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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]


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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]




As the sun went down and the evening chill came on, we
made preparation for bed. We stirred up the hard
leather letter-sacks, and the knotty canvas bags of printed
matter (knotty and uneven because of projecting ends and
corners of magazines, boxes and books). We stirred them up
and redisposed them in such a way as to make our bed as level
as possible. And we did improve it, too, though after all our
work it had an upheaved and billowy look about it, like a little
piece of a stormy sea. Next we hunted up our boots from
odd nooks among the mail-bags where they had settled, and
put them on. Then we got down our coats, vests, pantaloons
and heavy woolen shirts, from the arm-loops where they had
been swinging all day, and clothed ourselves in them—for,
there being no ladies either at the stations or in the coach, and
the weather being hot, we had looked to our comfort by stripping
to our underclothing, at nine o'clock in the morning.
All things being now ready, we stowed the uneasy Dictionary
where it would lie as quiet as possible, and placed the water-canteens
and pistols where we could find them in the dark.
Then we smoked a final pipe, and swapped a final yarn; after
which, we put the pipes, tobacco and bag of coin in snug holes
and caves among the mail-bags, and then fastened down the
coach curtains all around, and made the place as “dark as the
inside of a cow,” as the conductor phrased it in his picturesque
way. It was certainly as dark as any place could be—
nothing was even dimly visible in it. And finally, we rolled


Page 38


[Description: 504EAF. Page 038. In-line image of two men sitting in a dark room talking in their pajamas.]
ourselves up like silk-worms, each person in his own blanket,
and sank peacefully to sleep.

Whenever the stage stopped to change horses, we would
wake up, and try to recollect where we were—and succeed—
and in a minute or two the stage would be off again, and we
likewise. We began to get into country, now, threaded
here and there with little streams. These had high, steep
banks on each side, and every time we flew down one bank
and scrambled up the other, our party inside got mixed somewhat.
First we would all be down in a pile at the forward
end of the stage, nearly in a sitting posture, and in a second
we would shoot to the other end, and stand on our heads. And
we would sprawl and kick, too, and ward off ends and corners
of mail-bags that came lumbering over us and about us; and
as the dust rose from the tumult, we would all sneeze in chorus,
and the majority of us would grumble, and probably say some
hasty thing, like: “Take your elbow out of my ribs!—can't
you quit crowding?”

Every time we avalanched from one end of the stage to the
other, the Unabridged Dictionary would come too; and every


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time it came it damaged somebody. One trip it “barked”
the Secretary's elbow; the next trip it hurt me in the stomach,
and the third it tilted Bemis's nose up till he could look down
his nostrils—he said. The pistols and coin soon settled to the
bottom, but the pipes, pipe-stems, tobacco and canteens clattered
and floundered after the Dictionary every time it made an assault
on us, and aided and abetted the book by spilling tobacco
in our eyes, and water down our backs.

Still, all things considered, it was a very comfortable night.
It wore gradually away, and when at last a cold gray light was
visible through the puckers and chinks in the curtains, we
yawned and stretched with satisfaction, shed our cocoons, and
felt that we had slept as much as was necessary. By and by,
as the sun rose up and warmed the world, we pulled off our
clothes and got ready for breakfast. We were just pleasantly
in time, for five minutes afterward the driver sent the weird
music of his bugle winding over the grassy solitudes, and
presently we detected a low hut or two in the distance. Then
the rattling of the coach, the clatter of our six horses' hoofs,
and the driver's crisp commands, awoke to a louder and stronger
emphasis, and we went sweeping down on the station at our
smartest speed. It was fascinating—that old overland stage-coaching.

We jumped out in undress uniform. The driver tossed his
gathered reins out on the ground, gaped and stretched complacently,
drew off his heavy buckskin gloves with great deliberation
and insufferable dignity—taking not the slightest notice
of a dozen solicitous inquiries after his health, and humbly facetious
and flattering accostings, and obsequious tenders of service,
from five or six hairy and half-civilized station-keepers and
hostlers who were nimbly unhitching our steeds and bringing
the fresh team out of the stables—for in the eyes of the stage-driver
of that day, station-keepers and hostlers were a sort of
good enough low creatures, useful in their place, and helping
to make up a world, but not the kind of beings which a person
of distinction could afford to concern himself with; while, on
the contrary, in the eyes of the station-keeper and the hostler,


