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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]


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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]




ABOUT an hour and a half before daylight we were bowling
along smoothly over the road—so smoothly that
our cradle only rocked in a gentle, lulling way, that was gradually
soothing us to sleep, and dulling our consciousness—
when something gave away under us! We were dimly aware
of it, but indifferent to it. The coach stopped. We heard
the driver and conductor talking together outside, and rummaging
for a lantern, and swearing because they could not
find it—but we had no interest in whatever had happened,
and it only added to our comfort to think of those people
out there at work in the murky night, and we snug in our
nest with the curtains drawn. But presently, by the sounds,
there seemed to be an examination going on, and then the
driver's voice said:

“By George, the thoroughbrace is broke!”

This startled me broad awake—as un undefined sense of
calamity is always apt to do. I said to myself: “Now, a
thoroughbrace is probably part of a horse; and doubtless a
vital part, too, from the dismay in the driver's voice. Leg,
maybe—and yet how could he break his leg waltzing along
such a road as this? No, it can't be his leg. That is impossible,
unless he was reaching for the driver. Now, what can
be the thoroughbrace of a horse, I wonder? Well, whatever
comes, I shall not air my ignorance in this crowd, anyway.”

Just then the conductor's face appeared at a lifted curtain,


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and his lantern glared in on us and our wall of mail matter.
He said:

“Gents, you'll have to turn out a spell. Thoroughbrace is

We climbed out into a chill drizzle, and felt ever so homeless
and dreary. When I found that the thing they called a
“thoroughbrace” was the massive combination of belts and
springs which the coach rocks itself in, I said to the driver:

“I never saw a thoroughbrace used up like that, before,
that I can remember. How did it happen?”

“Why, it happened by trying to make one coach carry
three days' mail—that's how it happened,” said he. “And
right here is the very direction which is wrote on all the
newspaper-bags which was to be put out for the Injuns for to
keep 'em quiet. It's most uncommon lucky, becuz it's so
nation dark I should 'a' gone by unbeknowns if that air
thoroughbrace hadn't broke.”

I knew that he was in labor with another of those winks
of his, though I could not see his face, because he was bent
down at work; and wishing him a safe delivery, I turned to
and helped the rest get out the mail-sacks. It made a great
pyramid by the roadside when it was all out. When they had
mended the thoroughbrace we filled the two boots again, but
put no mail on top, and only half as much inside as there was
before. The conductor bent all the seat-backs down, and then
filled the coach just half full of mail-bags from end to end.
We objected loudly to this, for it left us no seats. But the
conductor was wiser than we, and said a bed was better than
seats, and moreover, this plan would protect his thoroughbraces.
We never wanted any seats after that. The lazy bed was infinitely
preferable. I had many an exciting day, subsequently,
lying on it reading the statutes and the dictionary, and wondering
how the characters would turn out.

The conductor said he would send back a guard from the
next station to take charge of the abandoned mail-bags, and
we drove on.

It was now just dawn; and as we stretched our cramped


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legs full length on the mail sacks, and gazed out through the
windows across the wide wastes of greensward clad in cool,
powdery mist, to where there was an expectant look in the
eastern horizon, our perfect enjoyment took the form of a
tranquil and contented ecstasy. The stage whirled along at a
spanking gait, the breeze flapping curtains and suspended
coats in a most exhilarating way; the cradle swayed and swung
luxuriously, the pattering of the horses' hoofs, the cracking
of the driver's whip, and his “Hi-yi! g'lang!” were music;
the spinning ground and the waltzing trees appeared to give
us a mute hurrah as we went by, and then slack up and look
after us with interest, or envy, or something; and as we lay
and smoked the pipe of peace and compared all this luxury
with the years of tiresome city-life that had gone before it, we
felt that there was only one complete and satisfying happiness
in the world, and we had found it.

