A Tramp Through the Bret Harte Country
Thomas Dykes Beasley
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A Tramp Through the Bret Harte Country
Thomas Dykes Beasley
Author of "The Coming of Portola"
With A Foreward by
Charles A. Murdock
Above the pines the moon was slowly drifting,
The river sang below;
The dim Sierras, far beyond, uplifting
Their minarets of snow.
- Dickens in Camp.
Reminiscences of Bret Harte. "Plain Language From Truthful James." The
Glamour of the Old Mining Towns
Inception of the Tramp. Stockton to Angel's Camp. Tuttletown and the
"Sage of Jackass Hill"
Tuolumne to Placerville. Charm of Sonora and Fascination of San Andreas
and Mokelumne Hill
J. H. Bradley and the Cary House. Ruins of Coloma. James W. Marshall and
His Pathetic End
Auburn to Nevada City Via Colfax and Grass Valley. Ben Taylor and His
E. W. Maslin and His Recollections of Pioneer Days in Grass Valley.
Origin of Our Mining Laws
Grass Valley to Smartsville. Sucker Flat and Its Personal Appeal
Smartsville to Marysville. Some Reflections on Automobiles and "Hoboes"
Bayard Taylor and the California of Forty-nine. Bret Harte and His
Literary Pioneer Contemporaries
Ruins of Coloma, a Name "Forever Associated With the Wildest Scramble
for Gold the World Has Ever Been"
Map of the "Bret Harte Country," Showing the Route Taken by the Writer,
With the Towns, Important Rivers, and County Boundaries of the Country
The Tuttletown Hotel, Tuttletown; a Wooden Building Erected in the Early
Mokelumne River; "Whatever the Meaning of the Indian Name, One May Rest
Assured It Stands for Some Form of Beauty"
"A Mining Convention at Placerville"
South Fork of the American River, Coloma. The Bend in the River Is the
Precise Spot Where Gold Was First Discovered in California
Ben Taylor and His Home, Grass Valley, Showing the Spruce He Planted
Nearly Half a Century Ago
E. W. Maslin in the Garden of His Alameda Home
Angel's Hotel, Angel's Camp, Erected in 1852, as was the Wells Fargo
Building Which Faces it Across the Street
Main Hoist of the Utica Mine, Angel's Camp, Situated on the Summit of a
Hill Overlooking the Town
The Stanislaus River, Near Tuttletown, "Running in a Deep and Splendid
Jackass Hill, Tuttletown. The Road to the Left Leads to the Former Home
of "Jim" Gillis
Home of Mrs. Swerer, Tuttletown. The Hotel and This Dwelling Comprise
All That Is Habitable of the Tuttletown of Bret Harte
Main Street, Sonora, "So Shaded by Trees That Buildings Are Half-hidden"
Sonora, Looking Southeast. "No Matter From What Direction You Approach
It, Sonora Seems to Lie Basking in the Sun"
Main Street, San Andreas, "During the Mid-day Heat, Almost Deserted"
Metropolitan Hotel, San Andreas; in the Bar-room of Which Occurred the
"Jumping Frog" Incident
Mokelumne Hotel, on the Summit of Mokelumne Hill, and at the Head of the
Famous Chili Gulch
Placerville, the County Seat of El Dorado County, From the Road to
The Cary House, Placerville. "It Was Here That Horace Greeley Terminated
His Celebrated Stage Ride With Hank Monk"
Middle Fork of the American River, Near Auburn, and Half a Mile Above
Its Junction With the North Fork
An Apple Orchard, Grass Valley, "The Trees Growing in the Grass, as in
England and the Atlantic States"
The Western Hotel, Grass Valley. "The Well and Pump Add a Quaint and
A Bit of Picturesque Nevada City, Embracing the Homes of Its Leading
In California's imaginary Hall of Fame, Bret Harte must be accorded a
prominent, if not first place. His short stories and dialect poems
published fifty years ago made California well known the world over and
gave it a romantic interest conceded no other community. He saw the
picturesque and he made the world see it. His power is unaccountable if
we deny him genius. He was essentially an artist. His imagination gave
him vision, a new life in beautiful setting supplied colors and rare
literary skill painted the picture.
His capacity for absorption was marvelous. At the age of about twenty he
spent less than a year in the foot-hills of the Sierras, among pioneer
miners, and forty-five years of literary output did not exhaust his
impressions. He somewhere refers to an "eager absorption of the strange
life around me, and a photographic sensitiveness," to certain scenes and
incidents." "Eager absorption," "photographic sensitiveness," a rich
imagination and a fine literary style, largely due to his mother,
enabled him to win at his death this acknowledgment from the "London
Spectator:" "No writer of the present day has struck so powerful and
original a note as he has sounded."
Francis Bret Harte was born in Albany, New York, August 25, 1836. His
father was a teacher and translator; his mother a woman of high
character and cultivated tastes. His father having died, he, when nine,
became an office boy and later a clerk. In 1854 he came to California to
join his mother who had married again, arriving in Oakland in March of
that year. His employment for two years was desultory. He worked in a
drug store and also wrote for Eastern magazines. Then he went to Alamo
in the San Ramon Valley as tutor - a valued experience. Later in 1856 he
went to Tuolumne County where, among other things, he taught school, and
may have been an express messenger. At any rate, he stored his memory
with material that ten years later made him and the whole region famous.
In 1857 he went to Humboldt County where his sister was living. He was
an interesting figure, gentlemanly, fastidious, reserved, sensitive,
with a good fund of humor, a pleasant voice and a modest manner. He
seemed poorly fitted for anything that needed doing. He was willing, for
I saw him digging post holes and building a fence with results somewhat
unsatisfactory. He was more successful as tutor for two of my boy
friends. He finally became printers' devil in the office of the
"Northern Californian," where he learned the case, and incidentally
contributed graceful verse and clever prose.
He returned to San Francisco early in 1860 and found work on the "Golden
Era," at first as compositor and soon as writer. In May, 1864, he left
the "Golden Era" and joined others in starting "The Californian." Two
months later he was made editor of the new "Overland Monthly." The
second number contained "The Luck of Roaring Camp." It attracted wide
attention as a new note. Other stories and poems of merit followed.
Harte's growing reputation burst in full bloom when in 1870 he filled a
blank space in the "Overland" make-up with "The Heathen Chinee." It was
quoted on the floor of the Senate and gained world-wide fame. He
received flattering offers and felt constrained to accept the best. In
February, 1871, he left California. A Boston publisher had offered him
$10,000 for whatever he might write in the following year. Harte
accepted, but the output was small.
For seven years he wrote spasmodically, eking out his income by
lecturing and newspaper work. Life was hard. In 1878 he sailed for
Europe, having been appointed consular agent at Crefeld, Prussia, about
forty miles north of Cologne. In 1880 he was made Consul at Glasgow,
where he remained five years. His home thereafter was London, where he
continued his literary work until his death in March, 1902.
His complete works comprise nineteen volumes. His patriotic verse is
fervid, his idyls are graceful and his humorous verse delightful. The
short story he made anew.
Harte's instincts and habits were good. He had the artistic temperament
and some of its incidental weaknesses. He acknowledged himself
"constitutionally improvident," and a debt-burdened life is not easy.
His later years were pathetic. Those who knew and appreciated him
remember him fondly. California failing to know him, wrongs herself.
Charles A. Murdock.
A desire to obtain, at first hand, any possible information in regard to
reminiscences of Bret Harte, Mark Twain and others of the little coterie
of writers, who in the early fifties visited the mining camps of
California and through stories that have become classics, played a
prominent part in making "California" a synonym for romance, led to
undertaking the tramp of which this brief narrative is a record. The
writer met with unexpected success, having the good fortune to meet men,
all over eighty years of age, who had known - in some cases intimately
Bret Harte, Mark Twain, "Dan de Quille," Prentice Mulford, Bayard Taylor
and Horace Greeley.
It seems imperative that a relation of individual experiences - however
devoid of stirring incident and adventure - should be written in the
first person. At the same time, the writer of this unpretentious story
of a summer's tramp cannot but feel that he owes his readers - should he
have any an apology for any avoidable egotism. His excuse is that, no
twit notwithstanding ding the glamour attaching to the old mining towns,
it is almost incredible how little is known of them by the average
Californian; for the Eastern tourist there is more excuse, since the
foot-hills of the Sierras lie outside the beaten tracks of travel. He
has, therefore, assumed that "a plain unvarnished tale" of actual
experiences might not be without interest to the casual reader; and
possibly might incite in him a desire to see for himself a country not
only possessed of rare beauty, but absolutely unique in its
But the point to be emphasized is that the glamour is not a thing of the
past: it is there now. Nay, to a person possessed of any imagination,
the ruins - say, of Coloma - appeal in all probability far stronger than
would the actual town itself in the days when it seethed with bustle and
excitement. Not to have visited the old mining towns is not to have seen
the "heart" of California, or felt its pulsations. It is not to
understand why the very name "California" still stirs the blood and
excites the imagination throughout the civilized world.
If this brief narrative should induce anyone to "gird up his loins,"
shoulder his pack and essay a similar pilgrimage, the author will feel
that he has not been unrewarded. And if a man over threescore years of
age can tramp through seven counties and return, in spite of intense
heat, feeling better and stronger than when he started, a young fellow
in the hey-day of life and sound of wind and limb surely ought not to be
Thomas Dykes Beasley.
A Tramp Through the Bret Harte Country
Reminiscences of Bret Harte. "Plain Language From Truthfulful James."
The Glamour of the Old Mining Towns
It is forty-four years since the writer met the author of "The Luck of
Roaring Camp" - that wonderful blending within the limits of a short
story of humor, pathos and tragedy - which, incredible as it may seem,
met with but a cold reception from the local press, and was even branded
as "indecent" and "immodest!"
On the occasion referred to, I was strolling on Rincon Hill - at that
time the fashionable residence quarter of San Francisco - in company
with Mr. J. H. Wildes, whose cousin, the late Admiral Frank Wildes,
achieved fame in the battle of Manila Bay. Mr. Wildes called my
attention to an approaching figure and said: "Here comes Bret Harte, a
man of unusual literary ability. He is having a hard struggle now, but
only needs the opportunity, to make a name for himself."
That opportunity arrived almost immediately. In the September number of
the Overland Monthly, 1870, of which magazine Mr. Harte was then editor,
appeared "Plain Language from Truthful James," or "The Heathen Chinee,"
as the poem was afterwards called. A few weeks later, to my amazement,
while turning the pages of Punch in the Mercantile Library, I came
across "The Heathen Chinee;" an unique compliment so far as my
recollection of Punch serves. To this generous and instantaneous
recognition of genius may be attributed in no small measure the rapid
distinction won by Bret Harte in the world of letters.
Mr. Harte read his "Heathen Chinee" to Mrs. Wildes, some time before it
was published. This lady, a woman of brilliant attainments and one who
had a host of friends in old San Francisco, possessed the keenest sense
of humor. Mr. Harte greatly valued her critical judgment. He was in the
habit of reading his stories and poems to her for her opinion and
decision, before publication, and it may well be that her hearty
laughter and warm approval helped to strengthen his wavering opinion of
the lines which convulsed Anglo-Saxondom; for no one was more surprised
than he at the sensation they created. He had even offered the poem for
publication to Mr. Ambrose Bierce, then editing the San Francisco News
Letter; but Mr. Bierce, recognizing its merit, returned it to Mr. Harte
and prevailed upon him to publish it in his own magazine.
Had one at that time encountered Mr. Harte in Piccadilly or Fifth
Avenue, he would simply have been aware of a man dressed in perfect
taste, but in the height of the prevailing fashion. On the streets of
San Francisco, however, Bret Harte was always a notable figure, from the
fact that the average man wore "slops," devoid alike of style or cut,
and usually of shiny broadcloth. Broad-brimmed black felt hats were the
customary headgear, completing a most funereal costume.
Mr. Harte impressed me as being singularly modest and utterly devoid of
any form of affectation. To be well dressed in a period when little
attention was paid clothes by the San Franciscan, might, it is true, in
some men have suggested assumption of an air of superiority; but with
Mr. Harte, to dress well was simply a natural instinct. His long,
drooping moustache and the side-whiskers of the time - incongruous as
the comparison may seem - called to mind the elder Sothern as "Lord
Dundreary." His natural expression was pensive, even sad. When one
considers that pathos and tragedy, perhaps even more than humor, pervade
his stories, that was not surprising.
