My brother had just been appointed Secretary of Nevada Territory--an
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office of such majesty that it concentrated in itself the duties and
dignities of Treasurer, Comptroller, Secretary of State, and Acting
Governor in the Governor's absence. A salary of eighteen hundred dollars
a year and the title of "Mr. Secretary," gave to the great position an
air of wild and imposing grandeur. I was young and ignorant, and I
envied my brother. I coveted his distinction and his financial splendor,
but particularly and especially the long, strange journey he was going to
make, and the curious new world he was going to explore. He was going to
travel! I never had been away from home, and that word "travel" had a
seductive charm for me. Pretty soon he would be hundreds and hundreds of
miles away on the great plains and deserts, and among the mountains of
the Far West, and would see buffaloes and Indians, and prairie dogs, and
antelopes, and have all kinds of adventures, and may be get hanged or
scalped, and have ever such a fine time, and write home and tell us all
about it, and be a hero. And he would see the gold mines and the silver
mines, and maybe go about of an afternoon when his work was done, and
pick up two or three pailfuls of shining slugs, and nuggets of gold and
silver on the hillside. And by and by he would become very rich, and
return home by sea, and be able to talk as calmly about San Francisco and
the ocean, and "the isthmus" as if it was nothing of any consequence to
have seen those marvels face to face. What I suffered in contemplating
his happiness, pen cannot describe. And so, when he offered me, in cold
blood, the sublime position of private secretary under him, it appeared
to me that the heavens and the earth passed away, and the firmament was
rolled together as a scroll! I had nothing more to desire. My
contentment was complete.
At the end of an hour or two I was ready for the journey. Not much
packing up was necessary, because we were going in the overland stage
from the Missouri frontier to Nevada, and passengers were only allowed a
small quantity of baggage apiece. There was no Pacific railroad in those
fine times of ten or twelve years ago--not a single rail of it.
I only proposed to stay in Nevada three months--I had no thought of
staying longer than that. I meant to see all I could that was new and
strange, and then hurry home to business. I little thought that I would
not see the end of that three-month pleasure excursion for six or seven
uncommonly long years!
I dreamed all night about Indians, deserts, and silver bars, and in due
time, next day, we took shipping at the St. Louis wharf on board a
steamboat bound up the Missouri River.
We were six days going from St. Louis to "St. Jo."--a trip that was so
dull, and sleepy, and eventless that it has left no more impression on my
memory than if its duration had been six minutes instead of that many
days. No record is left in my mind, now, concerning it, but a confused
jumble of savage-looking snags, which we deliberately walked over with
one wheel or the other; and of reefs which we butted and butted, and then
retired from and climbed over in some softer place; and of sand-bars
which we roosted on occasionally, and rested, and then got out our
crutches and sparred over.
In fact, the boat might almost as well have gone to St. Jo. by land, for
she was walking most of the time, anyhow--climbing over reefs and
clambering over snags patiently and laboriously all day long. The
captain said she was a "bully" boat, and all she wanted was more "shear"
and a bigger wheel. I thought she wanted a pair of stilts, but I had the
deep sagacity not to say so.