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Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter XII

Roughing It

Chapter XII

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

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

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.

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Index Index

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
Chapter XXXVI
Chapter XXXVII
Chapter XXXIX
Chapter XL
Chapter XLI
Chapter XLII
Chapter XLIII
Chapter XLIV
Chapter XLV
Chapter XLVI
Chapter XLVII
Chapter XLVIII
Chapter XLIX
Chapter L
Chapter LI
Chapter LII
Chapter LIII
Chapter LIV
Chapter LV
Chapter LVI
Chapter LVII
Chapter LVIII
Chapter LIX
Chapter LX
Chapter LXI
Chapter LXII
Chapter LXIII
Chapter LXIV
Chapter LXV
Chapter LXVI
Chapter LXVII
Chapter LXVIII
Chapter LXIX
Chapter LXX
Chapter LXXI
Chapter LXXII
Chapter LXXIII
Chapter LXXIV
Chapter LXXV
Chapter LXXVI
Chapter LXXVII
Chapter LXXIX

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