And sure enough, two or three years afterward, we did hear him again. News came to the Pacific coast that the Vigilance Committee in Montana (whither Slade had removed from Rocky Ridge) had hanged him. I find an account of the affair in the thrilling little book I quoted a paragraph from in the last chapter--"The Vigilantes of Montana; being a Reliable Account of the Capture, Trial and Execution of Henry Plummer's Notorious Road Agent Band: By Prof. Thos. J. Dimsdale, Virginia City, M.T." Mr. Dimsdale's chapter is well worth reading, as a specimen of how the people of the frontier deal with criminals when the courts of law prove inefficient. Mr. Dimsdale makes two remarks about Slade, both of which are accurately descriptive, and one of which is exceedingly picturesque: "Those who saw him in his natural state only, would pronounce him to be a kind husband, a most hospitable host and a courteous gentleman; on the contrary, those who met him when maddened with liquor and surrounded by a gang of armed roughs, would pronounce him a fiend incarnate." And this: "From Fort Kearney, west, he was feared a great deal more than the almighty." For compactness, simplicity and vigor of expression, I will "back" that sentence against anything in literature. Mr. Dimsdale's narrative is as follows. In all places where italics occur, they are mine:
After the execution of the five men on the 14th of January, the
Vigilantes considered that their work was nearly ended. They had
freed the country of highwaymen and murderers to a great extent, and
they determined that in the absence of the regular civil authority
they would establish a People's Court where all offenders should be
tried by judge and jury. This was the nearest approach to social
order that the circumstances permitted, and, though strict legal
authority was wanting, yet the people were firmly determined to
maintain its efficiency, and to enforce its decrees. It may here be
mentioned that the overt act which was the last round on the fatal
ladder leading to the scaffold on which Slade perished, was the
tearing in pieces and stamping upon a writ of this court, followed
by his arrest of the Judge Alex. Davis, by authority of a presented
Derringer, and with his own hands.
J. A. Slade was himself, we have been informed, a Vigilante; he
openly boasted of it, and said he knew all that they knew. He was
never accused, or even suspected, of either murder or robbery,
committed in this Territory (the latter crime was never laid to his
charge, in any place); but that he had killed several men in other
localities was notorious, and his bad reputation in this respect was
a most powerful argument in determining his fate, when he was
finally arrested for the offence above mentioned. On returning from
Milk River he became more and more addicted to drinking, until at
last it was a common feat for him and his friends to "take the
town." He and a couple of his dependents might often be seen on one
horse, galloping through the streets, shouting and yelling, firing
revolvers, etc. On many occasions he would ride his horse into
stores, break up bars, toss the scales out of doors and use most
insulting language to parties present. Just previous to the day of
his arrest, he had given a fearful beating to one of his followers;
but such was his influence over them that the man wept bitterly at
the gallows, and begged for his life with all his power. It had
become quite common, when Slade was on a spree, for the shop-keepers
and citizens to close the stores and put out all the lights; being
fearful of some outrage at his hands. For his wanton destruction of
goods and furniture, he was always ready to pay, when sober, if he
had money; but there were not a few who regarded payment as small
satisfaction for the outrage, and these men were his personal
From time to time Slade received warnings from men that he well knew
would not deceive him, of the certain end of his conduct. There was
not a moment, for weeks previous to his arrest, in which the public
did not expect to hear of some bloody outrage. The dread of his
very name, and the presence of the armed band of hangers-on who
followed him alone prevented a resistance which must certainly have
ended in the instant murder or mutilation of the opposing party.
Slade was frequently arrested by order of the court whose
organization we have described, and had treated it with respect by
paying one or two fines and promising to pay the rest when he had
money; but in the transaction that occurred at this crisis, he
forgot even this caution, and goaded by passion and the hatred of
restraint, he sprang into the embrace of death.
Slade had been drunk and "cutting up" all night. He and his
companions had made the town a perfect hell. In the morning, J. M.
Fox, the sheriff, met him, arrested him, took him into court and
commenced reading a warrant that he had for his arrest, by way of
arraignment. He became uncontrollably furious, and seizing the
writ, he tore it up, threw it on the ground and stamped upon it.
The clicking of the locks of his companions' revolvers was instantly
heard, and a crisis was expected. The sheriff did not attempt his
retention; but being at least as prudent as he was valiant, he
succumbed, leaving Slade the master of the situation and the
conqueror and ruler of the courts, law and law-makers. This was a
declaration of war, and was so accepted. The Vigilance Committee
now felt that the question of social order and the preponderance of
the law-abiding citizens had then and there to be decided. They
knew the character of Slade, and they were well aware that they must
submit to his rule without murmur, or else that he must be dealt
with in such fashion as would prevent his being able to wreak his
vengeance on the committee, who could never have hoped to live in
the Territory secure from outrage or death, and who could never
leave it without encountering his friend, whom his victory would
have emboldened and stimulated to a pitch that would have rendered
them reckless of consequences. The day previous he had ridden into
Dorris's store, and on being requested to leave, he drew his
revolver and threatened to kill the gentleman who spoke to him.
Another saloon he had led his horse into, and buying a bottle of
wine, he tried to make the animal drink it. This was not considered
an uncommon performance, as he had often entered saloons and
commenced firing at the lamps, causing a wild stampede.
A leading member of the committee met Slade, and informed him in the
quiet, earnest manner of one who feels the importance of what he is
saying: "Slade, get your horse at once, and go home, or there will
be ---- to pay." Slade started and took a long look, with his dark
and piercing eyes, at the gentleman. "What do you mean?" said he.
"You have no right to ask me what I mean," was the quiet reply, "get
your horse at once, and remember what I tell you." After a short
pause he promised to do so, and actually got into the saddle; but,
being still intoxicated, he began calling aloud to one after another
of his friends, and at last seemed to have forgotten the warning he
had received and became again uproarious, shouting the name of a
well-known courtezan in company with those of two men whom he
considered heads of the committee, as a sort of challenge; perhaps,
however, as a simple act of bravado. It seems probable that the
intimation of personal danger he had received had not been forgotten
entirely; though fatally for him, he took a foolish way of showing
his remembrance of it. He sought out Alexander Davis, the Judge of
the Court, and drawing a cocked Derringer, he presented it at his
head, and told him that he should hold him as a hostage for his own
safety. As the judge stood perfectly quiet, and offered no
resistance to his captor, no further outrage followed on this score.
Previous to this, on account of the critical state of affairs, the
committee had met, and at last resolved to arrest him. His
execution had not been agreed upon, and, at that time, would have
been negatived, most assuredly. A messenger rode down to Nevada to
inform the leading men of what was on hand, as it was desirable to
show that there was a feeling of unanimity on the subject, all along
The miners turned out almost en masse, leaving their work and
forming in solid column about six hundred strong, armed to the
teeth, they marched up to Virginia. The leader of the body well
knew the temper of his men on the subject. He spurred on ahead of
them, and hastily calling a meeting of the executive, he told them
plainly that the miners meant "business," and that, if they came up,
they would not stand in the street to be shot down by Slade's
friends; but that they would take him and hang him. The meeting was
small, as the Virginia men were loath to act at all. This momentous
announcement of the feeling of the Lower Town was made to a cluster
of men, who were deliberation behind a wagon, at the rear of a store
on Main street.
The committee were most unwilling to proceed to extremities. All
the duty they had ever performed seemed as nothing to the task
before them; but they had to decide, and that quickly. It was
finally agreed that if the whole body of the miners were of the
opinion that he should be hanged, that the committee left it in
their hands to deal with him. Off, at hot speed, rode the leader of
the Nevada men to join his command.
Slade had found out what was intended, and the news sobered him
instantly. He went into P. S. Pfouts' store, where Davis was, and
apologized for his conduct, saying that he would take it all back.
The head of the column now wheeled into Wallace street and marched
up at quick time. Halting in front of the store, the executive
officer of the committee stepped forward and arrested Slade, who was
at once informed of his doom, and inquiry was made as to whether he
had any business to settle. Several parties spoke to him on the
subject; but to all such inquiries he turned a deaf ear, being
entirely absorbed in the terrifying reflections on his own awful
position. He never ceased his entreaties for life, and to see his
dear wife. The unfortunate lady referred to, between whom and Slade
there existed a warm affection, was at this time living at their
ranch on the Madison. She was possessed of considerable personal
attractions; tall, well-formed, of graceful carriage, pleasing
manners, and was, withal, an accomplished horsewoman.
A messenger from Slade rode at full speed to inform her of her
husband's arrest. In an instant she was in the saddle, and with all
the energy that love and despair could lend to an ardent temperament
and a strong physique, she urged her fleet charger over the twelve
miles of rough and rocky ground that intervened between her and the
object of her passionate devotion.
Meanwhile a party of volunteers had made the necessary preparations
for the execution, in the valley traversed by the branch. Beneath
the site of Pfouts and Russell's stone building there was a corral,
the gate-posts of which were strong and high. Across the top was
laid a beam, to which the rope was fastened, and a dry-goods box
served for the platform. To this place Slade was marched,
surrounded by a guard, composing the best armed and most numerous
force that has ever appeared in Montana Territory.
The doomed man had so exhausted himself by tears, prayers and
lamentations, that he had scarcely strength left to stand under the
fatal beam. He repeatedly exclaimed, "My God! my God! must I die?
Oh, my dear wife!"
On the return of the fatigue party, they encountered some friends of
Slade, staunch and reliable citizens and members of the committee,
but who were personally attached to the condemned. On hearing of
his sentence, one of them, a stout-hearted man, pulled out his
handkerchief and walked away, weeping like a child. Slade still
begged to see his wife, most piteously, and it seemed hard to deny
his request; but the bloody consequences that were sure to follow
the inevitable attempt at a rescue, that her presence and entreaties
would have certainly incited, forbade the granting of his request.
Several gentlemen were sent for to see him, in his last moments, one
of whom (Judge Davis) made a short address to the people; but in
such low tones as to be inaudible, save to a few in his immediate
vicinity. One of his friends, after exhausting his powers of
entreaty, threw off his coat and declared that the prisoner could
not be hanged until he himself was killed. A hundred guns were
instantly leveled at him; whereupon he turned and fled; but, being
brought back, he was compelled to resume his coat, and to give a
promise of future peaceable demeanor.
Scarcely a leading man in Virginia could be found, though numbers of
the citizens joined the ranks of the guard when the arrest was made.
All lamented the stern necessity which dictated the execution.
