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Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter LVII

Roughing It

Chapter LVII


It was in this Sacramento Valley, just referred to, that a deal of the
most lucrative of the early gold mining was done, and you may still see,
in places, its grassy slopes and levels torn and guttered and disfigured
by the avaricious spoilers of fifteen and twenty years ago. You may see
such disfigurements far and wide over California--and in some such
places, where only meadows and forests are visible--not a living
creature, not a house, no stick or stone or remnant of a ruin, and not a
sound, not even a whisper to disturb the Sabbath stillness--you will find
it hard to believe that there stood at one time a fiercely-flourishing
little city, of two thousand or three thousand souls, with its newspaper,
fire company, brass band, volunteer militia, bank, hotels, noisy Fourth
of July processions and speeches, gambling hells crammed with tobacco
smoke, profanity, and rough-bearded men of all nations and colors, with
tables heaped with gold dust sufficient for the revenues of a German
principality--streets crowded and rife with business--town lots worth
four hundred dollars a front foot--labor, laughter, music, dancing,
swearing, fighting, shooting, stabbing--a bloody inquest and a man for
breakfast every morning--everything that delights and adorns existence--
all the appointments and appurtenances of a thriving and prosperous and
promising young city,--and now nothing is left of it all but a lifeless,
homeless solitude. The men are gone, the houses have vanished, even the
name of the place is forgotten. In no other land, in modern times, have
towns so absolutely died and disappeared, as in the old mining regions of
California.

It was a driving, vigorous, restless population in those days. It was a
curious population. It was the only population of the kind that the
world has ever seen gathered together, and it is not likely that the
world will ever see its like again. For observe, it was an assemblage of
two hundred thousand young men--not simpering, dainty, kid-gloved
weaklings, but stalwart, muscular, dauntless young braves, brimful of
push and energy, and royally endowed with every attribute that goes to
make up a peerless and magnificent manhood--the very pick and choice of
the world's glorious ones. No women, no children, no gray and stooping
veterans,--none but erect, bright-eyed, quick-moving, strong-handed young
giants--the strangest population, the finest population, the most gallant
host that ever trooped down the startled solitudes of an unpeopled land.
And where are they now? Scattered to the ends of the earth--or
prematurely aged and decrepit--or shot or stabbed in street affrays--or
dead of disappointed hopes and broken hearts--all gone, or nearly all--
victims devoted upon the altar of the golden calf--the noblest holocaust
that ever wafted its sacrificial incense heavenward. It is pitiful to
think upon.

It was a splendid population--for all the slow, sleepy, sluggish-brained
sloths staid at home--you never find that sort of people among pioneers--
you cannot build pioneers out of that sort of material. It was that
population that gave to California a name for getting up astounding
enterprises and rushing them through with a magnificent dash and daring
and a recklessness of cost or consequences, which she bears unto this
day--and when she projects a new surprise, the grave world smiles as
usual, and says "Well, that is California all over."

But they were rough in those times! They fairly reveled in gold, whisky,
fights, and fandangoes, and were unspeakably happy. The honest miner
raked from a hundred to a thousand dollars out of his claim a day, and
what with the gambling dens and the other entertainments, he hadn't a
cent the next morning, if he had any sort of luck. They cooked their own
bacon and beans, sewed on their own buttons, washed their own shirts--
blue woollen ones; and if a man wanted a fight on his hands without any
annoying delay, all he had to do was to appear in public in a white shirt
or a stove-pipe hat, and he would be accommodated. For those people
hated aristocrats. They had a particular and malignant animosity toward
what they called a "biled shirt."

It was a wild, free, disorderly, grotesque society! Men--only swarming
hosts of stalwart men--nothing juvenile, nothing feminine, visible
anywhere!

In those days miners would flock in crowds to catch a glimpse of that
rare and blessed spectacle, a woman! Old inhabitants tell how, in a
certain camp, the news went abroad early in the morning that a woman was
come! They had seen a calico dress hanging out of a wagon down at the
camping-ground--sign of emigrants from over the great plains. Everybody
went down there, and a shout went up when an actual, bona fide dress was
discovered fluttering in the wind! The male emigrant was visible. The
miners said:

"Fetch her out!"

He said: "It is my wife, gentlemen--she is sick--we have been robbed of
money, provisions, everything, by the Indians--we want to rest."

"Fetch her out! We've got to see her!"

"But, gentlemen, the poor thing, she--"

"FETCH HER OUT!"

He "fetched her out," and they swung their hats and sent up three rousing
cheers and a tiger; and they crowded around and gazed at her, and touched
her dress, and listened to her voice with the look of men who listened to
a memory rather than a present reality--and then they collected twenty-
five hundred dollars in gold and gave it to the man, and swung their hats
again and gave three more cheers, and went home satisfied.


Once I dined in San Francisco with the family of a pioneer, and talked
with his daughter, a young lady whose first experience in San Francisco
was an adventure, though she herself did not remember it, as she was only
two or three years old at the time. Her father said that, after landing
from the ship, they were walking up the street, a servant leading the
party with the little girl in her arms. And presently a huge miner,
bearded, belted, spurred, and bristling with deadly weapons--just down
from a long campaign in the mountains, evidently-barred the way, stopped
the servant, and stood gazing, with a face all alive with gratification
and astonishment. Then he said, reverently:

"Well, if it ain't a child!" And then he snatched a little leather sack
out of his pocket and said to the servant:

"There's a hundred and fifty dollars in dust, there, and I'll give it to
you to let me kiss the child!"

That anecdote is true.

But see how things change. Sitting at that dinner-table, listening to
that anecdote, if I had offered double the money for the privilege of
kissing the same child, I would have been refused. Seventeen added years
have far more than doubled the price.

And while upon this subject I will remark that once in Star City, in the
Humboldt Mountains, I took my place in a sort of long, post-office single
file of miners, to patiently await my chance to peep through a crack in
the cabin and get a sight of the splendid new sensation--a genuine, live
Woman! And at the end of half of an hour my turn came, and I put my eye
to the crack, and there she was, with one arm akimbo, and tossing flap-
jacks in a frying-pan with the other.

And she was one hundred and sixty-five [Being in calmer mood, now, I
voluntarily knock off a hundred from that.--M.T.] years old, and hadn't a
tooth in her head.

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Index Index

Prefactory
Contents
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 XXXVIII
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 LXXVIII
Chapter LXXIX
Appendix

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