I had but recently arrived from England - a mere lad. California was
still the land of gold and romance; the glamour with which Bret Harte
surrounded both, that bids fair to be immortal, held me enthralled.
Angel's, Rough and Ready, Sandy Bar, Poker Flat, Placerville, Tuolumne
and old Sonora represented to me enchanted ground. Fate and life's
vicissitudes prevented, except in imagination, a knowledge of the Sierra
foot-hill counties; but in the back of my head all these years had
persisted a determination to, at some time, visit a region close to the
heart of every old Californian, and what better way than on foot?
In spite of Pullman cars and automobiles - or, rather, perhaps on
account of them - the only way to see a country, to get into touch with
Nature and meet the inhabitants on the dead level of equality and human
sympathy, is to use Nature's method of locomotion. Equipped with a stout
stick - with a view to dogs - a folding kodak camera, and your "goods
and chattels" slung in a haversack across your shoulders, you feel
independent of timecards and "routes;" and sally forth into the world
with the philosophical determination to take things as they come; keyed
to a pleasurable pitch of excitement by the knowledge that "Adventure"
walks with you hand-in-hand, and that the "humors of the road" are yours
for the seeing and understanding.
Inception of the Tramp. Stockton to Angel's Camp. Tuttletown and the
"Sage of Jackass Hill"
Following as near as might be the route of the old Argonauts, I avoided
trains, and on a warm summer night boarded the Stockton boat. In the
early morning you are aware of slowly rounding the curves of the San
Joaquin River. Careful steering was most essential, as owing to the dry
season the river was unusually low. The vivid greens afforded by the
tules and willows that fringe the river banks, and the occasional
homestead surrounded by trees, with its little landing on the edge of
the levee, should delight the eye of the artist.
I lost no time in Stockton and headed for Milton in the foot-hills, just
across the western boundary of Calaveras County. The distance was
variously estimated by the natives at from twenty to forty miles -
Californians are careless about distances, as in other matters.
Subsequently I entered it in my note book as a long twenty-eight.
Eighteen miles out from Stockton, at a place called Peters, which is
little more than a railway junction, you leave the cultivated land and
enter practically a desert country, destitute of water, trees,
undergrowth and with but a scanty growth of grass. I ate my lunch at the
little store and noted with apprehension that the thermometer registered
104 degrees in the shaded porch. I am not likely to forget that pull of
ten miles and inwardly confessed to a regret that I had not taken the
train to Milton. Accustomed on "hikes" to a thirst not surpassed by
anything "east of Suez," I never before appreciated the significance of
the word "parched" - the "tongue cleaving to the roof of the mouth."
At Milton one enters the land of romance. What was even more appreciable
at the time, it marks the limit of the inhospitable country I had
traversed. Mr. Robert Donner, the proprietor of the Milton Hotel, told
me he once had "Black Bart" as his guest for over a week, being unaware
at the time of his identity. This famous bandit in the early eighties
"held up" the Yosemite stage time and again. In fact, he terrorized the
whole Sierra country from Redding to Sacramento. He was finally captured
in San Francisco through a clew obtained from a laundry mark on a pair
of white cuffs. For years, Mr. Donner cherished a boot left by the
highwayman in the hurry of departure, which, much to his annoyance, was
finally abstracted by some person unknown. To dispose of Black Bart; he
served his term and was never seen again in the Sierras. There is a
rumor that Wells Fargo & Company, the chief sufferers by his activities,
made it worth his while to behave himself in the future.
The following day I reached Copperopolis. This place very justly has the
reputation of being one of the hottest spots in the foot-hills. Owing to
resumed operations on a large scale, of the Calaveras Copper Company, I
found the little settlement crowded to its fullest capacity, and was
perforce compelled to resort to genuine "hobo" methods - in short, I
spent the night under the lee of a haystack. My original intention had
been to walk thence to Sonora, twenty-four miles; but finding the road
would take me again into the valley, I decided to make for Angel's Camp,
only thirteen miles away.
It is uphill nearly all the way from Copperopolis to Angel's Camp, but
mostly you are in the pine woods. My spirits rose with the altitude and
delight at the magnificent view when I at last reached the summit.
Toiling up the grade in the dust, I met a good old-fashioned four-horse
Concord stage, which from all appearances might have been in action ever
since the days of Bret Harte. At last I felt I was in touch with the
Sierras. The driver even honored my bow with an abrupt "Howdy!" which
from such a magnate, I took to be a good omen.
In common with all the old mining towns - though I was unaware of it at
the time - Angel's, as it is usually called, is situated in the ravine
where gold was first discovered. It straggles down the gulch for a mile
and a half. There are a number of pretty cottages clinging to the steep
hillsides, surrounded with flowers and trees, the whole effect being
extremely pleasing. I registered at the Angel's Hotel, built in 1852.
Across the street is the Wells Fargo building, erected about the same
time and of solid stone, as is the hotel. Nothing on this trip surprised
me more than the solidity of the hotels and stores built in the early
fifties. Instead of the flimsy wooden structures I had imagined, I
found, for the most part, thick stone walls. It was evident the Pioneers
believed in the permanence of the gold deposits in the Mother Lode.
Possibly they were right; Angel's is anything but a dead town to-day.
The Utica, Angel's and Lightner mines give employment to hundreds of
In the afternoon I visited the Bret Harte Girls' High School. It is a
very simple frame building, on the summit of a hill overlooking the
town. The man who directed me how to find it, I discovered had not the
remotest idea who Bret Harte might be; "John Brown" would have answered
the purpose equally as well. In fact, all through the seven counties I
traversed - Tuolumne, Calaveras, Amador, El Dorado, Placer, Nevada and
Yuba - I found Bret Harte had left but a hazy and nebulous impression.
Mark Twain, Prentice Mulford, Horace Greeley, Bayard Taylor, even "Dan
de Quille," seemed better known.
The next morning I started for Sonora. In seven miles I came to the
Stanislaus River, running in a deep and splendid canon. The river here
is spanned by a fine concrete bridge, built jointly by Tuolumne and
Calaveras Counties, between which the river forms the dividing line. In
the bottom of the canon is the Melones mine, with a mill operating one
hundred stamps. The main tunnel is a mile and a half in length; the
longest mining tunnel in the State, I was told.
A steep pull of two miles out of the canon brought me to Tuttletown.
Here I stayed several hours, for the interest of the whole trip, so far
as Bret Harte was concerned, centered around this once celebrated camp,
and Jackass Hill, on which, at one time, lived James W. Gillis, the
supposed prototype of "Truthful James." He died a few years ago, but his
brother, Stephen R. Gillis, is living there to-day, and after some
little difficulty I succeeded in finding his house.
Mr. Gillis scouts the idea that his brother "Jim" was the "Truthful
James" of Bret Harte. He said that in reality it was J. W. E. Townsend,
known in old times as "Alphabetical Townsend," also by the
uncomplimentary appellation of "Lying Jim." According to Mr. Gillis,
Bret Harte made but one visit to Tuttletown. He arrived there one
evening "dead broke" and James put him up for the night and lent him
money to help him on his way. Personally, Mr. Gillis never met Bret
Harte but he had seen Mark Twain on a number of Occasions. I got the
distinct impression that Stephen Gillis disliked the notoriety his
brother had gained, through the fact that his name had become
indissolubly linked with the "Truthful James" of Bret Harte's verses. Be
that as it may, I later on met several men who had known "Jim" Gillis
intimately and they all agreed that he possessed a keen sense of humor
and had at command a practically inexhaustible stock of stories, upon
which he drew at will. Whether Bret Harte derived any inspiration from
"Jim" Gillis may perhaps always remain in doubt; but that Mark Twain
did, there cannot, I think, be any question.
In a recent life of Bret Harte, by Henry Childs Merwin, it is stated
(page 21) that in 1858 Bret Harte acted as tutor in a private family at
Alamo, in the San Ramon valley, which lies at the foot of Mount Diablo.
On, page 50, however, we read: "In 1858 or thereabouts, Bret Harte was
teaching school at Tuttletown, a few miles north of Sonora." It would
seem that this statement is erroneous, apart from the fact that it
conflicts with the prior date in reference to Alamo.
Mrs. Swerer, who has lived continuously at Tuttletown since 1850, coming
there at the age of ten, told me she received her education at the
Tuttletown public school, as did her children and her children's
children - she is now a great-grandmother! She said most positively that
she never saw Bret Harte in her life, but had frequently seen "Dan de
Quille" and Mark Twain. The latter, she said, made periodic visits to
Tuttletown, and always stayed with "Jim" Gillis - called by Twain, the
"Sage of Jackass Hill."
Mrs. Gross, who keeps the Tuttletown Hotel and whose husband owned a
store across the way, built of stone but now in ruins, was born in
Tuttletown. She asserted she never heard of Bret Harte being in
Tuttletown and feels it to be impossible he ever taught school there. At
this ancient hostelry, built of wood and dating back to the early
fifties, I dined in company with an old miner, who told me he came
across "Jim" Gillis in Alaska. He said: "Gillis was a great josher. For
the life of me, I could never tell from his stories whether he had been
to the Klondike or not."
Tuolumne to Placerville. Charm of Sonora and Fascination of San Andreas
and Mokelumne Hill
Sonora is nine miles distant from Tuttletown, and I reached it in the
early afternoon. Perhaps of all the old mining towns, Sonora is the most
fascinating, on account of the exceeding beauty of the surrounding
country. No matter from what direction you approach it, Sonora seems to
lie basking in the sun, buried in a wealth of greenery, through which
gleam white walls and roofs of houses. Even its winding streets are so
shaded by graceful old trees that buildings are half hidden. The bustle
and excitement of the mining days are passed forever, in all
probability, for old Sonora; but in their place have come the peace and
quiet that accompany the tillage of the soil; for Sonora is now the
center of a prosperous agricultural district and the town maintains a
steady and continuous growth.
Here I had the pleasure of an interview with Mr. John Neal, a prominent
and respected citizen of Tuolumne County, who as Commissioner
represented his county at the San Francisco Midwinter Fair. Mr. Neal is
over eighty, but still hale and hearty. He was the first person I had
thus far encountered who had known Bret Harte in the flesh. He had also
known and frequently met Mark Twain, "Dan de Quille" and Prentice
Mulford. Of the four, it was evident that Mulford had left by far the
most lasting as well as favorable impression on his mind. Of him he
spoke in terms of real affection. "Prentice Mulford," he said, "was a
brilliant, very handsome and most lovable young man." I asked him how
these young men were regarded by the miners. He said: "In all the camps
they were held to be in a class by themselves, on account of their
education and literary ability. Although they wore the rough costume of
the miners, it was realized that none of them took mining seriously or
made any pretense of real work with pick and shovel." Mr. Neal knew
James Gillis intimately and admitted he was a great story-teller. In
fact, at the bare mention of his name he broke into a hearty laugh. "Oh,
Jim Gillis, he was a great fellow!" he exclaimed. He said unquestionably
Mark Twain got a good deal of material from him, and feels certain that
Bret Harte must have met him at least on several occasions. Mr. Neal
stated that up to the time of the Midwinter Fair, the output of gold
from Tuolumne county reached the astonishing figures of $250,000,000!
What it has amounted to since that time, I had no means of ascertaining.
It is only twelve miles from Sonora to Tuolumne. From the top of the
divide which separates the valleys there is a beautiful view of the
surrounding country, the dim blue peaks of the Sierra Nevada forming the
eastern sky-line. One of the chief charms of an excursion through these
foothill counties is the certainty that directly you reach any
considerable elevation there will be revealed a magnificent panorama,
bounded only by the limit of vision, range after range of mountains
running up in varying shades of blue and purple, to the far distant
summits that indicate the backbone of California.
Tuolumne is situated in a circular basin rather than in a valley, and
thus being protected from the wind, in hot weather the heat is intense.
If there are any mining operations in the immediate vicinity, they are
not in evidence to the casual observer. It is, however, one of the
biggest timber camps in the State. In the yards of the West Side Lumber
Company, covering several hundred acres, are stacked something like
30,000,000 feet of sugar pine. The logs are brought from the mountains
twenty to twenty-five miles by rail, and sawn into lumber at Tuolumne. I
was told that the bulk of the lumber manufactured here was shipped
abroad, a great deal going to Australia.