After breakfast, at some station whose name I have forgotten,
we three climbed up on the seat behind the driver, and
let the conductor have our bed for a nap. And by and by,
when the sun made me drowsy, I lay down on my face on top
of the coach, grasping the slender iron railing, and slept for
an hour or more. That will give one an appreciable idea of
those matchless roads. Instinct will make a sleeping man grip
a fast hold of the railing when the stage jolts, but when it only
swings and sways, no grip is necessary. Overland drivers and
conductors used to sit in their places and sleep thirty or forty
minutes at a time, on good roads, while spinning along at the
rate of eight or ten miles an hour. I saw them do it, often.
There was no danger about it; a sleeping man will seize the
irons in time when the coach jolts. These men were hard
worked, and it was not possible for them to stay awake all the

By and by we passed through Marysville, and over the
Big Blue and Little Sandy; thence about a mile, and entered
Nebraska. About a mile further on, we came to the Big
Sandy—one hundred and eighty miles from St. Joseph.

As the sun was going down, we saw the first specimen of


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an animal known familiarly over two thousand miles of mountain
and desert—from Kansas clear to the Pacific Ocean—as
the “jackass rabbit.” He is well named. He is just like any
other rabbit, except that he is from one third to twice as large,
has longer legs in proportion to his size, and has the most preposterous
ears that ever were mounted on any creature but a
jackass. When he is sitting quiet, thinking about his sins, or
is absent-minded or unapprehensive of danger, his majestic
ears project above him conspicuously;
but the breaking
of a twig will scare
him nearly to death, and
then he tilts his ears back
gently and starts for home.
All you can see, then, for
the next minute, is his long
gray form stretched out
straight and “streaking it”
through the low sage-brush,
head erect, eyes right, and
ears just canted a little to
the rear, but showing you
where the animal is, all the
time, the same as if he carried a jib. Now and then he makes
a marvelous spring with his long legs, high over the stunted
sage-brush, and scores a leap that would make a horse envious.
Presently he comes down to a long, graceful “lope,” and
shortly he mysteriously disappears. He has crouched behind
a sage-bush, and will sit there and listen and tremble until you
get within six feet of him, when he will get under way again.
But one must shoot at this creature once, if he wishes to see
him throw his heart into his heels, and do the best he knows
how. He is frightened clear through, now, and he lays his
long ears down on his back, straightens himself out like a
yard-stick every spring he makes, and scatters miles behind
him with an easy indifference that is enchanting.

Our party made this specimen “hump himself,” as the


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 033. In-line images, one of a rabbit hopping quickly across a field, the other is of a man looking at a miniature tree.]
conductor said. The secretary started him with a shot from
the Colt; I commenced spitting at him with my weapon; and
all in the same instant the old “Allen's” whole broadside let
go with a rattling
crash, and
it is not putting
it too
strong to say
that the rabbit
was frantic!
He dropped his
ears, set up his
tail, and left for
San Francisco
at a speed which
can only be described as a flash and a vanish! Long after
he was out of sight we could hear him whiz.

I do not remember where we first came across “sage-brush,”
but as I have been speaking of it I may as well describe
it. This is easily done, for if the reader can imagine a gnarled
and venerable live oak-tree
reduced to a little shrub
two feet high, with its rough
bark, its foliage, its twisted
boughs, all complete, he can
picture the “sage-brush”
exactly. Often, on lazy afternoons
in the mountains,
I have lain on the ground
with my face under a sage-bush,
and entertained myself
with fancying that the
gnats among its foliage were
liliputian birds, and that
the ants marching and countermarching about its base were
liliputian flocks and herds, and myself some vast loafer from
Brobdignag waiting to catch a little citizen and eat him.