Everything being ready, the command was given, "Men, do your duty,"
and the box being instantly slipped from beneath his feet, he died
The body was cut down and carried to the Virginia Hotel, where, in a
darkened room, it was scarcely laid out, when the unfortunate and
bereaved companion of the deceased arrived, at headlong speed, to
find that all was over, and that she was a widow. Her grief and
heart-piercing cries were terrible evidences of the depth of her
attachment for her lost husband, and a considerable period elapsed
before she could regain the command of her excited feelings.
There is something about the desperado-nature that is wholly unaccountable--at least it looks unaccountable. It is this. The true desperado is gifted with splendid courage, and yet he will take the most infamous advantage of his enemy; armed and free, he will stand up before a host and fight until he is shot all to pieces, and yet when he is under the gallows and helpless he will cry and plead like a child. Words are cheap, and it is easy to call Slade a coward (all executed men who do not "die game" are promptly called cowards by unreflecting people), and when we read of Slade that he "had so exhausted himself by tears, prayers and lamentations, that he had scarcely strength left to stand under the fatal beam," the disgraceful word suggests itself in a moment--yet in frequently defying and inviting the vengeance of banded Rocky Mountain cut-throats by shooting down their comrades and leaders, and never offering to hide or fly, Slade showed that he was a man of peerless bravery. No coward would dare that. Many a notorious coward, many a chicken-livered poltroon, coarse, brutal, degraded, has made his dying speech without a quaver in his voice and been swung into eternity with what looked liked the calmest fortitude, and so we are justified in believing, from the low intellect of such a creature, that it was not moral courage that enabled him to do it. Then, if moral courage is not the requisite quality, what could it have been that this stout-hearted Slade lacked?--this bloody, desperate, kindly-mannered, urbane gentleman, who never hesitated to warn his most ruffianly enemies that he would kill them whenever or wherever he came across them next! I think it is a conundrum worth investigating.
Just beyond the breakfast-station we overtook a Mormon emigrant train of thirty-three wagons; and tramping wearily along and driving their herd of loose cows, were dozens of coarse-clad and sad-looking men, women and children, who had walked as they were walking now, day after day for eight lingering weeks, and in that time had compassed the distance our stage had come in eight days and three hours--seven hundred and ninety-eight miles! They were dusty and uncombed, hatless, bonnetless and ragged, and they did look so tired!
After breakfast, we bathed in Horse Creek, a (previously) limpid, sparkling stream--an appreciated luxury, for it was very seldom that our furious coach halted long enough for an indulgence of that kind. We changed horses ten or twelve times in every twenty-four hours--changed mules, rather--six mules--and did it nearly every time in four minutes. It was lively work. As our coach rattled up to each station six harnessed mules stepped gayly from the stable; and in the twinkling of an eye, almost, the old team was out, and the new one in and we off and away again.
During the afternoon we passed Sweetwater Creek, Independence Rock, Devil's Gate and the Devil's Gap. The latter were wild specimens of rugged scenery, and full of interest--we were in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, now. And we also passed by "Alkali" or "Soda Lake," and we woke up to the fact that our journey had stretched a long way across the world when the driver said that the Mormons often came there from Great Salt Lake City to haul away saleratus. He said that a few days gone by they had shoveled up enough pure saleratus from the ground (it was a dry lake) to load two wagons, and that when they got these two wagons-loads of a drug that cost them nothing, to Salt Lake, they could sell it for twenty-five cents a pound.
In the night we sailed by a most notable curiosity, and one we had been hearing a good deal about for a day or two, and were suffering to see. This was what might be called a natural ice-house. It was August, now, and sweltering weather in the daytime, yet at one of the stations the men could scape the soil on the hill-side under the lee of a range of boulders, and at a depth of six inches cut out pure blocks of ice--hard, compactly frozen, and clear as crystal!
Toward dawn we got under way again, and presently as we sat with raised curtains enjoying our early-morning smoke and contemplating the first splendor of the rising sun as it swept down the long array of mountain peaks, flushing and gilding crag after crag and summit after summit, as if the invisible Creator reviewed his gray veterans and they saluted with a smile, we hove in sight of South Pass City. The hotel-keeper, the postmaster, the blacksmith, the mayor, the constable, the city marshal and the principal citizen and property holder, all came out and greeted us cheerily, and we gave him good day. He gave us a little Indian news, and a little Rocky Mountain news, and we gave him some Plains information in return. He then retired to his lonely grandeur and we climbed on up among the bristling peaks and the ragged clouds. South Pass City consisted of four log cabins, one if which was unfinished, and the gentleman with all those offices and titles was the chiefest of the ten citizens of the place. Think of hotel-keeper, postmaster, blacksmith, mayor, constable, city marshal and principal citizen all condensed into one person and crammed into one skin. Bemis said he was "a perfect Allen's revolver of dignities." And he said that if he were to die as postmaster, or as blacksmith, or as postmaster and blacksmith both, the people might stand it; but if he were to die all over, it would be a frightful loss to the community.
Two miles beyond South Pass City we saw for the first time that mysterious marvel which all Western untraveled boys have heard of and fully believe in, but are sure to be astounded at when they see it with their own eyes, nevertheless--banks of snow in dead summer time. We were now far up toward the sky, and knew all the time that we must presently encounter lofty summits clad in the "eternal snow" which was so common place a matter of mention in books, and yet when I did see it glittering in the sun on stately domes in the distance and knew the month was August and that my coat was hanging up because it was too warm to wear it, I was full as much amazed as if I never had heard of snow in August before. Truly, "seeing is believing"--and many a man lives a long life through, thinking he believes certain universally received and well established things, and yet never suspects that if he were confronted by those things once, he would discover that he did not really believe them before, but only thought he believed them.
In a little while quite a number of peaks swung into view with long claws of glittering snow clasping them; and with here and there, in the shade, down the mountain side, a little solitary patch of snow looking no larger than a lady's pocket-handkerchief but being in reality as large as a "public square."
And now, at last, we were fairly in the renowned SOUTH PASS, and whirling gayly along high above the common world. We were perched upon the extreme summit of the great range of the Rocky Mountains, toward which we had been climbing, patiently climbing, ceaselessly climbing, for days and nights together--and about us was gathered a convention of Nature's kings that stood ten, twelve, and even thirteen thousand feet high--grand old fellows who would have to stoop to see Mount Washington, in the twilight. We were in such an airy elevation above the creeping populations of the earth, that now and then when the obstructing crags stood out of the way it seemed that we could look around and abroad and contemplate the whole great globe, with its dissolving views of mountains, seas and continents stretching away through the mystery of the summer haze.
As a general thing the Pass was more suggestive of a valley than a suspension bridge in the clouds--but it strongly suggested the latter at one spot. At that place the upper third of one or two majestic purple domes projected above our level on either hand and gave us a sense of a hidden great deep of mountains and plains and valleys down about their bases which we fancied we might see if we could step to the edge and look over. These Sultans of the fastnesses were turbaned with tumbled volumes of cloud, which shredded away from time to time and drifted off fringed and torn, trailing their continents of shadow after them; and catching presently on an intercepting peak, wrapped it about and brooded there --then shredded away again and left the purple peak, as they had left the purple domes, downy and white with new-laid snow. In passing, these monstrous rags of cloud hung low and swept along right over the spectator's head, swinging their tatters so nearly in his face that his impulse was to shrink when they came closet. In the one place I speak of, one could look below him upon a world of diminishing crags and canyons leading down, down, and away to a vague plain with a thread in it which was a road, and bunches of feathers in it which were trees,--a pretty picture sleeping in the sunlight--but with a darkness stealing over it and glooming its features deeper and deeper under the frown of a coming storm; and then, while no film or shadow marred the noon brightness of his high perch, he could watch the tempest break forth down there and see the lightnings leap from crag to crag and the sheeted rain drive along the canyon-sides, and hear the thunders peal and crash and roar. We had this spectacle; a familiar one to many, but to us a novelty.
We bowled along cheerily, and presently, at the very summit (though it had been all summit to us, and all equally level, for half an hour or more), we came to a spring which spent its water through two outlets and sent it in opposite directions. The conductor said that one of those streams which we were looking at, was just starting on a journey westward to the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean, through hundreds and even thousands of miles of desert solitudes. He said that the other was just leaving its home among the snow-peaks on a similar journey eastward --and we knew that long after we should have forgotten the simple rivulet it would still be plodding its patient way down the mountain sides, and canyon-beds, and between the banks of the Yellowstone; and by and by would join the broad Missouri and flow through unknown plains and deserts and unvisited wildernesses; and add a long and troubled pilgrimage among snags and wrecks and sandbars; and enter the Mississippi, touch the wharves of St. Louis and still drift on, traversing shoals and rocky channels, then endless chains of bottomless and ample bends, walled with unbroken forests, then mysterious byways and secret passages among woody islands, then the chained bends again, bordered with wide levels of shining sugar-cane in place of the sombre forests; then by New Orleans and still other chains of bends--and finally, after two long months of daily and nightly harassment, excitement, enjoyment, adventure, and awful peril of parched throats, pumps and evaporation, pass the Gulf and enter into its rest upon the bosom of the tropic sea, never to look upon its snow-peaks again or regret them.
I freighted a leaf with a mental message for the friends at home, and dropped it in the stream. But I put no stamp on it and it was held for postage somewhere.
On the summit we overtook an emigrant train of many wagons, many tired men and women, and many a disgusted sheep and cow.
In the wofully dusty horseman in charge of the expedition I recognized John -----. Of all persons in the world to meet on top of the Rocky Mountains thousands of miles from home, he was the last one I should have looked for. We were school-boys together and warm friends for years. But a boyish prank of mine had disruptured this friendship and it had never been renewed. The act of which I speak was this. I had been accustomed to visit occasionally an editor whose room was in the third story of a building and overlooked the street. One day this editor gave me a watermelon which I made preparations to devour on the spot, but chancing to look out of the window, I saw John standing directly under it and an irresistible desire came upon me to drop the melon on his head, which I immediately did. I was the loser, for it spoiled the melon, and John never forgave me and we dropped all intercourse and parted, but now met again under these circumstances.
We recognized each other simultaneously, and hands were grasped as warmly as if no coldness had ever existed between us, and no allusion was made to any. All animosities were buried and the simple fact of meeting a familiar face in that isolated spot so far from home, was sufficient to make us forget all things but pleasant ones, and we parted again with sincere "good-bye" and "God bless you" from both.
We had been climbing up the long shoulders of the Rocky Mountains for many tedious hours--we started down them, now. And we went spinning away at a round rate too.
We left the snowy Wind River Mountains and Uinta Mountains behind, and sped away, always through splendid scenery but occasionally through long ranks of white skeletons of mules and oxen--monuments of the huge emigration of other days--and here and there were up-ended boards or small piles of stones which the driver said marked the resting-place of more precious remains.