Tuolumne, in Bret Harte's time, was called Summersville. It was
destroyed by fire about fourteen years ago, but the new town has already
so assimilated itself to the atmosphere of its surroundings, that its
comparative youth might easily escape detection. Altogether, I was
disappointed with Tuolumne, having expected to find a second Angel's,
owing to its prominence in Bret Harte's stories. A lumber camp, while an
excellent thing in its way, is neither picturesque nor inspiring. I
spent the night at the "Turnback Inn," a large frame building,
handsomely finished interiorly and built since the fire. It is, I
believe, quite a summer resort, as Tuolumne is the terminus of the
Sierra Railway, and one can go by way of Stockton direct to Oakland and
Returning to Angel's the next day, I lingered again at Tuttletown. There
is a strange attraction about the place - it would hold you apart from
its associations, The old hotel, fast going to decay, surrounded by
splendid trees whose shade is so dense as to be impenetrable to the
noon-day sun, is a study for an artist. And as I gazed in a sort of
day-dream at the ruins of what once was one of the liveliest camps in
the Sierras - with four faro tables running day and night - the pines
seemed to whisper a sigh of regret over its departed glories. Jackass
Hill is fairly honeycombed with prospect holes, shafts and tunnels. I
was surprised to see that even now there is a certain amount of prospect
work going forward, for I noticed several shafts with windlasses to
which ropes were attached; and, in fact, was told that the old camp
showed signs of a new lease of life.
Musing on Tuttletown and its environment later on got me into serious
difficulty. Having crossed the Stanislaus River and cleared the canon, I
abandoned the main road for an alleged "cut-off." This I was following
with the utmost confidence, when, to my surprise, it came to an abrupt
end at the foot of a steep hill. In the ravine below was a house, and
there fortunately I found a man of whom I inquired if I was in "Carson
Flat." "Carson Flat? Well, I should say not! You're 'way off!" "How
much?" I asked feebly. "Oh, several miles." This in a tone that implied
that though I was in a bad fix, it might possibly be worse. However,
with the invariable kindness of these people, he put me on a trail
which, winding up to the summit of a ridge, struck down into Carson Flat
and joined the main road. And there I registered a vow: "The hard
highway for me!" As a consequence of this deviation, I materially
lengthened the distance to Angel's. It is thirty miles from Tuolumne by
the road, to which, by taking the "cut-off," I probably added another
It is surprising how these towns grow upon one. Already the Angel's
Hotel seemed like home to me and after an excellent dinner, I joined the
loungers on the side-walk and became one of a row, seated on chairs
tilted at various angles against the wall of the hotel. And there I
dozed, watching the passing show between dreams; for in the evening when
the electric lights are on, there is a sort of parade of the youth and
beauty of the town, up and down the winding street.
On account of the great heat that even the dry purity of the Sierra
atmosphere could not altogether mitigate, I decided the next day to be
content with reaching San Andreas, the county seat of Calaveras County,
fifteen miles north of Angel's.
Apart from its name, there is something about San Andreas that suggests
Mexico, or one's idea of pastoral California in the early days of the
American occupation. The streets are narrow and unpaved and during the
midday heat are almost deserted. Business of some sort there must be,
for the little town, though somnolent, is evidently holding its own; but
there seems to be infinite time in which to accomplish whatever the
necessities of life demand. And I may state here parenthetically, that
perhaps the most impressive feature of all the old California mining
towns is their suggestion of calm repose. Each little community seems
sufficient unto itself and entirely satisfied with things as they are.
Not even in the Old World will you find places where the current of life
more placidly flows.
On the main street - and the principal street of all these towns is
"Main Street" - I had the good fortune to be introduced to Judge Ira H.
Reed, who came to Calaveras County in 1854, and has lived there ever
since. He told me that Judge Gottschalk, who died a few years ago at an
advanced age, was authority for the statement that Mark Twain got his
"Jumping Frog" story from the then proprietor of the Metropolitan Hotel,
San Andreas, who asserted that the incident actually occurred in his
bar-room. Twain, it is true, places the scene in a bar-room at Angel's,
but that is doubtless the author's license. Bret Harte calls Tuttletown,
"Tuttleville," and there never was a "Wingdam" stage.
That evening as I lay awake in my bedroom at the Metropolitan Hotel,
wondering by what person of note it had been occupied in the "good old
days," my attention was attracted to the musical tinkle of a cow-bell.
Looking out of the window, I beheld the strange spectacle of a cow
walking sedately down the middle of the street. No one was driving her,
no one paid her any attention beyond a casual glance, as she passed. The
cow, in fact, had simply come home, after a day in the open country; and
it became plain to me that this was a nightly occurrence and therefore
caused no comment. Unmolested, she passed the hotel and on down the
street to the foot of the hill, where she evidently spent the night; for
the tinkle of the bell became permanent and blended with and became a
part of the subtle, mysterious sounds that constitute Nature's sleeping
This little incident in the county seat of Calaveras County impressed me
as an epitome of the changes wrought by time, since the days when in
song and story Bret Harte made the name "Calaveras" a synonym for
romance wherever the English language is spoken.
From San Andreas my objective point was Placerville, distant about
forty-five miles. The heat still being excessive, I made the town by
easy stages, arriving at noon on the third day. Mokelumne Hill, ten
miles beyond San Andreas, also lends its name to the little town which
clusters around its apex and is at the head of Chili Gulch, a once
famous bonanza for the placer miners. For miles the road winds up the
gulch, which is almost devoid of timber, amid piled-up rocks and debris,
bleached and blistered by the sun's fierce rays; the gulch itself being
literally stripped to "bedrock." I had already witnessed many evidences
of man's eager pursuit of the precious metal, but nothing that so
conveyed the idea of the feverish, persistent energy with which those
adventurers in the new El Dorado had struggled day and night with
Nature's obstacles, spurred on by the auri sacra fames.
A little incident served to relieve the monotony of the climb up Chili
Gulch. A miner, who might have sat for a study of "Tennessee's Partner,"
came down the hillside with a pan of "dirt," which he carefully washed
in a muddy pool in the bed of the gulch. He showed me the result, a few
"colors" and sulphurets. He said it would "go about five dollars to the
ton," and seemed well satisfied with the result. I shall always hold him
in grateful memory, for he took me to an old tunnel, and disappearing
for a few moments, returned with a large dipper of ice-cold water. Not
the Children of Israel, when Aaron smote the rock in the desert and
produced a living stream, could have lapped that water with keener
The terrific heat in Chili Gulch made the shade from the trees which
surround Mekolumne Hotel doubly grateful. Mokelumne Hill is, in fact, a
mountain, and commands a view of rare beauty. At its base winds the
wooded canon of the Mokelumne River, on the farther side of which rises
the Jackson Butte, an isolated peak with an elevation of over three
thousand feet, while in the background loom the omnipresent peaks of the
The Mokelumne Hotel is regarded as modern, dating back merely to 1868,
at which time the original building was destroyed by fire. The present
structure of solid blocks of stone, should resist the elements for
centuries to come. I was surprised at the excellent accommodations of
this hotel. In what seemed such an out-of-the-way and inaccessible
locality, I was served with one of the best meals on the whole journey,
including claret with crushed ice in a champagne glass! What that meant
to a tramp who had struggled for miles through quartz rock and
impalpable dust, up a heavy grade, without shade and the thermometer
well past the hundred mark, only a tramp can appreciate. I fell in love
with Mokelumne Hill and, after due consultation of my map, resolved to
pass the night in this picturesque and delightful spot. I was also
influenced by its associations, as it figures prominently in Bret
Of the four famous rivers - the Stanislaus, Mokelumne, American and
Cosumnes - which I crossed on this trip, the Mokelumne appealed to me
the most. Whatever the meaning of the Indian name, one may rest assured
it stands for some form of beauty. Jackson, the county seat of Amador
County, is but six miles from Mokelumne Hill and a town of considerable
importance, being the terminus of a branch line of the Southern Pacific
Railway. It is situated in an open country where the hills are at some
distance, and presents a certain up-to-date appearance. About a mile
from Jackson the Kennedy mine, running a hundred stamps, is one of the
greatest gold producers in the State.
Sutter Creek, erroneously supposed by many to be the spot where gold was
first discovered in California, four miles north of Jackson, is
picturesque and rendered attractive by reason of the vivid green of the
lawns surrounding the little cottages on its outskirts. This town, too,
has a flourishing look, accounted for by the operation of the South
Eureka and Central Eureka mines. A gentleman whom I met on the street
imparted this information, and asked me if I remembered Mark Twain's
definition of a gold mine. I had to confess I did not. "Well," said he,
"Mark Twain defined a gold mine as 'a hole in the ground at one end, and
a d - d fool at the other!'" The appreciative twinkle in his eye
suggested the possibility that this definition met with his approval.
Amador, two miles beyond Sutter Creek, did not appeal to me.
"Stagnation" would probably come nearer than any other term to conveying
to the mind of a person unfamiliar with Amador its present condition.
One becomes acutely sensitive to the "atmosphere" of these places, after
a few days upon the road, for each has a distinctive individuality. in
spite of the fact that it was mid-day in midsummer, gloom seemed to
pervade the streets and to be characteristic of its inhabitants. With
the exception of an attempt to get into telephonic communication with a
friend at Placerville, I lost not a moment in the town.
On reaching Drytown, three miles north of Amador, I noted the
thermometer stood at 110 degrees in the shade on the watered porch of
the hotel, and deciding there was a certain risk attendant on walking in
such heat, determined to make the best of what was anything but a
pleasant situation, and go no farther. Drytown, in the modern
application of the first syllable, is a misnomer, the "town" consisting
chiefly of the hotel with accompanying bar, and a saloon across the way!
Drytown was in existence as early as 1849, and was visited in October of
that year by Bayard Taylor. He says: "I found a population of from two
to three hundred, established for the winter. The village was laid out
with some regularity and had taverns, stores, butchers' shops and monte
tables." One cannot but smile at the idea of "monte tables" in
connection with the Drytown of to-day; pitiful as is the reflection that
men had braved the hardships of the desert and toiled to the waist in
water for gold, only to throw it recklessly in the laps of professional
The Exchange Hotel, a wooden building dating back to 1858, stands on the
site of the original hotel, built in 1851 and burned in 1857. Upon the
front porch is a well furnishing cold, pure water. I found this to be
the most acceptable feature of several of the old hostelries. The well
and the swinging sign over the entrance suggested the wayside inn of
rural England; more especially as the surrounding country carries out
the idea, being gently undulating and well timbered.
The following evening I put up at Nashville, on the North Fork of the
Cosumnes River and well over the borders of El Dorado county, passing
Plymouth en route. Plymouth, on the map, appeared to be a place of some
importance, but a closer inspection proved that - in spite of its breezy
name - it would take the spirits of a Mark Tapley to withstand its
discouraging surroundings. Plymouth is "living in hopes," an English
syndicate having an option on certain mining properties in the vicinity;
but Nashville is frankly "out of business."
At Nashville, in fact, I had some difficulty in securing "bed and
lodging." There appeared to be only three families in this once
flourishing camp. Strange as it may seem, money appears to be no object
to people in these sequestered places. You have "to make good," and in
this instance it required not a little tact and diplomacy.
I arrived at Placerville the following day. Due to taking a road not
shown on my map, I went several miles astray and for some few hours was
immersed in wild, chaparral-covered mountains, with evidences on all
hands of deserted mines; finally crossing a divide at an elevation of
two thousand feet and descending into the valley where slumbers the
little town of El Dorado, formerly bearing the less attractive
designation "Mud Springs." This title, though lacking in euphony, was
more in keeping with actual conditions, since the valley is noted for
its springs, and Diamond Springs, a mile or two north, is quite a summer
resort. Nor is there any indication of the precious metal anywhere in
the immediate vicinity.
In Placerville - known as "Hangtown" in the Bret Harte days - I
registered at the Cary House, which once had the honor of entertaining
no less a personage than Horace Greeley. It was here he terminated his
celebrated stage ride with Hank Monk. I found that my friend Harold
Edward Smith had gone to Coloma, eight miles on the road to Auburn, and
had left a note saying he would wait for me there the following morning.
