked him
and then suddenly "make" for the horse. Juan Capistrano had a
splendid horse--you see as much depends on the horse as the man in
such a case--and he came upon Antiguelo on the Cerro Negro and lass'd
him. Well, did he fight? I asked. "Si, Senor." Well, what
happened? "Yo lo mate" (I killed him), he said, with a shrug of his
shoulders, and that's all I could get out of Juan regarding his

'But you haven't done your share, you lazy boy,' objected Bell. 'You
must tell us more.'

'What do you want to hear? I am up on all the animal and vegetable
life of Southern California, full of interesting information
concerning its old customs, can give you Spanish names for all the
things that come up in ordinary conversation, and am the only man
present who can make a raw-hide reata,' said Jack, modestly.

'Go on and tell us how, O great and wise reatero,' said Bell.

'I'll tell you that myself,' said Elsie, 'for I've seen him do it
dozens of times, when he should have been studying his little
lessons. He takes a big piece of raw hide, cuts a circle right out
of the middle, and then cuts round and round this until he has one
long continuous string, half an inch wide. He then stretches it and
scrapes the hair off with a knife or a piece of glass, gets it into
four strands, and braids it "round."'

'Perhaps you think braiding "round" is easy to do,' retorted Jack, in
an injured tone; 'but I know it took me six months to learn to do it

'I fail to see,' said his mother, 'how a knowledge of "braiding
round" and lassoing of wild cattle is going to serve you in your
university life and future career.'

'Oh yes, it will. I shall be the Buffalo Bill of Harvard, and I
shall give charming little entertainments in my rooms, or in some
little garden-plot suitable to the purpose.'

'Shall you make a point of keeping up with your class?' asked Mrs.

'Oh yes, unless they go too fast. My sports won't take any more time
than rowing or baseball. They'll be a little more expensive, because
I'll have to keep some wild cattle constantly on hand, and perhaps a
vaquero or two; but a vaquero won't cost any more than a valet.'

'I didn't intend furnishing you with a valet,' remarked his mother.

'But I shall be self-supporting, mother dear. I shall give
exhibitions on the campus, and the gate-money will keep me in

'This is all very interesting,' said Polly, cuttingly; 'but what has
it to do with California, I'd like to know?'

'Poor dear! Your brain is so weak. Can't you see that when I am the
fashion in Cambridge, it will be noised about that I gained my
marvellous skill in California? This will increase emigration. I
don't pretend to say it will swell the population like the discovery
of gold in '48, but it will have a perceptible effect.'

'You are more modest than a whole mossy bank of violets,' laughed Dr.
Paul. 'Now, Margery, will you give us your legend?'

'Mine is the story of Juan de Dios (literally, Juan of God), and I'm
sorry to say that it has a horse in it, like Polly's; only hers was a
snow-white mare, and mine is a coal-black charger. But they wouldn't
tell us any romantic love-stories; they were all about horses.'


'In early days, when Americans were coming in to Santa Barbara, there
were many cattle-buyers among them; and there were large bands of
robbers all over the country who were ready to pounce on these
travellers on their way to the great cattle ranchos, kill them, and
steal their money and clothes, as well as their horses and trappings.
No one could understand how the robbers got such accurate information
of the movements of the travellers, unless they had a spy somewhere
near the Mission, where they often stopped for rest and refreshment.

'Now, there was a certain young Indian vaquero in the employ of the
padres at La Mission de la Purisima. He was a wonderful horseman,
and greatly looked up to by his brother vaqueros, because he was so
strong, alert, and handsome, and because he was always dressed
elegantly in rich old Spanish embroideries and velvets, given to him,
he said, by men for whom he had done great services.

'One day a certain traveller, a Spanish official of high degree, came
from Monterey to wed his sweetheart, the daughter of the richest
cattle-owner in all the country round. His spurs and bit and bridle
were of solid silver; his jaquima (halter) was made of a hair rope
whose strands had been dyed in brilliant colours; his tapaderos
(front of the stirrups), mochilas (large leather saddle flaps), and
sudaderos (thin bits of leather to protect the legs from sweat), were
all beautifully stamped in the fashion used by the Mexicans; his
saddle blankets and his housings were all superb, and he wore a broad
sombrero encircled with a silver snake and trimmed with silver lace.