It was the loneliest land for a grave! A land given over to the cayote and the raven--which is but another name for desolation and utter solitude. On damp, murky nights, these scattered skeletons gave forth a soft, hideous glow, like very faint spots of moonlight starring the vague desert. It was because of the phosphorus in the bones. But no scientific explanation could keep a body from shivering when he drifted by one of those ghostly lights and knew that a skull held it.
At midnight it began to rain, and I never saw anything like it--indeed, I did not even see this, for it was too dark. We fastened down the curtains and even caulked them with clothing, but the rain streamed in in twenty places, nothwithstanding. There was no escape. If one moved his feet out of a stream, he brought his body under one; and if he moved his body he caught one somewhere else. If he struggled out of the drenched blankets and sat up, he was bound to get one down the back of his neck. Meantime the stage was wandering about a plain with gaping gullies in it, for the driver could not see an inch before his face nor keep the road, and the storm pelted so pitilessly that there was no keeping the horses still. With the first abatement the conductor turned out with lanterns to look for the road, and the first dash he made was into a chasm about fourteen feet deep, his lantern following like a meteor. As soon as he touched bottom he sang out frantically:
"Don't come here!"
To which the driver, who was looking over the precipice where he had disappeared, replied, with an injured air: "Think I'm a dam fool?"
The conductor was more than an hour finding the road--a matter which showed us how far we had wandered and what chances we had been taking. He traced our wheel-tracks to the imminent verge of danger, in two places. I have always been glad that we were not killed that night. I do not know any particular reason, but I have always been glad. In the morning, the tenth day out, we crossed Green River, a fine, large, limpid stream--stuck in it with the water just up to the top of our mail-bed, and waited till extra teams were put on to haul us up the steep bank. But it was nice cool water, and besides it could not find any fresh place on us to wet.
At the Green River station we had breakfast--hot biscuits, fresh antelope steaks, and coffee--the only decent meal we tasted between the United States and Great Salt Lake City, and the only one we were ever really thankful for.
Think of the monotonous execrableness of the thirty that went before it, to leave this one simple breakfast looming up in my memory like a shot-tower after all these years have gone by!
At five P.M. we reached Fort Bridger, one hundred and seventeen miles from the South Pass, and one thousand and twenty-five miles from St. Joseph. Fifty-two miles further on, near the head of Echo Canyon, we met sixty United States soldiers from Camp Floyd. The day before, they had fired upon three hundred or four hundred Indians, whom they supposed gathered together for no good purpose. In the fight that had ensued, four Indians were captured, and the main body chased four miles, but nobody killed. This looked like business. We had a notion to get out and join the sixty soldiers, but upon reflecting that there were four hundred of the Indians, we concluded to go on and join the Indians.
Echo Canyon is twenty miles long. It was like a long, smooth, narrow street, with a gradual descending grade, and shut in by enormous perpendicular walls of coarse conglomerate, four hundred feet high in many places, and turreted like mediaeval castles. This was the most faultless piece of road in the mountains, and the driver said he would "let his team out." He did, and if the Pacific express trains whiz through there now any faster than we did then in the stage-coach, I envy the passengers the exhilaration of it. We fairly seemed to pick up our wheels and fly--and the mail matter was lifted up free from everything and held in solution! I am not given to exaggeration, and when I say a thing I mean it.
However, time presses. At four in the afternoon we arrived on the summit of Big Mountain, fifteen miles from Salt Lake City, when all the world was glorified with the setting sun, and the most stupendous panorama of mountain peaks yet encountered burst on our sight. We looked out upon this sublime spectacle from under the arch of a brilliant rainbow! Even the overland stage-driver stopped his horses and gazed!
Half an hour or an hour later, we changed horses, and took supper with a Mormon "Destroying Angel."
"Destroying Angels," as I understand it, are Latter-Day Saints who are set apart by the Church to conduct permanent disappearances of obnoxious citizens. I had heard a deal about these Mormon Destroying Angels and the dark and bloody deeds they had done, and when I entered this one's house I had my shudder all ready. But alas for all our romances, he was nothing but a loud, profane, offensive, old blackguard! He was murderous enough, possibly, to fill the bill of a Destroyer, but would you have any kind of an Angel devoid of dignity? Could you abide an Angel in an unclean shirt and no suspenders? Could you respect an Angel with a horse-laugh and a swagger like a buccaneer?
There were other blackguards present--comrades of this one. And there was one person that looked like a gentleman--Heber C. Kimball's son, tall and well made, and thirty years old, perhaps. A lot of slatternly women flitted hither and thither in a hurry, with coffee-pots, plates of bread, and other appurtenances to supper, and these were said to be the wives of the Angel--or some of them, at least. And of course they were; for if they had been hired "help" they would not have let an angel from above storm and swear at them as he did, let alone one from the place this one hailed from.
This was our first experience of the western "peculiar institution," and it was not very prepossessing. We did not tarry long to observe it, but hurried on to the home of the Latter-Day Saints, the stronghold of the prophets, the capital of the only absolute monarch in America--Great Salt Lake City. As the night closed in we took sanctuary in the Salt Lake House and unpacked our baggage.
We had a fine supper, of the freshest meats and fowls and vegetables--a great variety and as great abundance. We walked about the streets some, afterward, and glanced in at shops and stores; and there was fascination in surreptitiously staring at every creature we took to be a Mormon. This was fairy-land to us, to all intents and purposes--a land of enchantment, and goblins, and awful mystery. We felt a curiosity to ask every child how many mothers it had, and if it could tell them apart; and we experienced a thrill every time a dwelling-house door opened and shut as we passed, disclosing a glimpse of human heads and backs and shoulders--for we so longed to have a good satisfying look at a Mormon family in all its comprehensive ampleness, disposed in the customary concentric rings of its home circle.
By and by the Acting Governor of the Territory introduced us to other "Gentiles," and we spent a sociable hour with them. "Gentiles" are people who are not Mormons. Our fellow-passenger, Bemis, took care of himself, during this part of the evening, and did not make an overpowering success of it, either, for he came into our room in the hotel about eleven o'clock, full of cheerfulness, and talking loosely, disjointedly and indiscriminately, and every now and then tugging out a ragged word by the roots that had more hiccups than syllables in it. This, together with his hanging his coat on the floor on one side of a chair, and his vest on the floor on the other side, and piling his pants on the floor just in front of the same chair, and then comtemplating the general result with superstitious awe, and finally pronouncing it "too many for him" and going to bed with his boots on, led us to fear that something he had eaten had not agreed with him.
But we knew afterward that it was something he had been drinking. It was the exclusively Mormon refresher, "valley tan."
Valley tan (or, at least, one form of valley tan) is a kind of whisky, or first cousin to it; is of Mormon invention and manufactured only in Utah. Tradition says it is made of (imported) fire and brimstone. If I remember rightly no public drinking saloons were allowed in the kingdom by Brigham Young, and no private drinking permitted among the faithful, except they confined themselves to "valley tan."
Next day we strolled about everywhere through the broad, straight, level streets, and enjoyed the pleasant strangeness of a city of fifteen thousand inhabitants with no loafers perceptible in it; and no visible drunkards or noisy people; a limpid stream rippling and dancing through every street in place of a filthy gutter; block after block of trim dwellings, built of "frame" and sunburned brick--a great thriving orchard and garden behind every one of them, apparently--branches from the street stream winding and sparkling among the garden beds and fruit trees--and a grand general air of neatness, repair, thrift and comfort, around and about and over the whole. And everywhere were workshops, factories, and all manner of industries; and intent faces and busy hands were to be seen wherever one looked; and in one's ears was the ceaseless clink of hammers, the buzz of trade and the contented hum of drums and fly-wheels.
The armorial crest of my own State consisted of two dissolute bears holding up the head of a dead and gone cask between them and making the pertinent remark, "UNITED, WE STAND--(hic!)--DIVIDED, WE FALL." It was always too figurative for the author of this book. But the Mormon crest was easy. And it was simple, unostentatious, and fitted like a glove. It was a representation of a GOLDEN BEEHIVE, with the bees all at work!
The city lies in the edge of a level plain as broad as the State of Connecticut, and crouches close down to the ground under a curving wall of mighty mountains whose heads are hidden in the clouds, and whose shoulders bear relics of the snows of winter all the summer long.
Seen from one of these dizzy heights, twelve or fifteen miles off, Great Salt Lake City is toned down and diminished till it is suggestive of a child's toy-village reposing under the majestic protection of the Chinese wall.
On some of those mountains, to the southwest, it had been raining every day for two weeks, but not a drop had fallen in the city. And on hot days in late spring and early autumn the citizens could quit fanning and growling and go out and cool off by looking at the luxury of a glorious snow-storm going on in the mountains. They could enjoy it at a distance, at those seasons, every day, though no snow would fall in their streets, or anywhere near them.
Salt Lake City was healthy--an extremely healthy city.
They declared there was only one physician in the place and he was arrested every week regularly and held to answer under the vagrant act for having "no visible means of support." They always give you a good substantial article of truth in Salt Lake, and good measure and good weight, too. [Very often, if you wished to weigh one of their airiest little commonplace statements you would want the hay scales.]
We desired to visit the famous inland sea, the American "Dead Sea," the great Salt Lake--seventeen miles, horseback, from the city--for we had dreamed about it, and thought about it, and talked about it, and yearned to see it, all the first part of our trip; but now when it was only arm's length away it had suddenly lost nearly every bit of its interest. And so we put it off, in a sort of general way, till next day--and that was the last we ever thought of it. We dined with some hospitable Gentiles; and visited the foundation of the prodigious temple; and talked long with that shrewd Connecticut Yankee, Heber C. Kimball (since deceased), a saint of high degree and a mighty man of commerce.
We saw the "Tithing-House," and the "Lion House," and I do not know or remember how many more church and government buildings of various kinds and curious names. We flitted hither and thither and enjoyed every hour, and picked up a great deal of useful information and entertaining nonsense, and went to bed at night satisfied.
The second day, we made the acquaintance of Mr. Street (since deceased) and put on white shirts and went and paid a state visit to the king. He seemed a quiet, kindly, easy-mannered, dignified, self-possessed old gentleman of fifty-five or sixty, and had a gentle craft in his eye that probably belonged there. He was very simply dressed and was just taking off a straw hat as we entered. He talked about Utah, and the Indians, and Nevada, and general American matters and questions, with our secretary and certain government officials who came with us. But he never paid any attention to me, notwithstanding I made several attempts to "draw him out" on federal politics and his high handed attitude toward Congress. I thought some of the things I said were rather fine. But he merely looked around at me, at distant intervals, something as I have seen a benignant old cat look around to see which kitten was meddling with her tail.