It is an imposing monarch of the forest in exquisite miniature,


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is the “sage-brush.” Its foliage is a grayish green, and
gives that tint to desert and mountain. It smells like our domestic
sage, and “sage-tea” made from it tastes like the sage-tea
which all boys are so well acquainted with. The sage-brush
is a singularly hardy plant, and grows right in the midst
of deep sand, and among barren rocks, where nothing else in
the vegetable world would try to grow, except “bunch-grass.”[1]
The sage-bushes grow from three to six or seven
feet apart, all over the mountains and deserts of the Far West,
clear to the borders of California. There is not a tree of any
kind in the deserts, for hundreds of miles—there is no vegetation
at all in a regular desert, except the sage-brush and its
cousin the “greasewood,” which is so much like the sage-brush
that the difference amounts to little. Camp-fires and
hot suppers in the deserts would be impossible but for the
friendly sage-brush. Its trunk is as large as a boy's wrist (and
from that up to a man's arm), and its crooked branches are
half as large as its trunk—all good, sound, hard wood, very
like oak.

When a party camps, the first thing to be done is to cut
sage-brush; and in a few minutes there is an opulent pile of
it ready for use. A hole a foot wide, two feet deep, and two
feet long, is dug, and sage-brush chopped up and burned in it
till it is full to the brim with glowing coals. Then the cooking
begins, and there is no smoke, and consequently no swearing.
Such a fire will keep all night, with very little replenishing;
and it makes a very sociable camp-fire, and one around which
the most impossible reminiscences sound plausible, instructive,
and profoundly entertaining.

Sage-brush is very fair fuel, but as a vegetable it is a distinguished
failure. Nothing can abide the taste of it but the


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 035. In-line image of a man and a camel in a harem. The camel has a handkerchief in its mouth.]
jackass and his illegitimate child the mule. But their testimony
to its nutritiousness is worth nothing, for they will eat
pine knots, or anthracite coal, or brass filings, or lead pipe, or
old bottles, or anything that comes handy, and then go off
looking as grateful as if they had had oysters for dinner. Mules
and donkeys and camels have appetites that anything will
relieve temporarily, but nothing satisfy. In Syria, once, at
the head-waters of the Jordan, a camel took charge of my
overcoat while the tents were being pitched, and examined it
with a critical eye, all over, with as much interest as if he had
an idea of getting one made like it; and then, after he was
done figuring on it as an article of apparel, he began to contemplate
it as an article of diet. He put his foot on it, and


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lifted one of the sleeves out with his teeth, and chewed and
chewed at it, gradually taking it in, and all the while opening
and closing his eyes in a kind of religious ecstasy, as if he had
never tasted anything as good as an overcoat before, in his life.
Then he smacked his lips once or twice, and reached after the
other sleeve. Next he tried the velvet collar, and smiled a
smile of such contentment that it was plain to see that he
regarded that as the daintiest thing about an overcoat. The
tails went next, along with some percussion caps and cough
candy, and some fig-paste from Constantinople. And then my
newspaper correspondence dropped out, and he took a chance
in that—manuscript letters written for the home papers. But
he was treading on dangerous ground, now. He began to
come across solid wisdom in those documents that was rather
weighty on his stomach; and occasionally he would take a
joke that would shake him up till it loosened his teeth; it was
getting to be perilous times with him, but he held his grip
with good courage and hopefully, till at last he began to stumble
on statements that not even a camel could swallow with
impunity. He began to gag and gasp, and his eyes to stand
out, and his forelegs to spread, and in about a quarter of a minute
he fell over as stiff as a carpenter's work-bench, and died a
death of indescribable agony. I went and pulled the manuscript
out of his mouth, and found that the sensitive creature
had choked to death on one of the mildest and gentlest statements
of fact that I ever laid before a trusting public.

I was about to say, when diverted from my subject, that
occasionally one finds sage-bushes five or six feet high, and
with a spread of branch and foliage in proportion, but two or
two and a half feet is the usual height.


“Bunch-grass” grows on the bleak mountain-sides of Nevada and
neighboring territories, and offers excellent feed for stock, even in the dead
of winter, wherever the snow is blown aside and exposes it; notwithstanding
its unpromising home, bunch-grass is a better and more nutritious diet
for cattle and horses than almost any other hay or grass that is known—so
stock-men say.