J. H. Bradley and the Cary House. Ruins of Coloma. James W. Marshall and
His Pathetic End.
More than any other town, Placerville gave a suggestion of the olden
times. "John Oakhurst" and "Jack Hamlin" would still be in their
element, as witness the following scene:
In the card room back of the bar, in a certain hotel, a "little game"
was in progress. A big, blond giant, with curly hair and clean-cut
features - indeed he could have posed as a model for Praxiteles - arose
nonchalantly from the table as I entered, and swept the stakes into a
capacious pocket. An angry murmur of disapproval came from the sitters,
and one man muttered something about "quitting the game a winner." With
a hand on each hip, the giant swept the disgruntled upturned faces with
a comprehensive glance, and drawled: "I'll admit there's something wrong
in mine, gentlemen, or I wouldn't be here, see?" He waited a moment and
amid silence passed slowly through the barroom to the sidewalk, seated
himself, stretched his long legs and placidly gazed across the street.
In the morning I had a long talk with Mr. J. H. Bradley, perhaps the
best known man in El Dorado County. Though in his eighty-fourth year,
his keen brown eyes still retain the fire and light of youth. The
vitality of these old pioneers is something marvelous. Mr. Bradley was
born in Kentucky, but, as a boy, moved to Hannibal, Missouri, where he
played marbles with Mark Twain, or Clemens, as he prefers to call him.
In '49, he came across the plains to California. He was on the most
friendly terms with Twain and said he assisted him to learn piloting on
the Mississippi; and when Twain came to California, helped him to get a
position as compositor with U. E. Hicks, who founded the Sacramento
Union. He also knew Horace Greeley intimately, and has a portfolio that
once was his property. Five years after Greeley's arrival in
Placerville, which was in 1859, Mr. Bradley married Caroline Hicks, who
with Phoebe and Rose Carey had acted as secretary to Mr. Greeley. Mr.
Bradley takes no stock in the "keep your seat, Horace!" story. He
considers it a fabrication. In his opinion, the romancers - Bret Harte,
Mark Twain, et al. - have done California more harm than good. He also
has a thinly disguised contempt for "newspaper fellows and magazine
writers." Nor does he believe in the "Mother Lode" - that is, in its
continuity - in spite of the geologists. He prefers to speak of the
"mineral zone." In fine, Mr. Bradley is a man of definite and pronounced
opinions on any subject you may broach. For that reason, his views,
whether you agree with them or not, are always of interest.
Hanging in the office of the Cary House is a clever cartoon, by William
Cooper, of Portland, Oregon, entitled "A mining convention in
Placerville;" in which Mr. Bradley is depicted in earnest conversation
with a second Mr. Bradley, a third and evidently remonstrant Mr. Bradley
intervening, while a fourth and fifth Mr. Bradley, decidedly bored, are
Indeed, one glance at Mr. Bradley is enough to convince you that he is a
man of unusual force of character. No one introduced me to him. I was
merely informed at the Cary House that he was the person to whom I
should apply for information concerning the old times. I accordingly
started out to look for him and had not proceeded fifty yards when a
man, approaching at a distance, arrested my attention. As he drew
nearer, I felt positive there could be only one such personage in
Placerville, and when he was opposite me, I stopped and said, "How are
you, Mr. Bradley?" "That's my name, sir; what do you want?" he replied.
They take life easily in the old mining towns. No wonder the spectacle
of a man with a pack on his back caused comment, in that heat, tramping
two or three hundred miles for pleasure! Beyond the trivial necessities
that bare existence makes imperative, I was not conscious of seeing
anyone do anything on the whole trip. Old miners not unnaturally took me
for a prospector, and I think I never quite succeeded in convincing them
to the contrary.
In Placerville as in Angel's Camp, the evening promenade seems the most
important event of the day. Young men and maidens pass and repass in an
apparently endless chain. The same faces recur so frequently that one
begins to take an interest in the little comedy and speculate on the
rival attractions of blonde and brunette, and wonder which of the young
bloods is the local Beau Brummel. The audience - so to speak - sit on,
chairs backed against the walls of the hotels and stores, while many
prefer the street itself, and with feet on curb or other coign of
vantage, tilt their chairs at most alarming angles. A sort of animated
lovers' lane is thus formed, through which the promenaders have to run
the gauntlet, and are subjected to a certain amount of criticism.
Everyone knows everyone. Good natured badinage plays like wild-fire, up
and down and across the street. Later on, the tinkle of mandolin and
guitar is heard far into the night watches.
Having determined to reach Auburn - thirty miles away - the next day, I
made an early start. Coloma lies at the bottom of the great canon of the
South Fork of the American River. Hastening down the grade, in a bend of
the road I almost ran into my friend. It seemed a strange meeting this,
in the heart of the old mining country, and I think we both gave a
It was at Coloma that gold was first discovered in California, by James
W. Marshall, January 19, 1848. My companion had been so fortunate on the
previous day as to meet Mr. W. H. Hooper, who arrived in Coloma August
8, 1850, and who has lived there practically ever since. Though
eighty-three, he is still strong and vigorous. From him my friend
elicited some very interesting information in regard to Marshall
especially, the substance of which I append from his notes. Mr. Hooper
had known Marshall for many years, and his reminiscences of the
discoverer have a touch of pathos bordering on the tragic.
Marshall, a trapper by trade and frontiersman by inclination,
accompanied General Sutter to California, assisted in the building of
Sutter Fort and, on account of his mechanical ability, was sent to
Coloma to superintend the erection of a sawmill. It was in the mill-race
that he picked up the nugget which made the name "California" the magnet
for the world's adventurers. Unaware of the nature of his "find," he
took it to Sacramento, where it was declared to be gold. He was implored
by General Sutter to keep the mill operatives in ignorance of his
discovery, for fear they should desert their work. But how could such a
secret be kept, especially by a man of generous and impulsive instincts?
At any rate the news leaked out and the stampede followed.
From Mr. Hooper's account, Marshall was a very human character. Late in
life the state legislature granted him a pension of two hundred dollars
per month. This sum being far in excess of his actual needs, it followed
as a matter of course that his cronies assisted him in disposing of it.
In fact, "Marshall's pension day" became a local attraction, and the
Coloma saloon - still in existence - the rendezvous. These reunions were
varied by glorious excursions to Sacramento, his friends in the
legislature imploring him to keep away. After two years the pension was
cut down to one hundred dollars per mouth and finally was discontinued
in toto - a shabby and most undignified procedure. Opposite the saloon,
at some little distance, is a conical hill. For many years Marshall,
seated on the steps of the porch, had gazed dreamily at its summit.
Shortly before his death, addressing a remnant of the "old guard," he
exclaimed: "Boys, when I go, I want you to plant me on the top of that
hill." And "planted" he was, with a ten-thousand-dollar monument on top
The poor old fellow died in poverty at Kelsey, near Coloma, August 10,
1885, at the age of seventy-five. It is a sad reflection that a tithe of
the money spent on the monument would have comforted him in his latter
days; for the blow to his pride by the withdrawal of his pension, still
more than the actual lack of funds, hastened the end.
Mr. Hooper intimated that the population of Coloma diminished
perceptibly after the termination of Marshall's pension. To common with
the majority of the old miners, be saved nothing and never profited to
any extent by the discovery that will keep his memory alive for
centuries to come.
Coloma in its palmy days had a population variously estimated at from
five to ten thousand souls, with the usual accompaniment of saloons,
dance halls and faro banks. There was a vigorous expulsion of gamblers
in the early fifties and an incident occurred which quite possibly
supplied the inspiration for Bret Harte's "Outcasts of Poker Flat." A
notorious gambler and desperado, and his accomplice, demurred. Whereupon
the irate miners placed them on a burro, and with vigorous threats
punctuated by a salvo of revolver shots fired over their heads, drove
them out of camp. They disappeared over the hill upon which the monument
now stands, and were seen no more.
Coloma suffered severely from fires. Little of the old town remains but
ruins of stone walls, and here and there an isolated wooden building.
The ruins, however, are not only exceedingly picturesque, being half
buried in foilage of beautiful trees, but hold the imagination with a
grip that is indescribable. I could willingly have tarried here for
But while old Coloma is dead, there is a new Coloma that furnishes an
extraordinary contrast. It is a sweet and peaceful little hamlet,
situated on the lower benches of the canon, well up out of the river
bottom, and is entirely devoted to horticulture. One has read of birds
building their nests in the muzzles of old and disused cannon; even that
does not suggest a more anomalous association of ideas than the
spectacle of a vine-clad cottage shaded by fig trees, basking peacefully
in the sun, so close to what was at one time a veritable maelstrom of
human passions. So far as the new Coloma is concerned, Marshall's
discovery might never have been made. Nowhere else will you find a spot
where gold and what it stands for would seem to mean so little, Coloma!
It is passing strange that a name so sweet and restful should forever be
linked with the wildest scramble for gold the world has ever seen!
Auburn to Nevada City Via Colfax and Grass Valley. Ben Taylor and His
After surmounting the canon of the South Fork of the American River, you
gradually enter a open country, the outskirts of the great deciduous
fruit belt in Placer County, which supplies New York and Chicago with
choice plums, peaches and pears. About three miles from Auburn, the road
plunges into one of the deepest canons of the Sierras, at the bottom of
which the Middle and North Forks of the American River unite. Just below
the junction, the river is spanned by a long suspension bridge. Auburn
is remarkably situated in that one sees nothing of it until the rim of
the canon is reached, at least a thousand feet above the river. Thus
there are no outskirts and you plunge at once into the business streets,
passing the station of the Central Pacific Railway, which line skirts
the edge of the canon on a heavy grade.
I had accomplished a good thirty miles but that did not prevent me from
accompanying my friend on a long and protracted hunt for comfortable
quarters in which to eat and spend the night. There was quite an
attractive hotel near the railroad, but actuated by a desire to see
something of the town, which we found to be more than usually drawn out,
we passed it with lingering regret. Whether by chance or instinct, we
drifted to the ruins of the old hotel, now in process of reconstruction,
and were comfortably housed in a wooden annex.
Auburn marks the western verge of the mineral zone, but in the fifties
there were, rich placer diggings in the immediate vicinity. There are
some remarkably solid buildings of that period, in the old portion of
the town, which, as customary, is situated in the bottom of the winding
valley or ravine. Practically a new town, called "East Auburn," has been
started on higher ground, and a fight is on to move the post office; but
the people in the hollow having the voting strength, hang on to it like
grim death. Along the edge of the American River canon and commanding a
magnificent view, are the homes of the local aristocracy. In christening
Auburn, it is scarcely credible that the pioneers had in mind
Goldsmith's "loveliest village of the Plain;" nor, keeping the old town
in view, is the title remarkably applicable today.
Our next objective point being Colfax, distant in a north-easterly
direction only fifteen miles, we made a leisurely inspection of the town
and vicinity in the morning. The old town proved of absorbing interest
to my friend, and we became separated while be was hunting up subjects
for the camera. Having a free and easy working scheme in such matters,
after a few minutes' search, I gave up the quest and started alone on
the road to Colfax.
A few miles out, I met a man with a rifle on his shoulder, leading a
burro bearing a pack-saddle laden in the most scientific manner with
probably all his worldly possessions, the pick and shovel plainly
denoting a prospector. A water bucket on one side of the animal was so
adjusted that the bottom was uppermost; on the top of the bucket sat a
little fox-terrier, his eyes fixed steadfastly on his master. I paused a
moment, possessed with a strong desire to take a snap shot of this
remarkable equipment, but the man with the gun gave me a glance that
settled the matter. His was not a bad face - far from it - but the
features were stern and set, the cheeks furrowed with deep lines that
bespoke hardship and fatigue in the struggle with Nature and the
elements. That glance out of the tail of his eye meant: "Let me alone
and I will let you alone, but let me alone!"
Taciturnity becomes habitual to men accustomed to vast solitudes. Even
on such a tramp as I had undertaken, in which I frequently walked for
miles without sight or sound of a human being, I began to realize how
banal and aimless is conventional conversation. Under such conditions
you feel yourself in sympathy with the man who says nothing unless he
has something to say, and who, in turn, expects the same restriction of
speech from you.