By and by I subsided into an indignant silence, and so sat until the end, hot and flushed, and execrating him in my heart for an ignorant savage. But he was calm. His conversation with those gentlemen flowed on as sweetly and peacefully and musically as any summer brook. When the audience was ended and we were retiring from the presence, he put his hand on my head, beamed down on me in an admiring way and said to my brother:
"Ah--your child, I presume? Boy, or girl?"
Mr. Street was very busy with his telegraphic matters--and considering that he had eight or nine hundred miles of rugged, snowy, uninhabited mountains, and waterless, treeless, melancholy deserts to traverse with his wire, it was natural and needful that he should be as busy as possible. He could not go comfortably along and cut his poles by the road-side, either, but they had to be hauled by ox teams across those exhausting deserts--and it was two days' journey from water to water, in one or two of them. Mr. Street's contract was a vast work, every way one looked at it; and yet to comprehend what the vague words "eight hundred miles of rugged mountains and dismal deserts" mean, one must go over the ground in person--pen and ink descriptions cannot convey the dreary reality to the reader. And after all, Mr. S.'s mightiest difficulty turned out to be one which he had never taken into the account at all. Unto Mormons he had sub-let the hardest and heaviest half of his great undertaking, and all of a sudden they concluded that they were going to make little or nothing, and so they tranquilly threw their poles overboard in mountain or desert, just as it happened when they took the notion, and drove home and went about their customary business! They were under written contract to Mr. Street, but they did not care anything for that. They said they would "admire" to see a "Gentile" force a Mormon to fulfil a losing contract in Utah! And they made themselves very merry over the matter. Street said--for it was he that told us these things:
"I was in dismay. I was under heavy bonds to complete my contract in a given time, and this disaster looked very much like ruin. It was an astounding thing; it was such a wholly unlooked-for difficulty, that I was entirely nonplussed. I am a business man--have always been a business man--do not know anything but business--and so you can imagine how like being struck by lightning it was to find myself in a country where written contracts were worthless!--that main security, that sheet-anchor, that absolute necessity, of business. My confidence left me. There was no use in making new contracts--that was plain. I talked with first one prominent citizen and then another. They all sympathized with me, first rate, but they did not know how to help me. But at last a Gentile said, 'Go to Brigham Young!--these small fry cannot do you any good.' I did not think much of the idea, for if the law could not help me, what could an individual do who had not even anything to do with either making the laws or executing them? He might be a very good patriarch of a church and preacher in its tabernacle, but something sterner than religion and moral suasion was needed to handle a hundred refractory, half-civilized sub-contractors. But what was a man to do? I thought if Mr. Young could not do anything else, he might probably be able to give me some advice and a valuable hint or two, and so I went straight to him and laid the whole case before him. He said very little, but he showed strong interest all the way through. He examined all the papers in detail, and whenever there seemed anything like a hitch, either in the papers or my statement, he would go back and take up the thread and follow it patiently out to an intelligent and satisfactory result. Then he made a list of the contractors' names. Finally he said:
"'Mr. Street, this is all perfectly plain. These contracts are strictly and legally drawn, and are duly signed and certified. These men manifestly entered into them with their eyes open. I see no fault or flaw anywhere.'
"Then Mr. Young turned to a man waiting at the other end of the room and said: 'Take this list of names to So-and-so, and tell him to have these men here at such-and-such an hour.'
"They were there, to the minute. So was I. Mr. Young asked them a number of questions, and their answers made my statement good. Then he said to them:
"'You signed these contracts and assumed these obligations of your own free will and accord?'
"'Then carry them out to the letter, if it makes paupers of you! Go!'
"And they did go, too! They are strung across the deserts now, working like bees. And I never hear a word out of them.
"There is a batch of governors, and judges, and other officials here, shipped from Washington, and they maintain the semblance of a republican form of government--but the petrified truth is that Utah is an absolute monarchy and Brigham Young is king!"
Mr. Street was a fine man, and I believe his story. I knew him well during several years afterward in San Francisco.
Our stay in Salt Lake City amounted to only two days, and therefore we had no time to make the customary inquisition into the workings of polygamy and get up the usual statistics and deductions preparatory to calling the attention of the nation at large once more to the matter.
I had the will to do it. With the gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform here--until I saw the Mormon women. Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically "homely" creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, "No--the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure--and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence."
[For a brief sketch of Mormon history, and the noted Mountain Meadow
massacre, see Appendices A and B. ]
It is a luscious country for thrilling evening stories about assassinations of intractable Gentiles. I cannot easily conceive of anything more cosy than the night in Salt Lake which we spent in a Gentile den, smoking pipes and listening to tales of how Burton galloped in among the pleading and defenceless "Morisites" and shot them down, men and women, like so many dogs. And how Bill Hickman, a Destroying Angel, shot Drown and Arnold dead for bringing suit against him for a debt. And how Porter Rockwell did this and that dreadful thing. And how heedless people often come to Utah and make remarks about Brigham, or polygamy, or some other sacred matter, and the very next morning at daylight such parties are sure to be found lying up some back alley, contentedly waiting for the hearse.
And the next most interesting thing is to sit and listen to these Gentiles talk about polygamy; and how some portly old frog of an elder, or a bishop, marries a girl--likes her, marries her sister--likes her, marries another sister--likes her, takes another--likes her, marries her mother--likes her, marries her father, grandfather, great grandfather, and then comes back hungry and asks for more. And how the pert young thing of eleven will chance to be the favorite wife and her own venerable grandmother have to rank away down toward D 4 in their mutual husband's esteem, and have to sleep in the kitchen, as like as not. And how this dreadful sort of thing, this hiving together in one foul nest of mother and daughters, and the making a young daughter superior to her own mother in rank and authority, are things which Mormon women submit to because their religion teaches them that the more wives a man has on earth, and the more children he rears, the higher the place they will all have in the world to come--and the warmer, maybe, though they do not seem to say anything about that.
According to these Gentile friends of ours, Brigham Young's harem contains twenty or thirty wives. They said that some of them had grown old and gone out of active service, but were comfortably housed and cared for in the henery--or the Lion House, as it is strangely named. Along with each wife were her children--fifty altogether. The house was perfectly quiet and orderly, when the children were still. They all took their meals in one room, and a happy and home-like sight it was pronounced to be. None of our party got an opportunity to take dinner with Mr. Young, but a Gentile by the name of Johnson professed to have enjoyed a sociable breakfast in the Lion House. He gave a preposterous account of the "calling of the roll," and other preliminaries, and the carnage that ensued when the buckwheat cakes came in. But he embellished rather too much. He said that Mr. Young told him several smart sayings of certain of his "two-year-olds," observing with some pride that for many years he had been the heaviest contributor in that line to one of the Eastern magazines; and then he wanted to show Mr. Johnson one of the pets that had said the last good thing, but he could not find the child.
He searched the faces of the children in detail, but could not decide which one it was. Finally he gave it up with a sigh and said:
"I thought I would know the little cub again but I don't." Mr. Johnson said further, that Mr. Young observed that life was a sad, sad thing --"because the joy of every new marriage a man contracted was so apt to be blighted by the inopportune funeral of a less recent bride." And Mr. Johnson said that while he and Mr. Young were pleasantly conversing in private, one of the Mrs. Youngs came in and demanded a breast-pin, remarking that she had found out that he had been giving a breast-pin to No. 6, and she, for one, did not propose to let this partiality go on without making a satisfactory amount of trouble about it. Mr. Young reminded her that there was a stranger present. Mrs. Young said that if the state of things inside the house was not agreeable to the stranger, he could find room outside. Mr. Young promised the breast-pin, and she went away. But in a minute or two another Mrs. Young came in and demanded a breast-pin. Mr. Young began a remonstrance, but Mrs. Young cut him short. She said No. 6 had got one, and No. 11 was promised one, and it was "no use for him to try to impose on her--she hoped she knew her rights." He gave his promise, and she went. And presently three Mrs. Youngs entered in a body and opened on their husband a tempest of tears, abuse, and entreaty. They had heard all about No. 6, No. 11, and No. 14. Three more breast-pins were promised. They were hardly gone when nine more Mrs. Youngs filed into the presence, and a new tempest burst forth and raged round about the prophet and his guest. Nine breast-pins were promised, and the weird sisters filed out again. And in came eleven more, weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth. Eleven promised breast-pins purchased peace once more.
"That is a specimen," said Mr. Young. "You see how it is. You see what a life I lead. A man can't be wise all the time. In a heedless moment I gave my darling No. 6--excuse my calling her thus, as her other name has escaped me for the moment--a breast-pin. It was only worth twenty-five dollars--that is, apparently that was its whole cost--but its ultimate cost was inevitably bound to be a good deal more. You yourself have seen it climb up to six hundred and fifty dollars--and alas, even that is not the end! For I have wives all over this Territory of Utah. I have dozens of wives whose numbers, even, I do not know without looking in the family Bible. They are scattered far and wide among the mountains and valleys of my realm. And mark you, every solitary one of them will hear of this wretched breast pin, and every last one of them will have one or die. No. 6's breast pin will cost me twenty-five hundred dollars before I see the end of it. And these creatures will compare these pins together, and if one is a shade finer than the rest, they will all be thrown on my hands, and I will have to order a new lot to keep peace in the family. Sir, you probably did not know it, but all the time you were present with my children your every movement was watched by vigilant servitors of mine. If you had offered to give a child a dime, or a stick of candy, or any trifle of the kind, you would have been snatched out of the house instantly, provided it could be done before your gift left your hand. Otherwise it would be absolutely necessary for you to make an exactly similar gift to all my children--and knowing by experience the importance of the thing, I would have stood by and seen to it myself that you did it, and did it thoroughly. Once a gentleman gave one of my children a tin whistle--a veritable invention of Satan, sir, and one which I have an unspeakable horror of, and so would you if you had eighty or ninety children in your house. But the deed was done--the man escaped. I knew what the result was going to be, and I thirsted for vengeance. I ordered out a flock of Destroying Angels, and they hunted the man far into the fastnesses of the Nevada mountains. But they never caught him. I am not cruel, sir--I am not vindictive except when sorely outraged--but if I had caught him, sir, so help me Joseph Smith, I would have locked him into the nursery till the brats whistled him to death. By the slaughtered body of St. Parley Pratt (whom God assail!) there was never anything on this earth like it! I knew who gave the whistle to the child, but I could, not make those jealous mothers believe me. They believed I did it, and the result was just what any man of reflection could have foreseen: I had to order a hundred and ten whistles--I think we had a hundred and ten children in the house then, but some of them are off at college now--I had to order a hundred and ten of those shrieking things, and I wish I may never speak another word if we didn't have to talk on our fingers entirely, from that time forth until the children got tired of the whistles. And if ever another man gives a whistle to a child of mine and I get my hands on him, I will hang him higher than Haman! That is the word with the bark on it! Shade of Nephi! You don't know anything about married life. I am rich, and everybody knows it. I am benevolent, and everybody takes advantage of it. I have a strong fatherly instinct and all the foundlings are foisted on me.