'The traveller stayed at La Purisima all night, and set out early in
the morning to ride the last forty miles that separated him from his
bride. But Juan and two other robbers were lying in wait for him
behind a great rock that stood at the entrance of a lonely canyon.
They appeared on horseback, one behind the unfortunate man and two in
front, so that he could escape neither way. They finally succeeded
in lassoing the horse and throwing him to the ground with his rider,
who defended himself bravely with his knife, but was finally killed
and robbed, Juan taking his clothes and trappings, and the other two
dividing the contents of his purse. They could not have buried their
victim as successfully as usual, or else they were surprised, and had
to escape, for the body was found; and Juan, whom the padres had
begun to view with suspicion, was nowhere to be found about the
Mission. Troops were sent out in pursuit of him, for this particular
traveller was a high official, and it was necessary that his death
should be avenged. They at last heard that Juan had been seen going
towards Santa Ynez Mission, and, pursuing him thither, they came upon
him as he was driving a band of horses into a corral, and just in the
act of catching his own horse, a noble and powerful animal, called
Azabache, because of his jet-black colour. The men surrounded the
corral, and ordered him to surrender. He begged them to wait until
he had saddled Azabache, and then they might shoot them both down
together. He asked permission to call three times (pegar tres
gritos), and after the third call they were to shoot. His last wish
was granted. He saddled and mounted his splendid horse, called once-
-twice--thrice,--but when the last shout faded in the air, and the
troops raised their muskets to fire, behold, there was no Juan de
Dios to be seen. They had been surrounding the corral so that no one
could have ridden out; they looked among the horses, but Asabache was
nowhere to be found.

'Just then a joyous shout was heard, so ringing and triumphant that
every man turned in the direction from which it came. There,
galloping up the hillside, nearly half a mile distant, was Juan de
Dios, mounted on his coal-black Azabache! But it was no common
sunshine that deepened the gorgeous colours of his trappings and
danced upon his silver spurs till they glistened like two great
stars! It was a broad, glittering stream of light such as no mortal
had ever seen before and which almost blinded the eyes; and over this
radiant path of golden sunbeams galloped Juan de Dios, until he
disappeared over the crest of the mountain. Then the light faded;
the padres crossed themselves in silence and went home to their
Mission! and Juan de Dios never was heard of more.'

Modest little Margery was hailed with such cheers that you could not
have seen her cheeks for the blushes; and, just as the party began to
think of forsaking the fascinating camp-fire for bed, Bell jumped up
impetuously and cried, 'Here, Philip, give me the castanets, please.
Polly and Jack, you play "Las Palomas" for me, and I'll sing and show
you the dance of that pretty Mexican girl whom I saw at the ball
given under the Big Grape Vine. Wait till I take off my hair ribbon.
Lend me your scarf, mamma. Now begin!'

Cua-tro pa-lo-mi-tas blan-cas que vie-
nen de por a--lla. U-nas a las o-tras
di-cen no hay a-mor como el de a-ca.

It is barely possible, but not likely, that anything prettier than
Bell's Mexican danza was to be seen under the light of the September
stars that night; although they were doubtless shining down upon a
thousand lovely things. With all the brightness of her loosened hair
rising and falling with the motion of her swaying figure--with her
twinkling feet, her crimson cheeks and parted lips, she looked the
very spirit of the dance, and her enraptured--audience only allowed
her to stop when she was absolutely breathless.

'Oh what a beautiful evening!' exclaimed Elsie, when the celebration
was finally over. 'Was there ever such a dear, dear canyon with such
dear people in it! If it only wouldn't rain and we could live here
for ever!'

'Rain, rain, stay away!
Come again another day,
Little Elsie wants to play,'

recited Polly, and then everybody went to their straw beds.


'The thirsty earth soaks up the rain,
And drinks and gapes for drink again;
The plants suck in the earth and are,
With constant drinking, fresh and fair.'