I was seated on the porch of the store at Applegate, disposing of a
frugal lunch consisting of raisins and crackers, when my friend hove in
sight. After a private inspection of the store's possibilities, with a
little smile, the meaning of which I well understood from many similar
experiences, he sat down beside me and without a word tackled the
somewhat uninviting repast, to which with a wave of the hand I invited
him. I may say here that Mr. Smith is a veteran and inveterate "hiker."
I doubt very much whether any man in California has seen as much of this
magnificent State as he, certainly not on foot; as a consequence he is
accustomed to a ready acceptance of things as they are. Applegate, about
midway between Auburn and Colfax, is an alleged "summer resort." It did
not appeal to us as especially attractive, the view, at any rate from
the road, being extremely limited and lacking any distinctive features.
Without unnecessary delay, therefore, we resumed the march.
It is practically up-hill - "on the collar" - all the way to Colfax, as
is plainly evidenced by the heavy railroad grade. About a mile short of
the town, we made a digression to an Italian vineyard of note. There, at
a long table under a vine-covered trellis that connected the stone
cellar with the dwelling-house, we were served with wine by a young
woman having the true Madonna features of Sunny Italy, her mother, a
comely matron, in the meantime preparing the evening meal, while on the
hard ground encumbered with no superfluous clothing, disported the
younger members of the family. And as I sat and smoked the pipe of
peace, I reflected upon how much better they do these things in Italy -
for to all intents and Purposes, I was in Italy.
Colfax - before the advent of the C. P. R. R. called "Illinois Town" -
is an odd blending of past and present; the solid structures of the
mining days contrasting strangely with the flimsy wooden buildings that
seem to mark a railroad town. We were amazed at the amount of traffic
that occurs in the night. Three big overland trains passed through in
either direction, the interim being filled in with the switching of
cars, accompanied apparently with a most unnecessary ringing of bells
and piercing shrieks from whistles. Since our hotel was not more than a
hundred and fifty feet from the main line, with no intervening buildings
to temper the noises, sleep of any consequence was an utter
Few Californians are aware, probably, that a considerable amount of
tobacco is raised in the foothills of the Sierras. At Colfax, I smoked a
very fair cigar made from tobacco grown in the vicinity, and
manufactured in the town.
I think we were both glad to leave Colfax. Apart from a nerve-racking
night, the mere proximity of the railroad with its accompanying
associations served constantly to bring to mind all that I had fled to
the mountains to escape. Yet I cannot bring myself to agree with those
who profess to brand a railroad "a blot on the landscape." The enormous
engines which pull the overland trains up the heavy grades of the Sierra
Nevada impress one by their size, strength and suggestion of reserve
power, as not being out of harmony with the forces of Nature they are
constructed to contend with and overcome.
This thought occurred to us as we watched a passenger train slowly
winding its way around the famous Cape Horn, some four miles from
Colfax. Although several miles in an air line intervened, one seemed to
feel the vibrations in the air caused by the panting monster, while
great jets of steam shot up above the pine trees. I confess to a sense
of elation at the spectacle. Nature in some of her moods seems so
malignant, that I felt proud of this magnificent exhibition of man's
victory over the obstacles she so well knows how to interpose.
The road between Colfax and Grass Valley - the next stopping place on
our itinerary - lay through so lovely a country that we passed through
it as in a dream. Descending into the valley we were joined by several
small boys, attracted, I suppose, by our - to them - unusual costume and
equipment, who plied us with questions. They asked if "we carried a
message for the mayor," and were visibly disappointed when we regretted
we had overlooked that formality. For several minutes they kept us busy
trying to give truthful answers to most unexpected questions. They had
never heard of Tuolumne and wanted to know if it was in California.
Their world, in fact, was bounded by Colfax on the south and Nevada City
on the north.
Grass Valley received its name from the meadow in which the town, for
the most part, is situated. The ground is so moist that, notwithstanding
the heat, the grass was a vivid green. Apple trees growing in the grass,
as in the orchards of England and in the Atlantic States, and perfectly
healthy, conveyed that suggestion of the Old World which lends a
peculiar charm to these towns. And Grass Valley really is a town, having
seven thousand inhabitants; and is, withal, clean, picturesque and
altogether delightful. One understood why "Tuolumne" sounded meaningless
to those small boys. Thus early in life they were under influences which
will probably keep them in after years - as they kept their fathers -
permanent citizens of the town of Grass Valley.
Grass Valley was one of the richest of the old mining camps. There was
literally gold everywhere, even in the very roots of the grass. The
mining is now all underground and drifts from the North Star and Ophir
mines underlie a part of the town.
After a methodical search, we discovered an excellent restaurant and
made a note of it as a recurrent possibility. A judicious choice of a
suitable place in which to eat and eke, to pass the night, is to the
tramp a matter of vital interest. Robert Louis Stevenson, in those
entertaining narratives "An Inland Voyage" and "Travels with a Donkey,"
lays heartfelt stress on these particulars; when things were not to his
liking, roundly denouncing them, but if agreeably surprised, lifting up
his voice in song and praise.
Though tempted to pass the night in Grass Valley, impelled by curiosity,
we pushed on four miles farther, to Nevada City. It is useless to
attempt to convey in words the fascination of Nevada City. My friend,
who is familiar with the country, said it reminded him of Italy. Houses
rise one above the other on the hillside; while down below, the winding
streets with their quaint old-time stores and balconied windows, are
equally attractive. The horrors of the previous night at Colfax made the
quiet peacefulness of Nevada City the more refreshing. At the National
Hotel I enjoyed the soundest sleep since leaving home.
In the morning there was a delicious breeze from the mountains, which
rendered strolling about the town a pleasure. According to custom, we
went our several ways, each drawn by what appealed to him the most at
the moment. When ready to depart, finding no trace of my companion at
the hotel, I left word that I had returned to Grass Valley; where an
hour or two later, he rejoined me.
More fortunate than I, my friend by chance encountered Mr. Morrison M.
Green, on the street in front of his home upon the hill which looks down
upon the town. This gentleman, who is in his eighty-third year, related
an almost incredible incident in connection with the fire in 1857, which
wiped out the town, with the exception of one house. Three prominent
citizens who chanced to have met in a saloon when the fire broke out,
having the utmost confidence in the safety of a certain building, on
account of its massive walls and iron door, made a vow to lock
themselves in it, and actually did so. They might perhaps have withstood
the ordeal, had not the roof been broken in by the fall of the walls of
the adjoining building. The iron door having been warped with the heat,
it was impossible to open it; when last seen, they were standing with
their arms around one another in the center of the store.
At Grass Valley, my friend - greatly to my regret and I think also to
his own - received word which rendered his return to San Francisco
imperative. After a farewell dinner at the restaurant before mentioned,
I accompanied him to the railway station, and in the words of Christian
in "The Pilgrim's Progress," "I saw him no more in my dream." I confess
to a feeling of depression after his departure, for however enjoyable
the experiences of the road, they are rendered doubly so by the
sympathetic companionship of a man endowed not only with a keen sense of
humor but also with an unusual perception of human nature.
After registering at the Holbrooke - a substantial survival of the old
times - I called by appointment on Mr. Ben Taylor, a much respected
citizen of Grass Valley and probably the oldest inhabitant of Nevada
County, having reached the patriarchal age of eighty-six.
Mr. Taylor has a charming home with extensive grounds overlooking the
town and surrounding country. In his garden is a spruce he planted
himself forty-five years ago, and apple trees of the same age. The
spruce now has the appearance of a forest tree and shades the whole
front of the house. His present home was built in 1864 and from all
appearances should last the century out. He said the lumber was
carefully selected, the boards being heavier than usual, and all the
important timbers, instead of being nailed, were morticed and
dove-tailed. This thoroughness of workmanship accounts for the excellent
condition of the wooden buildings in these towns, many of which were
constructed over fifty years ago.
Mr. Taylor came to Grass Valley September 22, 1849, and has lived there
almost continuously ever since. He crossed the plains one of twenty-five
men, the last of his companions dying in 1905. The little band suffered
many hardships, having to be constantly on watch for Indians, though he
said they were more fearful of the Mormons. They came over the old
emigrant trail across the Sierra Nevada. When they reached Grass Valley,
their Captain, a man named Broughton, exclaimed: "Boys! here's the gold;
this is good enough for us!" And there they stayed, the twenty-five of
Mr. Taylor had frequently met Mark Twain, but never to his knowledge,
Bret Harte. In common with other men who had known the Great American
Humorist, Mr. Taylor smiled at the bare mention of his name. Twain's
breezy, hail-fellow-well-met manner, combined with his dry humor,
insured him a welcome at all the camps; he was a man who would "pass the
time of day" and take a friendly drink with any man upon the road.
Twain, he told me, and a man with whom he was traveling on one occasion,
lost their mules. They tracked them to a creek and concluding the mules
had crossed it, Twain said to his companion: "What's the use of both of
us getting wet? I'll carry you!" The other complying, Twain reached in
safety the deepest part of the creek and, purposely or not, dropped him.
A man, to play such pranks as this, must be sure of his standing in a
Mr. Taylor is known to everyone in Nevada County as "Ben." His genial
manner and kindly nature are apparent at a glance. But while Ben Taylor
was on friendly terms with Mark Twain, he was never so intimate with him
as with Bayard Taylor, whom, it seems, he much resembled. This
accidental likeness, combined with the similarity of names, caused many
more or less amusing but embarrassing complications, since they were
frequently taken for each other and received each other's
I asked Ben Taylor - he rightly dislikes "Mister," perhaps the ugliest
and most inappropriate word in the English language - if the shootings
and hangings which figure so prominently in the stories of the romancers
were not exaggerations. He said he certainly was of that opinion. I
said: "As a matter of fact, did you ever see a man either shot or hung
for a crime?" "I never did," he replied with emphasis. "But I once came
across the bodies of several men who had been strung up for
horse-stealing; that, however, was not in Grass Valley."
Ben Taylor was present when Lola Montez horsewhipped Henry Shibley,
editor of the Grass Valley National, for what she considered derogatory
reflections on herself, published in his paper. It can readily be
understood that Grass Valley was at that time a place of importance,
when Lola Montez considered it worth while to stay there several years
and sing and dance for the miners.
In parting, Ben Taylor told me pathetically that his wife had died a few
years before and he had never recovered from the blow; "I am merely
marking time until the end comes," he added. Since his married daughter
and family live with him, he is assured in his latter days of loving
care and attention.
E. W. Maslin and His Recollections of Pioneer Days In Grass Valley.
Origin of Our Mining Laws
To Mr. E. W. Maslin, of Alameda, of whom Ben Taylor said: "He is like a
brother to me," I am indebted for information of much interest, bearing
on the olden days and Grass Valley in particular. Mr. Maslin came around
the "Horn" to California, in the ship Herman, on May 7, 1853. He arrived
in Grass Valley and went to work as a miner the following morning. He
now holds, and has for years, the responsible position in the United
States Custom House, San Francisco, of Deputy Naval Officer of the Port.
The clearing papers of every vessel that leaves San Francisco bear his
signature. Although in his eightieth year, his memory is as clear and
his sense of humor as vivid as when, a youth of nineteen, he left for
good, Maryland, his native state. Few men in the San Francisco bay
region are more widely known than he. His ready wit, cheery laugh and
fund of information - for he is extremely well-read - always insure for
him an attentive and appreciative audience.
Speaking of Ben Taylor, he told me a characteristic incident, which
being also typical of the men of '49, I give, with his consent, as
related. When the White Pine excitement in 1869 started a rush of
prospectors to Nevada, Mr. Maslin caught the fever with the rest.
In common with all who dug for gold, he had his ups and downs, the fat
years and the lean ones; at the time, his fortunes being at a lew ebb,
he joined the stampede. Several years previous to his departure, without
informing his wife, he had borrowed of Ben Taylor, three hundred
dollars, secured by mortgage on his house in Grass Valley. At White Pine
he met with considerable success, and in a short time sent his wife five
hundred dollars, telling her for the first time of the mortgage on their
home and requesting her to go to Ben Taylor at once and pay him in full.