"Every time a woman wants to do well by her darling, she puzzles her brain to cipher out some scheme for getting it into my hands. Why, sir, a woman came here once with a child of a curious lifeless sort of complexion (and so had the woman), and swore that the child was mine and she my wife--that I had married her at such-and-such a time in such-and-such a place, but she had forgotten her number, and of course I could not remember her name. Well, sir, she called my attention to the fact that the child looked like me, and really it did seem to resemble me--a common thing in the Territory--and, to cut the story short, I put it in my nursery, and she left. And by the ghost of Orson Hyde, when they came to wash the paint off that child it was an Injun! Bless my soul, you don't know anything about married life. It is a perfect dog's life, sir--a perfect dog's life. You can't economize. It isn't possible. I have tried keeping one set of bridal attire for all occasions. But it is of no use. First you'll marry a combination of calico and consumption that's as thin as a rail, and next you'll get a creature that's nothing more than the dropsy in disguise, and then you've got to eke out that bridal dress with an old balloon. That is the way it goes. And think of the wash-bill--(excuse these tears)--nine hundred and eighty-four pieces a week! No, sir, there is no such a thing as economy in a family like mine. Why, just the one item of cradles--think of it! And vermifuge! Soothing syrup! Teething rings! And 'papa's watches' for the babies to play with! And things to scratch the furniture with! And lucifer matches for them to eat, and pieces of glass to cut themselves with! The item of glass alone would support your family, I venture to say, sir. Let me scrimp and squeeze all I can, I still can't get ahead as fast as I feel I ought to, with my opportunities. Bless you, sir, at a time when I had seventy-two wives in this house, I groaned under the pressure of keeping thousands of dollars tied up in seventy-two bedsteads when the money ought to have been out at interest; and I just sold out the whole stock, sir, at a sacrifice, and built a bedstead seven feet long and ninety-six feet wide. But it was a failure, sir. I could not sleep. It appeared to me that the whole seventy-two women snored at once. The roar was deafening. And then the danger of it! That was what I was looking at. They would all draw in their breath at once, and you could actually see the walls of the house suck in--and then they would all exhale their breath at once, and you could see the walls swell out, and strain, and hear the rafters crack, and the shingles grind together. My friend, take an old man's advice, and don't encumber yourself with a large family--mind, I tell you, don't do it. In a small family, and in a small family only, you will find that comfort and that peace of mind which are the best at last of the blessings this world is able to afford us, and for the lack of which no accumulation of wealth, and no acquisition of fame, power, and greatness can ever compensate us. Take my word for it, ten or eleven wives is all you need--never go over it."
Some instinct or other made me set this Johnson down as being unreliable. And yet he was a very entertaining person, and I doubt if some of the information he gave us could have been acquired from any other source. He was a pleasant contrast to those reticent Mormons.
All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the "elect" have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so "slow," so sleepy; such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle--keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate. If he, according to tradition, merely translated it from certain ancient and mysteriously-engraved plates of copper, which he declares he found under a stone, in an out-of-the-way locality, the work of translating was equally a miracle, for the same reason.
The book seems to be merely a prosy detail of imaginary history, with the Old Testament for a model; followed by a tedious plagiarism of the New Testament. The author labored to give his words and phrases the quaint, old-fashioned sound and structure of our King James's translation of the Scriptures; and the result is a mongrel--half modern glibness, and half ancient simplicity and gravity. The latter is awkward and constrained; the former natural, but grotesque by the contrast. Whenever he found his speech growing too modern--which was about every sentence or two--he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases as "exceeding sore," "and it came to pass," etc., and made things satisfactory again. "And it came to pass" was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet.
The title-page reads as follows:
THE BOOK OF MORMON: AN ACCOUNT WRITTEN BY THE HAND OF MORMON, UPON
PLATES TAKEN FROM THE PLATES OF NEPHI.
Wherefore it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi,
and also of the Lamanites; written to the Lamanites, who are a
remnant of the House of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile; written
by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of
revelation. Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that
they might not be destroyed; to come forth by the gift and power of
God unto the interpretation thereof; sealed by the hand of Moroni,
and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by the way of
Gentile; the interpretation thereof by the gift of God. An
abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also; which is a record of
the people of Jared; who were scattered at the time the Lord
confounded the language of the people when they were building a
tower to get to Heaven.
"Hid up" is good. And so is "wherefore"--though why "wherefore"? Any other word would have answered as well--though--in truth it would not have sounded so Scriptural.
THE TESTIMONY OF THREE WITNESSES.
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people unto
whom this work shall come, that we, through the grace of God the
Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which
contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and
also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of
Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken; and we
also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of
God, for His voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a
surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen
the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown
unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with
words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and
he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the
plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the
grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld
and bear record that these things are true; and it is marvellous in
our eyes; nevertheless the voice of the Lord commanded us that we
should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the
commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know
that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the
blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of
Christ, and shall dwell with Him eternally in the heavens. And the
honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which
is one God. Amen.
Some people have to have a world of evidence before they can come anywhere in the neighborhood of believing anything; but for me, when a man tells me that he has "seen the engravings which are upon the plates," and not only that, but an angel was there at the time, and saw him see them, and probably took his receipt for it, I am very far on the road to conviction, no matter whether I ever heard of that man before or not, and even if I do not know the name of the angel, or his nationality either.
Next is this:
AND ALSO THE TESTIMONY OF EIGHT WITNESSES.
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people unto
whom this work shall come, that Joseph Smith, Jr., the translator of
this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken,
which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the
said Smith has translated, we did handle with our hands; and we also
saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of
ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record
with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for
we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith
has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names
unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen;
and we lie not, God bearing witness of it.
PETER WHITMER, JR.,
JOSEPH SMITH, SR.,
SAMUEL H. SMITH.
And when I am far on the road to conviction, and eight men, be they grammatical or otherwise, come forward and tell me that they have seen the plates too; and not only seen those plates but "hefted" them, I am convinced. I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified.
The Mormon Bible consists of fifteen "books"--being the books of Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Omni, Mosiah, Zeniff, Alma, Helaman, Ether, Moroni, two "books" of Mormon, and three of Nephi.
In the first book of Nephi is a plagiarism of the Old Testament, which gives an account of the exodus from Jerusalem of the "children of Lehi"; and it goes on to tell of their wanderings in the wilderness, during eight years, and their supernatural protection by one of their number, a party by the name of Nephi. They finally reached the land of "Bountiful," and camped by the sea. After they had remained there "for the space of many days"--which is more Scriptural than definite--Nephi was commanded from on high to build a ship wherein to "carry the people across the waters." He travestied Noah's ark--but he obeyed orders in the matter of the plan. He finished the ship in a single day, while his brethren stood by and made fun of it--and of him, too--"saying, our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship." They did not wait for the timbers to dry, but the whole tribe or nation sailed the next day. Then a bit of genuine nature cropped out, and is revealed by outspoken Nephi with Scriptural frankness--they all got on a spree! They, "and also their wives, began to make themselves merry, insomuch that they began to dance, and to sing, and to speak with much rudeness; yea, they were lifted up unto exceeding rudeness."
Nephi tried to stop these scandalous proceedings; but they tied him neck and heels, and went on with their lark. But observe how Nephi the prophet circumvented them by the aid of the invisible powers:
And it came to pass that after they had bound me, insomuch that I
could not move, the compass, which had been prepared of the Lord,
did cease to work; wherefore, they knew not whither they should
steer the ship, insomuch that there arose a great storm, yea, a
great and terrible tempest, and we were driven back upon the waters
for the space of three days; and they began to be frightened
exceedingly, lest they should be drowned in the sea; nevertheless
they did not loose me. And on the fourth day, which we had been
driven back, the tempest began to be exceeding sore. And it came to
pass that we were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea.
Then they untied him.
And it came to pass after they had loosed me, behold, I took the
compass, and it did work whither I desired it. And it came to pass
that I prayed unto the Lord; and after I had prayed, the winds did
cease, and the storm did cease, and there was a great calm.
Equipped with their compass, these ancients appear to have had the advantage of Noah.
Their voyage was toward a "promised land"--the only name they give it. They reached it in safety.
Polygamy is a recent feature in the Mormon religion, and was added by Brigham Young after Joseph Smith's death. Before that, it was regarded as an "abomination." This verse from the Mormon Bible occurs in Chapter II. of the book of Jacob:
For behold, thus saith the Lord, this people begin to wax in
iniquity; they understand not the Scriptures; for they seek to
excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things
which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son. Behold,
David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing
was abominable before me, saith the Lord; wherefore, thus saith the
Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by
the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous
branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph. Wherefore, I the Lord
God, will no suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.
However, the project failed--or at least the modern Mormon end of it--for Brigham "suffers" it. This verse is from the same chapter:
Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate, because of their
filthiness and the cursings which hath come upon their skins, are
more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandment
of the Lord, which was given unto our fathers, that they should
have, save it were one wife; and concubines they should have none.
The following verse (from Chapter IX. of the Book of Nephi) appears to contain information not familiar to everybody:
And now it came to pass that when Jesus had ascended into heaven,
the multitude did disperse, and every man did take his wife and his
children, and did return to his own home.
And it came to pass that on the morrow, when the multitude was
gathered together, behold, Nephi and his brother whom he had raised
from the dead, whose name was Timothy, and also his son, whose name
was Jonas, and also Mathoni, and Mathonihah, his brother, and Kumen,
and Kumenenhi, and Jeremiah, and Shemnon, and Jonas, and Zedekiah,
and Isaiah; now these were the names of the disciples whom Jesus had
In order that the reader may observe how much more grandeur and picturesqueness (as seen by these Mormon twelve) accompanied on of the tenderest episodes in the life of our Saviour than other eyes seem to have been aware of, I quote the following from the same "book"--Nephi:
And it came to pass that Jesus spake unto them, and bade them arise.