But it did rain; and it didn't wait until they were out of the canyon
either. It began long before the proper time, and it by no means
confined itself to a shower, but opened the winter season fully a
month before there was any need of it, and behaved altogether in a
most heartless and inconsiderate manner, like a very spoil-sport of a

It began after dark, so as to be just as disagreeable as possible,
and under the too slight cover of their tents the campers could hear
the rush and the roar of it like the tramping of myriad feet on the
leaves. Pancho and the two Chinamen huddled under the broad
sycamores in their rubber blankets, and were dry and comfortable; but
all the waterproof tents leaked, save Elsie's.

But when it was dawn, the Sun, having heard nothing apparently of any
projected change in the weather, rose at the usual time in the most
resplendent fashion--brighter, rosier, and more gloriously, if you
will believe me, than he had risen that whole long sunshiny summer!
And he really must have felt paid for getting up at such an unearthly
hour in the morning, when, after he had clambered over the grey
mountain peaks, he looked down upon Las Flores Canyon, bathed in the
light of his own golden beams.

If he knew anything about Ancient History and Biblical Geography--and
if he didn't I don't know who should, inasmuch as he had been present
from the beginning of time--he must have thought it as fair as the
Garden of Eden; for Nature's face simply shone with cleanliness, like
that of a smiling child just fresh from its bath, and every leaf of
every tree glistened as he beamed upon it, and shook off its crystal
drops that he might turn them into diamonds.

'It was only a shower,' said Dr. Winship, as he seated himself on a
damp board and partook of a moist breakfast, 'and with this sun the
tents will be dry before night; Elsie has caught no cold, the dust
will be laid, and we can stay another week with safety.'

Everybody was hilarious over this decision save the men-of-all-work,
who longed unspeakably for a less poetic existence--Hop Yet
particularly, who thought camping out 'not muchee good.'

Dicky was more pleased than anybody, perhaps, as every day in the
canyon was one day less in school; not that he had ever been to
school, but he knew in advance, instinctively, that it wouldn't suit
him. Accordingly, he sought the wettest possible places and played
all day with superhuman energy. He finally found Hop Yet's box of
blueing under a tree, in a very moist and attractive state of
fluidity, and just before dinner improved the last shining hour by
painting himself a brilliant hue and appearing at dinner in such a
fiendish guise that he frightened the family into fits.

Now Dr. Winship was one of the most weather-wise men in California,
and his predictions were always quite safe and sensible; but somehow
or other it did rain again in two or three days, and it poured harder
than ever, too. To be sure, it cleared promptly, but the doctor was
afraid to trust so fickle a person as the Clerk of the Weather had
become, and marching orders were issued.

The boys tramped over all their favourite bits of country, and the
girls visited all their best beloved haunts, every one of them dear
from a thousand charming associations. They looked for the last time
in Mirror Pool, and saw the reflection of their faces--rather grave
faces just then, over the leave-taking.

The water-mirror might have been glad to keep the picture for ever on
its surface--Margery with her sleek braids and serene forehead; with
Polly, saucy nose and mischievous eyes, laughing at you like a merry
water-sprite; Bell, with her brilliant cheeks glowing like two roses
just fallen in the brook; and Gold Elsie, who, if you had put a frame
of green leaves about her delicate face and yellow locks, would have
looked up at you like a water-lily.

They wafted a farewell to Pico Negro, and having got rid of the boys,
privately embraced a certain Whispering Tree under whose singing
branches they had been wont to lie and listen to all the murmuring
that went on in the forest.

Then they clambered into the great thorough-brace wagon, where they
all sat in gloomy silence for ten minutes, while Dicky's tan terrier
was found for the fourth time that morning; and the long train, with
its baggage-carts, its saddle-horses and its dogged little pack-
mules, moved down the rocky steeps that led to civilisation. The
gate that shut them in from the county road and the outer world was
opened for the last time, and shut with a clang, and it was all over-
-their summer in a canyon!


{1} Foot-notes by a rival of the Countess.

{1a} Is that spelled right?
{1b} Fifty miles an hour, Jack says.
{1c} Poetic licence.
{1d} Gone back to cold cream.
{1e} And pie.
{1f} For sale at all bookstores, ten cents a copy.

{2} 'Four little white doves began to coo,
To coo to their mates so fair;
And each to the other dove said, 'Your coo
With mine cannot compare!'


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