It so happened that Taylor had called on Mrs. Maslin for news of her
husband, as she was reading this letter. She immediately tendered him
the check with the request that he would inform her to what the interest
amounted. "Why, Molly," said Ben Taylor, "you surely ought to know me
well enough to know I would never take any interest on that money!" When
it is remembered that the legal rate of interest at that time was ten
per cent, and that double that amount was not infrequently paid - Mr.
Maslin, in fact, expecting to pay Taylor something like five hundred
dollars - the attitude of the latter will be the better appreciated.
This seems a fitting place to pay a humble personal tribute of respect
to the memory of the men of "the fall of '49 and the spring of '50." Not
since the Crusades, when the best blood of Europe was spilt in defense
of the Holy Sepulchre, has the world seen a finer body of men than the
Argonauts of California. True, the quest of the "Golden Fleece" was the
prime motive, but sheer love of adventure for adventure's sake played a
most important part. Later on, the turbulent element arrived. It was due
to the rectitude, inherent sense of justice and courage of the pioneers
that they were held in check and, by force of arms when necessary, made
to understand the white man's code of honor.
So much in song and story has been said of the scramble for gold in
the early days after the discovery, and so little attention given to the
artistic and aesthetic sense of the pioneers, that the general
impression made by the famous old mining towns of California, when seen
for the first time, may be worth recording. In the massive stone hotels
and stores of that period, as well as in the careful construction of
dwelling houses, they exhibited a true perception of "the eternal
fitness of things." The buildings of the fifties, in their extreme
simplicity, are far more imposing than the nondescript, pretentious
structures of today, and will, beyond doubt, in usefulness outlast them.
As a result of ignoring the checker-board plan, and permitting the
streets to follow the natural contour of the hills and ravines, these
mountain towns seem to have become blended and to be in harmony with the
wonderful setting Nature has provided. All buildings, residential or
otherwise, are protected from the summer heat by umbrageous trees. Lawns
of richest green delight the eye, and vines and flowers surround
cottages perched on steep hillsides, or half-hidden in deep ravines. The
first glimpse from a distant eminence of any of the old mining towns
conveys the suggestion of peaceful homes buried in greenery, basking
contentedly in the brilliant sunshine, surrounded by the whispering
pines, with the snow-clad peaks of the Sierra Nevada for a background.
You also receive the impression of cleanliness. If there were any old
cans, scraps of paper and miscellaneous rubbish lying about in any town
through which I passed, I did not notice them. One is struck, too, by
the absence of the "vacant lot" - that unsightly blot of such frequent
occurrence in all towns in the process of building, especially when
forced by "booms" beyond their normal growth. Fortunately the very word
"boom," in its significance as applied to inflated real estate values,
has no meaning in these towns, with the result that they are compact.
One may search in vain for the "house to let" sign. When no more houses
were needed, no more houses were built. This compactness of form,
cleanliness, and the elimination to a great extent of the rectangular
block, contribute in no small measure to that indefinable suggestion of
the Old World - a charm that haunts the memory and finally becomes
However clever the stories of the romancers - of whom Bret Harte
preeminently stands first - after all, their characters were
intrinsically but creatures of the imagination; the pioneers were the
real thing! Yet such is the nature of this topsy-turvy world, the copies
will remain, whilst the originals will fade away and be forgotten! The
writer will always hold it a privilege that he had the pleasure of
meeting in the flesh a remnant of the men who laid the foundation of the
institutions by means of which this great Commonwealth has grown and
prospered; big, broad-minded, strong men who, whatever their failings -
for they were very human - were generous to a fault, ever ready to
listen to the cry of distress or help a fallen brother to his feet,
scornful of pettiness, ignorant of snobbery, fair and square in their
dealings with their fellows. Alas, that it should have come to "Hail and
Farewell" to such a type of manhood!
At my request, Mr. Maslin, at one time a practicing attorney, dictated
the following succinct account of the origin of the mining laws of
California. The discovery at Gold Hill, now within the corporate limits
of Grass Valley, of a gold-bearing quartz ledge, subsequently the
property of Englishmen who formed an organization known as "The Gold
Hill Quartz Mining Company," led to the founding of the mining laws of
California. On December 30, 1850, the miners passed regulations which
had with them the force of laws, defining the location and ownership of
mines. It was provided that claims should be forty feet by thirty feet;
a recorder was to be elected by the miners and all difficulties arising
out of trespass on claims were to be tried before the recorder and two
miners, an appeal to be taken to the justice of the peace.
When quartz lodes began to be discovered and worked, it was found that
the location of claims by square feet did not protect the miner or
afford sufficient territory upon which to expend his labor. Accordingly
a miners' meeting was held in Nevada City on December 20, 1852, and a
body of laws prescribed, governing all quartz mines within the county of
Nevada. The following were the salient features: "Each proprietor of a
quartz claim shall be entitled to one hundred feet on a quartz ledge or
vein; the discoverer shall be allowed one hundred feet additional. Each
claim shall include all the dips, angles, and variations of the same."
The remaining articles related to the working, holding and recording of
claims. This law was incorporated in the raining legislation of the
State of Nevada and has formed the basis of the mining laws of each
territory of the United States. Thus we have a proof not only of the
intelligence of the early miner, but also of his capacity for
self-government. It must be remembered that the miners came from all
over the United States, but principally from the West and the South.
Probably none had seen a quartz ledge before coming to California, yet
the necessity for extending a claim as far as the ledge dipped was soon
perceived, as also the taking into consideration a change in the
direction or course of the lode. Commenting on these laws and the causes
leading to their adoption, Mr. Muslin became emphatic. He said:
"No body of rough, uncouth, pistolled ruffians, such as Bret Harte
depicts the miners, would have formed such a group of benevolent,
far-reaching and comprehensive laws. The early miner represented the
best type of American character. He was brave, undeterred by obstacles,
enduring with patient fortitude the perils and privations of the long
journey of half a year by land, or a tempestuous voyage by sea;
undaunted alike by the terrors of Cape Horn or the insidious diseases of
the Isthmus of Panama. He met the, to him, hitherto unknown problem of
the extraction of gold and solved it with the wisdom and vigor which
distinguish the American. Observe that the provision against throwing
dirt on another man's claim anticipated by many years the famous
hydraulic decision of Judge Sawyer. It is another way of stating the
maxim of law and equity: 'so use your own property, as not to injure
that of another.'"
Mr. Maslin agrees with Ben Taylor that the hangings and shootings of the
period following the discovery of gold have been grossly exaggerated. On
this point he said: "I will venture to assert that in certain of the
Mississippi Valley States, in their early settlement, more men were
killed in one year than in ten of the early mining years in California."
Of lynching, he said: "There were few lynchings in California, and those
mostly in the southern tier of counties, of persons convicted of
cattle-stealing." In connection with lynching he related a serio-comic
incident that occurred in Grass Valley in the early days.
Several fires had taken place in the town and the inhabitants were in
consequence much excited. A watchman on his rounds espied a light in a
vacant log cabin, and entering, caught a man in the act of striking a
match. He arrested him and the populace were for taking summary
vengeance. A man known as "Blue Coat Osborne" cried out, "Let's hang
him! Nevada City once hanged a man and Grass Valley never did!" This was
an effective appeal, for the rivalry that has lasted ever since already
existed. Fortunately, wiser counsels prevailed; the man was subsequently
tried and acquitted, it appearing that he was a traveling prospector who
had merely entered the cabin in order to light his pipe! In this
connection, I may state that Mr. Maslin confirmed the story of the three
friends in Nevada City, who attempted to withstand "the ordeal by fire."
Mr. Maslin is justly jealous for the reputation of the Argonauts.
Perhaps Bret Harte's miner, with his ready pistol, was as far from the
mark as Rudyard Kipling's picture of Tommy Atkins as "an absentminded
beggar" - an imputation the real "Tommy" hotly resented. At the same
time, such stories as "The Luck of Roaring Camp" and "Tennessee's
Partner," not to quote others, prove Bret Harte conceded to the miner,
courage, patience, gentleness, generosity and steadfastness in
friendship. If Bret Harte really "hurt" California, it was because,
leaving the State for good in February, 1871, he carried with him the
atmosphere of the early mining days and never got out of it. He never
realized the transition from mining to agriculture and horticulture, as
the leading industries of the State. Thus his later stories which dealt
with California, written long after the subsidence of the mining
excitement, continued to convey to the Eastern or English reader an
impression of the Californian as a bearded individual, his trousers
tucked into long boots and the same old "red shirt" with the sleeves
rolled back to the shoulders! As lately - comparatively speaking - as
the Chicago Columbian Exposition, a lady told me she met at the Fair a
woman who said she wanted to visit California, and asked if it would be
safe to do so "on account of the Indians!" While Indians do not appear
in Bret Harte's pages, it is a safe conjecture that, through association
of ideas, this lady conjured up a vague vision of a "prairie schooner"
crossing the plains, harassed by the Indian of the colored prints!
The following picture of the trying of a civil suit under difficulties,
though in all probability causing little comment at the time, would
undoubtedly do so at the present day, were the conditions possible. In
1853 Mr. Maslin owned, with his brother, a one-fifth interest in ten
gravel claims at Pike Flat near Grass Valley. On the ground of alleged
imperfection of location of a portion of these claims, they were
"jumped," and litigation followed.
The case was called before "Si" Brown, a justice of the peace, at Rough
and Ready, in a building (of which I obtained a photograph) used as a
hotel and for other purposes. In the long room, now occupied as a store,
Judge Brown held his court. On the right was a door leading to the bar.
Extending the whole length of the room were four faro tables. At the
rear the judge, jury, attorneys and the principals in the lawsuit made
the best of the accommodations.
After stating the case, Judge Brown thus addressed the gamblers at the
faro tables: "Boys, the court is now opened, call your games low!" In
accordance with this request, though still audible, came in a monotonous
undertone, the faro, dealers' oft-repeated call: "Gents, make your game
- make your game!" The bets were put down and the cards called, in the
same subdued voice. At intervals, an attorney on one side or the other
would arise and say: "I move you, your Honor, that the court do now take
a recess of ten minutes." The court: "The motion is sustained; but go
softly, gentlemen, go softly!" It is probably needless to add that
judge, jury, principals, attorneys and witnesses filed out of the door
leading to the right; returning in ten minutes to resume the trial to
the not altogether inappropriate accompaniment from the faro dealers,
"Make your game, gents, make your game!"
The spirit of rivalry between Grass Valley and Nevada City has been
accentuated, of late, by the efforts of the former town to secure the
honor of being the county seat, on the claim that it possesses nearly
double the population of Nevada City. Politics serve to intensify the
feeling; Grass Valley, which contains many people of Southern birth,
being largely Democratic in its affiliations, whilst Nevada City is as
strongly, and, one may add, as conservatively, Republican.
Possibly the oldest building in Grass Valley is the Western Hotel. It is
so hidden in the surrounding trees that it was with difficulty I took a
photograph in which any portion of the hotel itself appeared. In the
garden stands a splendid English walnut over forty years old; and on the
porch, the well and pump to which I have before alluded as a
distinguishing feature of the old-time hostelry, add a quaint and
Grass Valley and Nevada City are nearly three thousand feet above sea
level. The air, in consequence, is light and pure and the heat seldom
excessive. It would be difficult, the world over, to find a more
agreeable or salubrious climate.
It was with genuine regret that I left Grass Valley the following
morning; not even Sonora possessed for me a stronger attraction. As I
paused on the summit of the hill, for a farewell view of the town, I
mentally resolved - the Fates permitting - I would pay another and more
protracted visit to this land of enchantment.
Grass Valley to Smartsville. Sucker Flat and its Personal Appeal.
I was heading due west for Smartsville, just across the line in Yuba
County. In four miles, I came to Rough and Ready, once a famous camp.
Save for the inevitable hotel, now used in part as a store, there was
nothing to suggest the cause of its pristine glory or the origin of its
emphatic designation; today it is simply a picturesque, rural hamlet. In
Penn Valley, a mile or two farther on, I passed a smashed and abandoned
automobile, the second wreck I had encountered. I thanked my star I
traveled afoot; heavy going, it is true, in places, but safe and sure.