And they arose from the earth, and He said unto them, Blessed are ye
because of your faith. And now behold, My joy is full. And when He
had said these words, He wept, and the multitude bear record of it,
and He took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and
prayed unto the Father for them. And when He had done this He wept
again, and He spake unto the multitude, and saith unto them, Behold
your little ones. And as they looked to behold, they cast their
eyes toward heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw
angels descending out of heaven as it were, in the midst of fire;
and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they
were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto
them, and the multitude did see and hear and bear record; and they
know that their record is true, for they all of them did see and
hear, every man for himself; and they were in number about two
thousand and five hundred souls; and they did consist of men, women,
And what else would they be likely to consist of?
The Book of Ether is an incomprehensible medley of if "history," much of it relating to battles and sieges among peoples whom the reader has possibly never heard of; and who inhabited a country which is not set down in the geography. These was a King with the remarkable name of Coriantumr,^^ and he warred with Shared, and Lib, and Shiz, and others, in the "plains of Heshlon"; and the "valley of Gilgal"; and the "wilderness of Akish"; and the "land of Moran"; and the "plains of Agosh"; and "Ogath," and "Ramah," and the "land of Corihor," and the "hill Comnor," by "the waters of Ripliancum," etc., etc., etc. "And it came to pass," after a deal of fighting, that Coriantumr, upon making calculation of his losses, found that "there had been slain two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children"--say 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 in all--"and he began to sorrow in his heart." Unquestionably it was time. So he wrote to Shiz, asking a cessation of hostilities, and offering to give up his kingdom to save his people. Shiz declined, except upon condition that Coriantumr would come and let him cut his head off first--a thing which Coriantumr would not do. Then there was more fighting for a season; then four years were devoted to gathering the forces for a final struggle--after which ensued a battle, which, I take it, is the most remarkable set forth in history,--except, perhaps, that of the Kilkenny cats, which it resembles in some respects. This is the account of the gathering and the battle:
7. And it came to pass that they did gather together all the
people, upon all the face of the land, who had not been slain, save
it was Ether. And it came to pass that Ether did behold all the
doings of the people; and he beheld that the people who were for
Coriantumr, were gathered together to the army of Coriantumr; and
the people who were for Shiz, were gathered together to the army of
Shiz; wherefore they were for the space of four years gathering
together the people, that they might get all who were upon the face
of the land, and that they might receive all the strength which it
was possible that they could receive. And it came to pass that when
they were all gathered together, every one to the army which he
would, with their wives and their children; both men, women, and
children being armed with weapons of war, having shields, and
breast-plates, and head-plates, and being clothed after the manner
of war, they did march forth one against another, to battle; and
they fought all that day, and conquered not. And it came to pass
that when it was night they were weary, and retired to their camps;
and after they had retired to their camps, they took up a howling
and a lamentation for the loss of the slain of their people; and so
great were their cries, their howlings and lamentations, that it did
rend the air exceedingly. And it came to pass that on the morrow
they did go again to battle, and great and terrible was that day;
nevertheless they conquered not, and when the night came again, they
did rend the air with their cries, and their howlings, and their
mournings, for the loss of the slain of their people.
8. And it came to pass that Coriantumr wrote again an epistle unto
Shiz, desiring that he would not come again to battle, but that he
would take the kingdom, and spare the lives of the people. But
behold, the Spirit of the Lord had ceased striving with them, and
Satan had full power over the hearts of the people, for they were
given up unto the hardness of their hearts, and the blindness of
their minds that they might be destroyed; wherefore they went again
to battle. And it came to pass that they fought all that day, and
when the night came they slept upon their swords; and on the morrow
they fought even until the night came; and when the night came they
were drunken with anger, even as a man who is drunken with wine; and
they slept again upon their swords; and on the morrow they fought
again; and when the night came they had all fallen by the sword save
it were fifty and two of the people of Coriantumr, and sixty and
nine of the people of Shiz. And it came to pass that they slept
upon their swords that night, and on the morrow they fought again,
and they contended in their mights with their swords, and with their
shields, all that day; and when the night came there were thirty and
two of the people of Shiz, and twenty and seven of the people of
9. And it came to pass that they ate and slept, and prepared for
death on the morrow. And they were large and mighty men, as to the
strength of men. And it came to pass that they fought for the space
of three hours, and they fainted with the loss of blood. And it
came to pass that when the men of Coriantumr had received sufficient
strength, that they could walk, they were about to flee for their
lives, but behold, Shiz arose, and also his men, and he swore in his
wrath that he would slay Coriantumr, or he would perish by the
sword: wherefore he did pursue them, and on the morrow he did
overtake them; and they fought again with the sword. And it came to
pass that when they had all fallen by the sword, save it were
Coriantumr and Shiz, behold Shiz had fainted with loss of blood.
And it came to pass that when Coriantumr had leaned upon his sword,
that he rested a little, he smote off the head of Shiz. And it came
to pass that after he had smote off the head of Shiz, that Shiz
raised upon his hands and fell; and after that he had struggled for
breath, he died. And it came to pass that Coriantumr fell to the
earth, and became as if he had no life. And the Lord spake unto
Ether, and said unto him, go forth. And he went forth, and beheld
that the words of the Lord had all been fulfilled; and he finished
his record; and the hundredth part I have not written.
It seems a pity he did not finish, for after all his dreary former chapters of commonplace, he stopped just as he was in danger of becoming interesting.
The Mormon Bible is rather stupid and tiresome to read, but there is nothing vicious in its teachings. Its code of morals is unobjectionable --it is "smouched" [Milton] from the New Testament and no credit given.
At the end of our two days' sojourn, we left Great Salt Lake City hearty and well fed and happy--physically superb but not so very much wiser, as regards the "Mormon question," than we were when we arrived, perhaps. We had a deal more "information" than we had before, of course, but we did not know what portion of it was reliable and what was not--for it all came from acquaintances of a day--strangers, strictly speaking. We were told, for instance, that the dreadful "Mountain Meadows Massacre" was the work of the Indians entirely, and that the Gentiles had meanly tried to fasten it upon the Mormons; we were told, likewise, that the Indians were to blame, partly, and partly the Mormons; and we were told, likewise, and just as positively, that the Mormons were almost if not wholly and completely responsible for that most treacherous and pitiless butchery. We got the story in all these different shapes, but it was not till several years afterward that Mrs. Waite's book, "The Mormon Prophet," came out with Judge Cradlebaugh's trial of the accused parties in it and revealed the truth that the latter version was the correct one and that the Mormons were the assassins. All our "information" had three sides to it, and so I gave up the idea that I could settle the "Mormon question" in two days. Still I have seen newspaper correspondents do it in one.
I left Great Salt Lake a good deal confused as to what state of things existed there--and sometimes even questioning in my own mind whether a state of things existed there at all or not. But presently I remembered with a lightening sense of relief that we had learned two or three trivial things there which we could be certain of; and so the two days were not wholly lost. For instance, we had learned that we were at last in a pioneer land, in absolute and tangible reality.
The high prices charged for trifles were eloquent of high freights and bewildering distances of freightage. In the east, in those days, the smallest moneyed denomination was a penny and it represented the smallest purchasable quantity of any commodity. West of Cincinnati the smallest coin in use was the silver five-cent piece and no smaller quantity of an article could be bought than "five cents' worth." In Overland City the lowest coin appeared to be the ten-cent piece; but in Salt Lake there did not seem to be any money in circulation smaller than a quarter, or any smaller quantity purchasable of any commodity than twenty-five cents' worth. We had always been used to half dimes and "five cents' worth" as the minimum of financial negotiations; but in Salt Lake if one wanted a cigar, it was a quarter; if he wanted a chalk pipe, it was a quarter; if he wanted a peach, or a candle, or a newspaper, or a shave, or a little Gentile whiskey to rub on his corns to arrest indigestion and keep him from having the toothache, twenty-five cents was the price, every time. When we looked at the shot-bag of silver, now and then, we seemed to be wasting our substance in riotous living, but if we referred to the expense account we could see that we had not been doing anything of the kind.
But people easily get reconciled to big money and big prices, and fond and vain of both--it is a descent to little coins and cheap prices that is hardest to bear and slowest to take hold upon one's toleration. After a month's acquaintance with the twenty-five cent minimum, the average human being is ready to blush every time he thinks of his despicable five-cent days. How sunburnt with blushes I used to get in gaudy Nevada, every time I thought of my first financial experience in Salt Lake. It was on this wise (which is a favorite expression of great authors, and a very neat one, too, but I never hear anybody say on this wise when they are talking). A young half-breed with a complexion like a yellow-jacket asked me if I would have my boots blacked. It was at the Salt Lake House the morning after we arrived. I said yes, and he blacked them. Then I handed him a silver five-cent piece, with the benevolent air of a person who is conferring wealth and blessedness upon poverty and suffering. The yellow-jacket took it with what I judged to be suppressed emotion, and laid it reverently down in the middle of his broad hand. Then he began to contemplate it, much as a philosopher contemplates a gnat's ear in the ample field of his microscope. Several mountaineers, teamsters, stage-drivers, etc., drew near and dropped into the tableau and fell to surveying the money with that attractive indifference to formality which is noticeable in the hardy pioneer. Presently the yellow-jacket handed the half dime back to me and told me I ought to keep my money in my pocket-book instead of in my soul, and then I wouldn't get it cramped and shriveled up so!
What a roar of vulgar laughter there was! I destroyed the mongrel reptile on the spot, but I smiled and smiled all the time I was detaching his scalp, for the remark he made was good for an "Injun."
Yes, we had learned in Salt Lake to be charged great prices without letting the inward shudder appear on the surface--for even already we had overheard and noted the tenor of conversations among drivers, conductors, and hostlers, and finally among citizens of Salt Lake, until we were well aware that these superior beings despised "emigrants." We permitted no tell-tale shudders and winces in our countenances, for we wanted to seem pioneers, or Mormons, half-breeds, teamsters, stage-drivers, Mountain Meadow assassins--anything in the world that the plains and Utah respected and admired--but we were wretchedly ashamed of being "emigrants," and sorry enough that we had white shirts and could not swear in the presence of ladies without looking the other way.
And many a time in Nevada, afterwards, we had occasion to remember with humiliation that we were "emigrants," and consequently a low and inferior sort of creatures. Perhaps the reader has visited Utah, Nevada, or California, even in these latter days, and while communing with himself upon the sorrowful banishment of these countries from what he considers "the world," has had his wings clipped by finding that he is the one to be pitied, and that there are entire populations around him ready and willing to do it for him--yea, who are complacently doing it for him already, wherever he steps his foot.
Poor thing, they are making fun of his hat; and the cut of his New York coat; and his conscientiousness about his grammar; and his feeble profanity; and his consumingly ludicrous ignorance of ores, shafts, tunnels, and other things which he never saw before, and never felt enough interest in to read about. And all the time that he is thinking what a sad fate it is to be exiled to that far country, that lonely land, the citizens around him are looking down on him with a blighting compassion because he is an "emigrant" instead of that proudest and blessedest creature that exists on all the earth, a "FORTY-NINER."
The accustomed coach life began again, now, and by midnight it almost seemed as if we never had been out of our snuggery among the mail sacks at all. We had made one alteration, however. We had provided enough bread, boiled ham and hard boiled eggs to last double the six hundred miles of staging we had still to do.
And it was comfort in those succeeding days to sit up and contemplate the majestic panorama of mountains and valleys spread out below us and eat ham and hard boiled eggs while our spiritual natures revelled alternately in rainbows, thunderstorms, and peerless sunsets. Nothing helps scenery like ham and eggs. Ham and eggs, and after these a pipe--an old, rank, delicious pipe--ham and eggs and scenery, a "down grade," a flying coach, a fragrant pipe and a contented heart--these make happiness. It is what all the ages have struggled for.
At eight in the morning we reached the remnant and ruin of what had been the important military station of "Camp Floyd," some forty-five or fifty miles from Salt Lake City. At four P.M. we had doubled our distance and were ninety or a hundred miles from Salt Lake. And now we entered upon one of that species of deserts whose concentrated hideousness shames the diffused and diluted horrors of Sahara--an "alkali" desert. For sixty-eight miles there was but one break in it. I do not remember that this was really a break; indeed it seems to me that it was nothing but a watering depot in the midst of the stretch of sixty-eight miles. If my memory serves me, there was no well or spring at this place, but the water was hauled there by mule and ox teams from the further side of the desert. There was a stage station there. It was forty-five miles from the beginning of the desert, and twenty-three from the end of it.
We plowed and dragged and groped along, the whole live-long night, and at the end of this uncomfortable twelve hours we finished the forty-five-mile part of the desert and got to the stage station where the imported water was. The sun was just rising. It was easy enough to cross a desert in the night while we were asleep; and it was pleasant to reflect, in the morning, that we in actual person had encountered an absolute desert and could always speak knowingly of deserts in presence of the ignorant thenceforward. And it was pleasant also to reflect that this was not an obscure, back country desert, but a very celebrated one, the metropolis itself, as you may say. All this was very well and very comfortable and satisfactory--but now we were to cross a desert in daylight. This was fine--novel--romantic--dramatically adventurous --this, indeed, was worth living for, worth traveling for! We would write home all about it.
This enthusiasm, this stern thirst for adventure, wilted under the sultry August sun and did not last above one hour. One poor little hour--and then we were ashamed that we had "gushed" so. The poetry was all in the anticipation--there is none in the reality. Imagine a vast, waveless ocean stricken dead and turned to ashes; imagine this solemn waste tufted with ash-dusted sage-bushes; imagine the lifeless silence and solitude that belong to such a place; imagine a coach, creeping like a bug through the midst of this shoreless level, and sending up tumbled volumes of dust as if it were a bug that went by steam; imagine this aching monotony of toiling and plowing kept up hour after hour, and the shore still as far away as ever, apparently; imagine team, driver, coach and passengers so deeply coated with ashes that they are all one colorless color; imagine ash-drifts roosting above moustaches and eyebrows like snow accumulations on boughs and bushes. This is the reality of it.
The sun beats down with dead, blistering, relentless malignity; the perspiration is welling from every pore in man and beast, but scarcely a sign of it finds its way to the surface--it is absorbed before it gets there; there is not the faintest breath of air stirring; there is not a merciful shred of cloud in all the brilliant firmament; there is not a living creature visible in any direction whither one searches the blank level that stretches its monotonous miles on every hand; there is not a sound--not a sigh--not a whisper--not a buzz, or a whir of wings, or distant pipe of bird--not even a sob from the lost souls that doubtless people that dead air. And so the occasional sneezing of the resting mules, and the champing of the bits, grate harshly on the grim stillness, not dissipating the spell but accenting it and making one feel more lonesome and forsaken than before.
The mules, under violent swearing, coaxing and whip-cracking, would make at stated intervals a "spurt," and drag the coach a hundred or may be two hundred yards, stirring up a billowy cloud of dust that rolled back, enveloping the vehicle to the wheel-tops or higher, and making it seem afloat in a fog. Then a rest followed, with the usual sneezing and bit-champing. Then another "spurt" of a hundred yards and another rest at the end of it. All day long we kept this up, without water for the mules and without ever changing the team. At least we kept it up ten hours, which, I take it, is a day, and a pretty honest one, in an alkali desert. It was from four in the morning till two in the afternoon. And it was so hot! and so close! and our water canteens went dry in the middle of the day and we got so thirsty! It was so stupid and tiresome and dull! and the tedious hours did lag and drag and limp along with such a cruel deliberation! It was so trying to give one's watch a good long undisturbed spell and then take it out and find that it had been fooling away the time and not trying to get ahead any! The alkali dust cut through our lips, it persecuted our eyes, it ate through the delicate membranes and made our noses bleed and kept them bleeding--and truly and seriously the romance all faded far away and disappeared, and left the desert trip nothing but a harsh reality--a thirsty, sweltering, longing, hateful reality!
Two miles and a quarter an hour for ten hours--that was what we accomplished. It was hard to bring the comprehension away down to such a snail-pace as that, when we had been used to making eight and ten miles an hour. When we reached the station on the farther verge of the desert, we were glad, for the first time, that the dictionary was along, because we never could have found language to tell how glad we were, in any sort of dictionary but an unabridged one with pictures in it. But there could not have been found in a whole library of dictionaries language sufficient to tell how tired those mules were after their twenty-three mile pull. To try to give the reader an idea of how thirsty they were, would be to "gild refined gold or paint the lily."
Somehow, now that it is there, the quotation does not seem to fit--but no matter, let it stay, anyhow. I think it is a graceful and attractive thing, and therefore have tried time and time again to work it in where it would fit, but could not succeed. These efforts have kept my mind distracted and ill at ease, and made my narrative seem broken and disjointed, in places. Under these circumstances it seems to me best to leave it in, as above, since this will afford at least a temporary respite from the wear and tear of trying to "lead up" to this really apt and beautiful quotation.
On the morning of the sixteenth day out from St. Joseph we arrived at the entrance of Rocky Canyon, two hundred and fifty miles from Salt Lake. It was along in this wild country somewhere, and far from any habitation of white men, except the stage stations, that we came across the wretchedest type of mankind I have ever seen, up to this writing. I refer to the Goshoot Indians. From what we could see and all we could learn, they are very considerably inferior to even the despised Digger Indians of California; inferior to all races of savages on our continent; inferior to even the Terra del Fuegans; inferior to the Hottentots, and actually inferior in some respects to the Kytches of Africa. Indeed, I have been obliged to look the bulky volumes of Wood's "Uncivilized Races of Men" clear through in order to find a savage tribe degraded enough to take rank with the Goshoots. I find but one people fairly open to that shameful verdict. It is the Bosjesmans (Bushmen) of South Africa. Such of the Goshoots as we saw, along the road and hanging about the stations, were small, lean, "scrawny" creatures; in complexion a dull black like the ordinary American negro; their faces and hands bearing dirt which they had been hoarding and accumulating for months, years, and even generations, according to the age of the proprietor; a silent, sneaking, treacherous looking race; taking note of everything, covertly, like all the other "Noble Red Men" that we (do not) read about, and betraying no sign in their countenances; indolent, everlastingly patient and tireless, like all other Indians; prideless beggars--for if the beggar instinct were left out of an Indian he would not "go," any more than a clock without a pendulum; hungry, always hungry, and yet never refusing anything that a hog would eat, though often eating what a hog would decline; hunters, but having no higher ambition than to kill and eat jack-ass rabbits, crickets and grasshoppers, and embezzle carrion from the buzzards and cayotes; savages who, when asked if they have the common Indian belief in a Great Spirit show a something which almost amounts to emotion, thinking whiskey is referred to; a thin, scattering race of almost naked black children, these Goshoots are, who produce nothing at all, and have no villages, and no gatherings together into strictly defined tribal communities--a people whose only shelter is a rag cast on a bush to keep off a portion of the snow, and yet who inhabit one of the most rocky, wintry, repulsive wastes that our country or any other can exhibit.
The Bushmen and our Goshoots are manifestly descended from the self-same gorilla, or kangaroo, or Norway rat, which-ever animal--Adam the Darwinians trace them to.
One would as soon expect the rabbits to fight as the Goshoots, and yet they used to live off the offal and refuse of the stations a few months and then come some dark night when no mischief was expected, and burn down the buildings and kill the men from ambush as they rushed out. And once, in the night, they attacked the stage-coach when a District Judge, of Nevada Territory, was the only passenger, and with their first volley of arrows (and a bullet or two) they riddled the stage curtains, wounded a horse or two and mortally wounded the driver. The latter was full of pluck, and so was his passenger. At the driver's call Judge Mott swung himself out, clambered to the box and seized the reins of the team, and away they plunged, through the racing mob of skeletons and under a hurtling storm of missiles. The stricken driver had sunk down on the boot as soon as he was wounded, but had held on to the reins and said he would manage to keep hold of them until relieved.
And after they were taken from his relaxing grasp, he lay with his head between Judge Mott's feet, and tranquilly gave directions about the road; he said he believed he could live till the miscreants were outrun and left behind, and that if he managed that, the main difficulty would be at an end, and then if the Judge drove so and so (giving directions about bad places in the road, and general course) he would reach the next station without trouble. The Judge distanced the enemy and at last rattled up to the station and knew that the night's perils were done; but there was no comrade-in-arms for him to rejoice with, for the soldierly driver was dead.
Let us forget that we have been saying harsh things about the Overland drivers, now. The disgust which the Goshoots gave me, a disciple of Cooper and a worshipper of the Red Man--even of the scholarly savages in the "Last of the Mohicans" who are fittingly associated with backwoodsmen who divide each sentence into two equal parts: one part critically grammatical, refined and choice of language, and the other part just such an attempt to talk like a hunter or a mountaineer, as a Broadway clerk might make after eating an edition of Emerson Bennett's works and studying frontier life at the Bowery Theatre a couple of weeks--I say that the nausea which the Goshoots gave me, an Indian worshipper, set me to examining authorities, to see if perchance I had been over-estimating the Red Man while viewing him through the mellow moonshine of romance. The revelations that came were disenchanting. It was curious to see how quickly the paint and tinsel fell away from him and left him treacherous, filthy and repulsive--and how quickly the evidences accumulated that wherever one finds an Indian tribe he has only found Goshoots more or less modified by circumstances and surroundings--but Goshoots, after all. They deserve pity, poor creatures; and they can have mine--at this distance. Nearer by, they never get anybody's.