Notwithstanding the ubiquity of the autocar, it is still a fact that
between the man in the car and the man on foot is set an impassable
gulf. You are walking through a mountainous country, where every bend of
the road reveals some new charm; absorbed in silent enjoyment of the
scene, you have forgotten the very existence of the machine, when a
raucous "honk" jolts you out of your daydream and causes you to jump for
your life. In a swirl of dust the monster engulfs you, leaving you the
dust and the stench of gasoline as souvenirs, but followed by your
anathemas! This doubtless is where the man in the car thinks he has
scored. Perhaps he has. When the dust on the road has settled and you
have rubbed it out of your eyes, once more you forget his existence.
But the very speed with which he travels is the reason why the man in
the car misses nearly all the charm of the country through which he is
passing. On this tramp I took forty-odd photographs, all more or less of
historical interest. Riding in an automobile, many of the subjects I
would not have noticed or, if I had, I would not have been able to bring
my camera into play. On several occasions I retraced my steps a good
quarter of a mile, feeling I had lost a landscape, or street scene I
might never again have the opportunity to behold.
What is of far greater consequence, the man on the road comes into touch
not only with Nature, but the Children of Nature! In these days,
automobiles are as thick as summer flies; you cannot escape them even in
the Sierra foot-hills. No attention is paid them by the country people,
unless they are in trouble or have caused trouble, which is mostly the
case. But the man who "hikes" for pleasure is a source of perennial
interest not unmixed with admiration, especially when walking with the
thermometer indicating three figures in the shade. To him the small boy
opens his heart; the "hobo" passes the time of day with a merry jest
thrown in; the good housewife brings a glass of cold water or milk,
adding womanlike, a little motherly advice; the passing teamster, or
even stage-driver - that autocrat of the "ribbons" - shouts a cheery
"How many miles today, Captain?" or, "Where did yon start from this
morning, Colonel?" - these titles perhaps due to the battered old coat
All the humors of the road are yours. In fact, you yourself contribute
to them, by your unexpected appearance on the scene and the novelty of
your "make-up," if I may be pardoned the expression. At the hotel bar,
you drink a glass of beer with the local celebrity and thus come into
immediate touch with, the oldest inhabitant." After dinner, seated on a
bench on the sidewalk, you smoke a pipe and discuss the affairs of the
nation or of the town - usually the latter - with the man who in the
morning offered to give you a lift and never will understand why you
declined. Invariably you receive courteous replies and in kindly
interest are met more than half way.
The early romances, the prototypes of the modern novel, from "Don
Quixote" to "Tom Jones" and "Joseph Andrews," were little more than
narratives of adventures on the road. "Joseph Andrews" in particular -
perhaps Fielding's masterpiece - is simply the story of a journey from
London to a place in the country some hundred and fifty miles distant.
In these books all the adventures are associated with inns and the
various characters, thrown together by chance, there assembled. Dickens
unquestionably derived inspiration from Smollett and Fielding; nor is
there any doubt but that Harte made a close study of Dickens.
From which preamble we come to the statement; if you would study human
nature on the road, you must simply go where men congregate and exchange
ideas. The plots of nearly all Bret Harte's mining stories are thus
closely associated with the bar-rooms and taverns of the mining towns of
his day. What would remain of any of Phillpott's charming stories of
rural England, if you eliminated the bar-room of the village inn? In
hospitality and generous living, the inns of the mining towns still keep
up the old traditions. The card room and bar-room are places where men
meet; to altogether avoid them from any pharisaical assumption of moral
superiority is to lose the chance of coming in contact with the leading
citizen, philanthropist, or eccentric character.
In the old romances it must be admitted there is much brawling and heavy
drinking, as well as unseemliness of conduct. Yet in spite of the fact
that hotel bars and saloons abound in all the old mining towns, the
writer throughout his travels and notwithstanding the intense heat, not
only saw no person under the influence of liquor, but also never heard a
voice raised in angry dispute. Moderation, decency and a kindly
consideration for the rights of others seem habitual with these people.
It is fifteen miles from Grass Valley to Smartsville, and I arrived at
the SmartsviIle Hotel in time for the midday meal. Smartsville has "seen
better days," but still maintains a cheerful outlook on life. The
population has dwindled from several thousand to about three hundred. It
is, however, the central point for quite an extensive agricultural and
pastoral country surrounding it.
The swinging sign over the hotel bears the legend, "Smartsville Hotel,
John Peardon, Propr." The present proprietor is named "Peardon," but
everyone addressed him as "Jim." Having established a friendly footing,
I said: "Mr. Peardon, I notice the sign over the door reads John
Peardon. How is it that they all call you 'Jim?'" "Oh," he replied,
"John Peardon was my father, I was born in this hotel;" - another of the
numerous instances that came under my observation of the way these
people "stay where they are put."
John Peardon was an Englishman. The British Isles furnished a very
considerable percentage of the pioneers, the evidences whereof remain
unto this day. The swinging signs over the hotels for one; another, the
prevalence in all the mining towns of Bass's pale ale. You will find it
in the most unpretentious hotels and restaurants. An Englishman expects
his ale or beer, as a matter of course, whether at the Equator or at the
Arctic Circle. When I first arrived in California in 1868, I drifted
down into the then sheep and cattle country in the lower end of Monterey
County. An English family living on an isolated ranch sent home for a
girl who had worked for them in the old country. Upon her arrival, the
first question she asked was: "How far is it to the church?" The second:
"Where can I get my beer?" When informed there was no church within a
hundred miles and that it was at least fifteen miles to the nearest
saloon, the poor woman felt that she was indeed all abroad! Bereft, at
one blow of the Established Church and English Ale, the solid ground
seemed to have given way from under her feet. For her, these two
particulars comprised the whole of the British Constitution.
Smartsville possessed a sentimental interest for me, for the reason that
in the sixties my father mined and taught a private school in an
adjoining camp bearing the derogatory appellation "Sucker Flat." What
mischance prompted this title will never now be known. In my father's
time, it contained a population of nearly a thousand persons; and
judging from the manner in which the gulch and the contiguous flat have
been torn, scarred, burrowed into and tunneled under, if gold there was,
most strenuous efforts had been made to bring it to light.
I asked if there was anyone in Smartsville who would be likely to
remember my father, and was referred by Mr. Peardon to "Bob" Beatty,
who, he said, had, lived in Smartsville all his life and knew everybody.
As Mr. Beatty was within a stone's throw, at the Excelsior Store, I had
no difficulty in finding him. Introducing myself, I asked Mr. Beatty if
he remembered my father. "To be sure I do," he exclaimed, "I went to his
school, and," laughing heartily, "well I remember a licking he gave me!"
He said that among the boys who attended that school, several in after
years, as men, had become prominent in the history of the State.
Mr. Beatty - now a pleasant, genial gentleman of fifty-two - very kindly
walked with me to the brow of the hill commanding a view of Sucker Flat,
and pointed out the exact spot where the school had stood, for not a
stick or a stone remains to mark the locus of the town - it is simply a
name upon the map.
I mention this incident as being another proof of the extraordinary hold
the Sierra foot-hill country has upon the people who were born there, as
well as upon those who have drifted there by force of circumstances. It
is forty-six or forty-seven years since my father conducted that school,
yet I felt so sure from previous experiences there would be in
Smartsville someone who remembered him, that I determined to include it
in my itinerary.
Smartsville to Marysville. Some Reflections on Automobiles and "Hoboes"
Early the next morning I started for Marysville, the last leg in my
journey, and a long twenty miles distant. I had been dreading the pull
through the Sacramento Valley, having a lively recollection of my
experience in the San Joaquin, on leaving Stockton. The day was sultry,
making the heat still more oppressive. After leaving the foot-hills for
good, I walked ten miles before reaching a tree, or anything that cast a
shadow, if you except the telephone poles. For the first time I realized
there was danger in walking in such heat, and even contemplated the
shade of the telephone poles as a possibility! Fortunately a light
breeze sprang up - the fag end of the trade wind - and, though hot, it
served to dispel that stagnation of the atmosphere which in sultry
weather is so trying to the nervous system. Marysville is nearly one
hundred miles due north of Stockton - of course, much farther by rail -
and the same arid, treeless, inhospitable belt of country between the
cultivated area and the foot-hills apparently extends the whole
distance. It is a country to avoid.
About two miles short of Marysville, while enjoying the shade cast by
the trees that border the levee of the Feather River, which skirts
Marysville to the south, a man in an auto stopped and very kindly
offered to give me a lift. I thanked him politely but declined. He
seemed amazed. "Why don't you ride when you can?" he asked. "Because I
prefer to walk," I answered. This fairly staggered him. The idea of a
man preferring to walk, and in such heat, was probably a novel
experience, and served to deprive him of further speech. He simply sat
and stared and I had passed him some twenty yards before he started his
A sturdy tramp walking in the middle of the road, who had witnessed the
scene, shouted as he passed: "Why didn't yer ride wid de guy?" I replied
as before, "Because I prefer to walk;" adding for his benefit, "I've no
use for autos." Whereupon he threw back his head and burst into peal
after peal of such hearty laughter that, from pure contagion, I perforce
joined in the chorus. In the days of Fielding and Sam Johnson, this
fellow would have been dubbed "a lusty vagabond;" in the slangy parlance
of today, he was a "husky hobo," equipped as such, even to the tin can
of the comic journals. To him, the humor of a brother tramp refusing a
ride - in an autocar, at that - appealed with irresistible force.
To walk in the middle of the road is characteristic of the genuine
tramp. There must be some occult reason for this peculiarity, since in a
general way, it is far easier going on the margin. Perhaps it is because
he commands a better view of either side, with a regard to the possible
onslaught of dogs. There is something about a man with a pack on his
back that infuriates the average dog, as I have on several occasions
found to my annoyance. Robert Louis Stevenson, in his whimsical and
altogether delightful "Travels with a Donkey," thus vents his opinion
anent the dog question:
"I was much disturbed by the barking of a dog, an animal that I fear
more than any wolf. A dog is vastly braver and is, besides, supported by
a sense of duty. If you kill a wolf you meet with encouragement and
praise, but if you kill a dog, the sacred rights of property and the
domestic affections come clamoring around you for redress. At the end of
a fagging day, the sharp, cruel note of a dog's bark is in itself a keen
annoyance; and to a tramp like myself, he represents the sedentary and
respectable world in its most hostile form. There is something of the
clergyman or the lawyer about this engaging animal; and if he were not
amenable to stones, the boldest man would shrink from traveling a-foot.
I respect dogs much in the domestic circle; but on the highway or
sleeping afield, I both detest and fear them."
I confess to a feeling of sympathy with the men we so indiscriminately
brand with the contemptuous epithet, "hobo." In the first place, the
road itself, with its accompanying humors and adventures, forms a mutual
and efficacious bond. How little we know of the "Knights of the Road,"
or the compelling circumstances that turned them adrift upon the world!
"All sorts and conditions of men" are represented, from the college
professor to the ex-pugilist. I have "hit the ties" in company with a
so-called "hobo" who quoted Milton and Shakespeare by the yard,
interspersed with exclamations appreciative of his enjoyment of the
country through which we were passing. And once when on a tramp along
the coast from San Francisco to Monterey, I fell in at Point San Pedro
with a professional, who bitterly regretted the coming of the Ocean
Shore Railway, then in process of construction. "For years," said he, "I
have been in the habit of making this trip at regular intervals, on my
way south. I had the road to myself and thoroughly enjoyed the peaceful
beauty of the scene; but now this railroad has come with its mushroom
towns, and all the charm has gone. Never again for me! This is my last
I have not the slightest doubt that sheer love of the road - and only a
tramp knows what those words mean - is the controlling influence which
keeps fifty per cent of the fraternity its willing slaves. What was
Senhouse - that most fascinating of Maurice Hewlett's creations - but a
tramp? A gentleman tramp, if you please, but still a tramp. What is the
reason that Senhouse appeals so strongly to the imagination? Simply
because he loved Nature. And in this matter-of-fact period when poetry
is dead and even a by-word, the man who loves Nature, if not a poet, at
least has poetry in his soul. In a decadent age symbolized by the tango
and the problem play, it is at least an encouraging sign for the future
that such a character as Senhouse came to the jaded reader of the erotic
fiction of the day, as a whiff of sea breeze on a parched plain, and was
hailed with corresponding delight.