There is an impression abroad that the Baltimore and Washington Railroad Company and many of its employees are Goshoots; but it is an error. There is only a plausible resemblance, which, while it is apt enough to mislead the ignorant, cannot deceive parties who have contemplated both tribes. But seriously, it was not only poor wit, but very wrong to start the report referred to above; for however innocent the motive may have been, the necessary effect was to injure the reputation of a class who have a hard enough time of it in the pitiless deserts of the Rocky Mountains, Heaven knows! If we cannot find it in our hearts to give those poor naked creatures our Christian sympathy and compassion, in God's name let us at least not throw mud at them.
On the seventeenth day we passed the highest mountain peaks we had yet seen, and although the day was very warm the night that followed upon its heels was wintry cold and blankets were next to useless.
On the eighteenth day we encountered the eastward-bound telegraph-constructors at Reese River station and sent a message to his Excellency Gov. Nye at Carson City (distant one hundred and fifty-six miles).
On the nineteenth day we crossed the Great American Desert--forty memorable miles of bottomless sand, into which the coach wheels sunk from six inches to a foot. We worked our passage most of the way across. That is to say, we got out and walked. It was a dreary pull and a long and thirsty one, for we had no water. From one extremity of this desert to the other, the road was white with the bones of oxen and horses. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that we could have walked the forty miles and set our feet on a bone at every step! The desert was one prodigious graveyard. And the log-chains, wagon tyres, and rotting wrecks of vehicles were almost as thick as the bones. I think we saw log-chains enough rusting there in the desert, to reach across any State in the Union. Do not these relics suggest something of an idea of the fearful suffering and privation the early emigrants to California endured?
At the border of the Desert lies Carson Lake, or The "Sink" of the Carson, a shallow, melancholy sheet of water some eighty or a hundred miles in circumference. Carson River empties into it and is lost--sinks mysteriously into the earth and never appears in the light of the sun again--for the lake has no outlet whatever.
There are several rivers in Nevada, and they all have this mysterious fate. They end in various lakes or "sinks," and that is the last of them. Carson Lake, Humboldt Lake, Walker Lake, Mono Lake, are all great sheets of water without any visible outlet. Water is always flowing into them; none is ever seen to flow out of them, and yet they remain always level full, neither receding nor overflowing. What they do with their surplus is only known to the Creator.
On the western verge of the Desert we halted a moment at Ragtown. It consisted of one log house and is not set down on the map.
This reminds me of a circumstance. Just after we left Julesburg, on the Platte, I was sitting with the driver, and he said:
"I can tell you a most laughable thing indeed, if you would like to listen to it. Horace Greeley went over this road once. When he was leaving Carson City he told the driver, Hank Monk, that he had an engagement to lecture at Placerville and was very anxious to go through quick. Hank Monk cracked his whip and started off at an awful pace. The coach bounced up and down in such a terrific way that it jolted the buttons all off of Horace's coat, and finally shot his head clean through the roof of the stage, and then he yelled at Hank Monk and begged him to go easier--said he warn't in as much of a hurry as he was awhile ago. But Hank Monk said, 'Keep your seat, Horace, and I'll get you there on time'--and you bet you he did, too, what was left of him!"
A day or two after that we picked up a Denver man at the cross roads, and he told us a good deal about the country and the Gregory Diggings. He seemed a very entertaining person and a man well posted in the affairs of Colorado. By and by he remarked:
"I can tell you a most laughable thing indeed, if you would like to listen to it. Horace Greeley went over this road once. When he was leaving Carson City he told the driver, Hank Monk, that he had an engagement to lecture at Placerville and was very anxious to go through quick. Hank Monk cracked his whip and started off at an awful pace. The coach bounced up and down in such a terrific way that it jolted the buttons all off of Horace's coat, and finally shot his head clean through the roof of the stage, and then he yelled at Hank Monk and begged him to go easier--said he warn't in as much of a hurry as he was awhile ago. But Hank Monk said, 'Keep your seat, Horace, and I'll get you there on time!'--and you bet you he did, too, what was left of him!"
At Fort Bridger, some days after this, we took on board a cavalry sergeant, a very proper and soldierly person indeed. From no other man during the whole journey, did we gather such a store of concise and well-arranged military information. It was surprising to find in the desolate wilds of our country a man so thoroughly acquainted with everything useful to know in his line of life, and yet of such inferior rank and unpretentious bearing. For as much as three hours we listened to him with unabated interest. Finally he got upon the subject of trans-continental travel, and presently said:
"I can tell you a very laughable thing indeed, if you would like to listen to it. Horace Greeley went over this road once. When he was leaving Carson City he told the driver, Hank Monk, that he had an engagement to lecture at Placerville and was very anxious to go through quick. Hank Monk cracked his whip and started off at an awful pace. The coach bounced up and down in such a terrific way that it jolted the buttons all off of Horace's coat, and finally shot his head clean through the roof of the stage, and then he yelled at Hank Monk and begged him to go easier--said he warn't in as much of a hurry as he was awhile ago. But Hank Monk said, 'Keep your seat, Horace, and I'll get you there on time!'--and you bet you he did, too, what was left of him!"
When we were eight hours out from Salt Lake City a Mormon preacher got in with us at a way station--a gentle, soft-spoken, kindly man, and one whom any stranger would warm to at first sight. I can never forget the pathos that was in his voice as he told, in simple language, the story of his people's wanderings and unpitied sufferings. No pulpit eloquence was ever so moving and so beautiful as this outcast's picture of the first Mormon pilgrimage across the plains, struggling sorrowfully onward to the land of its banishment and marking its desolate way with graves and watering it with tears. His words so wrought upon us that it was a relief to us all when the conversation drifted into a more cheerful channel and the natural features of the curious country we were in came under treatment. One matter after another was pleasantly discussed, and at length the stranger said:
"I can tell you a most laughable thing indeed, if you would like to listen to it. Horace Greeley went over this road once. When he was leaving Carson City he told the driver, Hank Monk, that he had an engagement to lecture in Placerville, and was very anxious to go through quick. Hank Monk cracked his whip and started off at an awful pace. The coach bounced up and down in such a terrific way that it jolted the buttons all off of Horace's coat, and finally shot his head clean through the roof of the stage, and then he yelled at Hank Monk and begged him to go easier--said he warn't in as much of a hurry as he was awhile ago. But Hank Monk said, 'Keep your seat, Horace, and I'll get you there on time!'--and you bet you bet you he did, too, what was left of him!"
Ten miles out of Ragtown we found a poor wanderer who had lain down to die. He had walked as long as he could, but his limbs had failed him at last. Hunger and fatigue had conquered him. It would have been inhuman to leave him there. We paid his fare to Carson and lifted him into the coach. It was some little time before he showed any very decided signs of life; but by dint of chafing him and pouring brandy between his lips we finally brought him to a languid consciousness. Then we fed him a little, and by and by he seemed to comprehend the situation and a grateful light softened his eye. We made his mail-sack bed as comfortable as possible, and constructed a pillow for him with our coats. He seemed very thankful. Then he looked up in our faces, and said in a feeble voice that had a tremble of honest emotion in it:
"Gentlemen, I know not who you are, but you have saved my life; and although I can never be able to repay you for it, I feel that I can at least make one hour of your long journey lighter. I take it you are strangers to this great thorough fare, but I am entirely familiar with it. In this connection I can tell you a most laughable thing indeed, if you would like to listen to it. Horace Greeley----"
I said, impressively:
"Suffering stranger, proceed at your peril. You see in me the melancholy wreck of a once stalwart and magnificent manhood. What has brought me to this? That thing which you are about to tell. Gradually but surely, that tiresome old anecdote has sapped my strength, undermined my constitution, withered my life. Pity my helplessness. Spare me only just this once, and tell me about young George Washington and his little hatchet for a change."
We were saved. But not so the invalid. In trying to retain the anecdote in his system he strained himself and died in our arms.
I am aware, now, that I ought not to have asked of the sturdiest citizen of all that region, what I asked of that mere shadow of a man; for, after seven years' residence on the Pacific coast, I know that no passenger or driver on the Overland ever corked that anecdote in, when a stranger was by, and survived. Within a period of six years I crossed and recrossed the Sierras between Nevada and California thirteen times by stage and listened to that deathless incident four hundred and eighty-one or eighty-two times. I have the list somewhere. Drivers always told it, conductors told it, landlords told it, chance passengers told it, the very Chinamen and vagrant Indians recounted it. I have had the same driver tell it to me two or three times in the same afternoon. It has come to me in all the multitude of tongues that Babel bequeathed to earth, and flavored with whiskey, brandy, beer, cologne, sozodont, tobacco, garlic, onions, grasshoppers--everything that has a fragrance to it through all the long list of things that are gorged or guzzled by the sons of men. I never have smelt any anecdote as often as I have smelt that one; never have smelt any anecdote that smelt so variegated as that one. And you never could learn to know it by its smell, because every time you thought you had learned the smell of it, it would turn up with a different smell. Bayard Taylor has written about this hoary anecdote, Richardson has published it; so have Jones, Smith, Johnson, Ross Browne, and every other correspondence-inditing being that ever set his foot upon the great overland road anywhere between Julesburg and San Francisco; and I have heard that it is in the Talmud. I have seen it in print in nine different foreign languages; I have been told that it is employed in the inquisition in Rome; and I now learn with regret that it is going to be set to music. I do not think that such things are right.
Stage-coaching on the Overland is no more, and stage drivers are a race defunct. I wonder if they bequeathed that bald-headed anecdote to their successors, the railroad brakemen and conductors, and if these latter still persecute the helpless passenger with it until he concludes, as did many a tourist of other days, that the real grandeurs of the Pacific coast are not Yo Semite and the Big Trees, but Hank Monk and his adventure with Horace Greeley. [And what makes that worn anecdote the more aggravating, is, that the adventure it celebrates never occurred. If it were a good anecdote, that seeming demerit would be its chiefest virtue, for creative power belongs to greatness; but what ought to be done to a man who would wantonly contrive so flat a one as this? If I were to suggest what ought to be done to him, I should be called extravagant--but what does the sixteenth chapter of Daniel say? Aha!]