Of course there are "hoboes" and "hoboes," as in any other profession,
but so far as my experience goes, the "hobo" is an idealist. Of the many
reasons he has taken to the road, not the least is the freedom from the
shackles of convention and the "Gradgrind" methods of an utilitarian and
materialistic age. Nor is he a pessimist. Whatever his trouble, the road
has eased him of his burden and made him a philosopher.
Thoreau, writing in the middle of the last century, deplores the fact
that in his day, as now, but few of his countrymen took any pleasure in
walking, and that very rarely one encountered a person with any real
appreciation of the beauty of Nature, which if he could but see it, lay
at his very door. Speaking for himself and companion in his rambles, he
says: "We have felt that we almost alone hereabouts (Concord,
Massachusetts) practiced this noble art; though, to tell the truth, at
least if their own assertions are to be received, most of my townsmen
would fain walk sometimes, as I do, but they cannot. No wealth can buy
the requisite leisure, freedom and independence which are the capital in
this profession. It comes only by the grace of God. It requires a direct
dispensation from Heaven to become a Walker. Ambulator nascitur non fit.
Some of my townsmen, it is true, can remember and have described to me,
walks which they took ten years ago, in which they were so blessed as to
lose themselves for half an hour in the woods."
Who is there who walks habitually, who does not know the man who tells
you of the walks he "used to take?" You have known him, say a dozen
years. During all that time, to your knowledge, his walks have
practically been limited by the distance to his office and back from the
ferry boat. When you urge him for perhaps the twentieth time, to essay a
tramp with you, he will say he would like to very much, but
unfortunately so-and-so renders it impossible. And then looking you in
the eye, he will tell you how much he enjoyed tramps he took, of twenty
or thirty miles - but that was before you knew him! As if a Walker with
a big "W," as Thoreau writes the word, would remain satisfied with the
memory of walks of twenty years ago!
I had heard of the "Marysville Buttes," as one has heard of Madagascar,
but their actual appearance on the landscape came as the greatest
surprise of the trip. As I first caught sight of them when within a few
miles of Marysville, they gave me a distinct thrill. I could hardly
believe my eyes and thought of mirages; for those pointed, isolated
peaks rise precipitously from the floor of the Sacramento valley; in
fact, their bases are only a mile or two from the river. They have every
indication, even to the unscientific eye, of having been upheaved by
volcanic action. Perhaps that accounts for the uncanny impression they
A walk of twenty-one or two miles without food, in any kind of weather,
is apt to produce an aching void. My first efforts on reaching
Marysville were therefore directed to finding the sort of place where I
could eat in comfort. The emphasis which Robert Louis Stevenson employs
when upon this most important quest would be amusing were it not also a
vital problem in your own case. There is nothing humorous per se in
hunger or thirst; at any rate, not until both are appeased. With the
black coffee and cigar, you can tip your chair at a comfortable angle
against the wall, and watching the delicate wreaths of smoke in their
spiral upward course, previous to final disintegration, smile at the
persistent energy with which an hour ago you systematically worked the
town from end to end, anxiously peering in the windows of uninviting
restaurants until you finally found that little "hole in the wall" for
which you were looking, with the bottle of Tipo Chianti, the succulent
chops and the big red tomatoes, in the window. It is always to be found
if you have the necessary perseverance. The genial Italian proprietor,
with the innate politeness of his countrymen, will not bore you with
questions as to where you have come from, whither you are going, or what
you are walking for, anyway, etc., etc. He accepts you just as you are -
haversack, camera, big stick and all, hanging them without comment on
the hook behind your head; while you simply tell him you want a good
dinner, the best he can give you, but to include the chops, tomatoes and
Tipo Chianti. With a smile and that artistic flip of the napkin under
his arm, which only he can achieve, he sets about giving his orders.
Later on, after a hot bath, a shave and the luxury of a clean shirt,
feeling at peace with the world and refreshed in body and soul, you set
out to examine the town in comfort and at your leisure.
In the mining days, Marysville ranked next to San Francisco, Sacramento
and possibly Stockton, not only in interest but in actual volume of
business transacted. It was the natural outlet for all the foot-hill
country tributary to Grass Valley, Nevada City, and Smartsville. There
the miners outfitted and there, when they had "made their pile," they
began the process - subsequently completed in Sacramento and San
Francisco - of reducing it to a negligible quantity. That, of course, is
merely a reminiscence, but as the center of one of the most prosperous
grain and fruit-raising sections of the Sacramento Valley, Marysville is
still a place of considerable importance. The old town is very much in
evidence; so much so that, in spite of the numerous modern buildings,
the general effect produced is of age, as age is understood in
California. I doubt if San Francisco before the fire, or Sacramento
today, could show as many substantial, solid buildings dating back to
Bayard Taylor and the California of Forty-Nine. Bret Harte and His
Literary Pioneer Contemporaries.
And here in old Marysville, the county seat of Yuba County and situated
on its extreme western boundary, I ended my tramp, having covered a
distance of approximately two hundred and fifty miles, exclusive of
retracements. The ideal time to visit the Sierra foot-hills would be in
the late Spring or early Autumn. I was compelled to grasp the
opportunity when it offered or forego the pleasure altogether. Nor is it
necessary, of course, to walk; the roads, whilst generally speaking not
classed as good going for automobiles, are at least passable. I was
surprised at the number of high grade machines in evidence, in all the
towns of importance mentioned in this narrative. There remains also the
alternative of a good saddle horse, or, better still, a light wagon with
camping outfit, thus rendering hotels unnecessary, the elimination of
which would probably pay the hire of horse and wagon.
Half a century is a long period. You could probably count on the fingers
of one hand persons now living in the Sierra foot-hills who have any
recollection of ever having seen Bret Harte. It must also be remembered
that in the fifties his reputation as an author had not been
established. Of all that group of brilliant young men who visited the
mines in early days, which included for a brief space "Orpheus C. Kerr"
and "Artemus Ward," I can well imagine that Bret Harte attracted the
least attention. It is extremely doubtful to "my mind if he ever had
much actual experience of the mining camps. To a man of his vivid
imagination, a mere suggestion afforded a plot for a story; even the
Laird's Toreadors, it will be recalled, were commercially successful
when purely imaginary; he only failed when he subsequently studied the
real thing in Spain.
Bret Harte was a man who in a primitive community might well escape
notice. In appearance, manner and training, he was the exact antithesis
of Mark Twain. He was a student before he was a writer and possessed the
student's shy reserve. I can well imagine him, a slight boyish figure,
flitting from camp to camp, wrapped in his own thoughts, keeping his own
counsel. Yet he alone of that little band, unless you except Mark Twain,
possessed the divine spark we call "genius." Centuries after the names
of all the rest are buried in oblivion, Bret Harte's stories of the
Argonauts in the mining towns of California will remain the classics
they have already become.
Yet as before stated, when once I got fairly started on the road, the
pioneers themselves and their worthy descendants absorbed my interest
and assumed the center of the stage to the exclusion, for the time
being, of the romancers; who, after all, each in his own fashion,
depicted only what most appealed to him in the characters of these same
men and their contemporaries. Bayard Taylor in his interesting work "El
Dorado," the first edition of which appeared in 1850, thus states his
opinion of the men of '49:
"Abundance of gold does not always beget, as moralists tell us, a
grasping and avaricious spirit. The principles of hospitality were as
faithfully observed in the rude tents of the diggers, as they could be
by the thrifty farmers of the North and West. The cosmopolitan cast of
character in California, resulting in the commingling of so many races,
and the primitive mode of life, gave a character of good-fellowship to
all its members; and in no part of the world have I ever seen help more
freely given to the needy, or more ready co-operation in any human
proposition. Personally, I can safely say that I never met with such
unvarying kindness from comparative strangers."
That last sentence also spelt the literal truth in my experience. Even
the dogs were kindly disposed and though I carried, a "big stick,"
except by way of companionship and as an aid in climbing, I might safely
have left it at home. And while at times I walked through a wild,
mountainous and almost deserted country, the idea of possible danger
never occurred to me. When finally one encountered a human being, he
invariably proved a courteous, obliging and companionable personage to
Bayard Taylor attended in September and the beginning of October, 1849,
the convention at Monterey, which gave to California its first, and in
the opinion of many, its best constitution. He closes his review of the
proceedings with these forceful and prophetic words:
"Thus we have another splendid example of the ease and security with
which people can be educated to govern themselves. From that chaos
whence under, a despotism like the Austrian, would spring the most
frightful excesses of anarchy and crime, a population of freemen
peacefully and quietly develops the highest form of civil order - the
broadest extent of liberty and security. Governments, bad and corrupt
as many of them are, and imperfect as they all must necessarily be,
nevertheless at times exhibit scenes of true moral sublimity. What I
have today witnessed has so, impressed me; and were I a believer in
omens, I would augur from the tranquil beauty of the evening - from the
clear sky and the lovely sunset hues on the waters of the bay - more
than all, from the joyous expression of every face I see, a glorious and
prosperous career for the State of California."
Southern California, by which is understood all of the State south of
the Tehachapi Mountains, was mostly settled by and is still to a great
extent the objective point of people from the East and Middle West. Most
of them came in search of health and brought a competency sufficient for
their needs. When President Wilson, then Governor of New Jersey, visited
California in 1911, he came over the southern route to Los Angeles.
Addressing a Pasadena audience he said: "I am much disappointed when I
see you. I expected to find a highly individualized people, characters
developed by struggle and mutual effort; but I find you the same people
we have at home," and more, to the same effect. Subsequently, Governor
Wilson delivered an address at the Greek Theater, Berkeley, before the
students of the University of California. At its close, Mr. Maslin
mounted the stage, a copy of the paper containing the account of the
Pasadena speech in his hands, and asked the Governor if he was correctly
reported; to which he replied in the affirmative. "Governor," said Mr.
Maslin, you came into the State at the wrong gate!" "Gate? gate? - what
gate?" inquired the Governor. "You should have come through Emigrant
Gap, through which most of the emigrants from '49 and on entered the
State. Now, Governor, the people you saw at Pasadena never suffered the
trials of a pioneer's lite, they are not knit together by the memory of
mutual struggles and privations. When you come to the State again, come
through Emigrant Gap. Let me know when you come, and I will introduce
you to a breed of men the world has never excelled." With the smile with
which millions have since become familiar, Governor Wilson grasped the
hand of the pioneer and said: "When I come again, as I feel sure I
shall, I shall let you know."
The following morning I took the train for my home in Alameda. As I sat
and meditated on the scenes I had witnessed and the character of the
people I had met, it was borne in upon me that this had been the most
interesting as well as enjoyable experience of my life. Already the
temporary discomforts produced by heat and soiled garments had faded
into insignificance, and assumed a most trivial aspect when I reviewed
the journey as a whole. They were part of the game. To again quote
"Trilby," tramping "is not all beer and skittles." Your true tramp
learns to take things as he finds them and never to expect or ask or the
impossible. He will drink the wine of the country, even when sour,
without a grimace; pass without grumbling a sleepless night; plod
through dust ankle deep, without a murmur; there is but one vulnerable
feature in his armor, and with Achilles, it is his heel! And it is
literally the heel that, is the sensitive spot. I will venture the
assertion that the long-distance tramper - not even excepting Brother
Weston - who has not at some time or another suffered from sore heels,
does not exist. The tramp's feet are his means of locomotion; on their
condition he bestows an anxiety and care which far surpass that of the
man in the automobile, with all his complicated machinery to inspect.
Remains then, the memory of the delicious, faint, cool, morning breeze,
gently stirring the pine needles; the aromatic odor of forest
undergrowth; the murmur of the stream hurrying down the mountain gorge
to mingle its pure waters with those of the muddy Sacramento, far away
in the great valley below; the deep awe-inspiring canons of the
American, Stanislaus and Mokelumne Rivers; and back of all, the azure
summits of the Sierra Nevada.
Remains also, the memory of the kindly-disposed, courteous and
open-hearted inhabitants of the old mining towns. But more forcibly than
all else combined - for it seems to epitomize the whole - the glamour of
the towns themselves appeals with an irresistible fascination, that no
poor words of mine can adequately express.
Views of the Bret Harte Country
Here ends A Tramp Through the Bret Harte Country by Thomas Dykes
Beasley. Published by Paul Elder and Company and printed for them at
their Tomoye Press in the city of San Francisco, under the direction of
John Swart, in the year Nineteen Hundred and Fourteen
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