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the stage-driver was a hero—a great and shining dignitary,
the world's favorite son, the envy of the people, the observed
of the nations. When they spoke to him they received his
insolent silence meekly, and as being the natural and proper
conduct of so great a man; when he opened his lips they all
hung on his words with admiration (he never honored a particular
individual with a remark, but addressed it with a broad
generality to the horses, the stables, the surrounding country
and the human underlings); when he discharged a facetious
insulting personality at a hostler, that hostler was happy for
the day; when he uttered his one jest—old as the hills, coarse,
profane, witless, and inflicted on the same audience, in the
same language, every time his coach drove up there—the varlets
roared, and slapped their thighs, and swore it was the best
thing they'd ever heard in all their lives. And how they
would fly around when he wanted a basin of water, a gourd
of the same, or a light for his pipe!—but they would instantly
insult a passenger if he so far forgot himself as to crave a
favor at their hands. They could do that sort of insolence as
well as the driver they copied it from—for, let it be borne in
mind, the overland driver had but little less contempt for his
passengers than he had for his hostlers.

The hostlers and station-keepers treated the really powerful
conductor of the coach merely with the best of what was
their idea of civility, but the driver was the only being they
bowed down to and worshipped. How admiringly they
would gaze up at him in his high seat as he gloved himself
with lingering deliberation, while some happy hostler held the
bunch of reins aloft, and waited patiently for him to take it!
And how they would bombard him with glorifying ejaculations
as he cracked his long whip and went careering away.

The station buildings were long, low huts, made of sun-dried,
mud-colored bricks, laid up without mortar (adobes, the
Spaniards call these bricks, and Americans shorten it to
'dobies). The roofs, which had no slant to them worth speaking
of, were thatched and then sodded or covered with a thick
layer of earth, and from this sprung a pretty rank growth of


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 041. In-line image of a man looking into a broken mirror and seeing his image doubled.]
weeds and grass. It was the first time we had ever seen a
man's front yard on top of his house. The buildings consisted
of barns, stable-room for twelve or fifteen horses, and a hut
for an eating-room for passengers. This latter had bunks in
it for the station-keeper and a hostler or two. You could rest
your elbow on its eaves, and you had to bend in order to get
in at the door. In place of a window there was a square hole
about large enough for a man to crawl through, but this had
no glass in it. There was no flooring, but the ground was
packed hard. There was no stove, but the fire-place served
all needful purposes. There were no shelves, no cupboards,
no closets. In a corner stood
an open sack of flour, and
nestling against its base were
a couple of black and venerable
tin coffee-pots, a tin teapot,
a little bag of salt, and a
side of bacon.

By the door of the station-keeper's
den, outside, was a
tin wash-basin, on the ground.
Near it was a pail of water
and a piece of yellow bar
soap, and from the eaves
hung a hoary blue woolen
shirt, significantly—but this
latter was the station-keeper's
private towel, and only two
persons in all the party
might venture to use it—the
stage-driver and the conductor.
The latter would not, from a sense of decency; the
former would not, because he did not choose to encourage the
advances of a station-keeper. We had towels—in the valise;
they might as well have been in Sodom and Gomorrah. We
(and the conductor) used our handkerchiefs, and the driver his
pantaloons and sleeves. By the door, inside, was fastened a
small old-fashioned looking-glass frame, with two little fragments


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 042. In-line images, one of a broken comb with bits of hair in the teeth, and the other of a man smoking a pipe.]
of the original mirror lodged down in one corner of it.
This arrangement afforded a pleasant double-barreled portrait
of you when you looked into it, with one half of your head set
up a couple of inches above the other half. From the glass
frame hung the half of a comb by a string—but if I had to
describe that patriarch or die, I believe I would order some
sample coffins. It had come
down from Esau and Samson,
and had been accumulating
hair ever since—along with
certain impurities. In one
corner of the room stood three
or four rifles and muskets, together with horns and pouches of
ammunition. The station-men
wore pantaloons of coarse,
country-woven stuff, and into
the seat and the inside of the
legs were sewed ample additions
of buckskin, to do duty in place
of leggings, when the man rode
horseback—so the pants were
half dull blue and half yellow,
and unspeakably picturesque.
The pants were stuffed into the
tops of high boots, the heels
whereof were armed with great
Spanish spurs, whose little iron
clogs and chains jingled with
every step. The man wore a
huge beard and mustachios, an
old slouch hat, a blue woolen
shirt, no suspenders, no vest, no
coat—in a leathern sheath in his
belt, a great long “navy” revolver
(slung on right side, hammer to the front), and projecting
from his boot a horn-handled bowie-knife. The furniture
of the hut was neither gorgeous nor much in the way. The
rocking-chairs and sofas were not present, and never had been,


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but they were represented by two three-legged stools, a pine-board
bench four feet long, and two empty candle-boxes.
The table was a greasy board on stilts, and the table-cloth and
napkins had not come—and they were not looking for them,
either. A battered tin platter, a knife and fork, and a tin pint
cup, were at each man's place, and the driver had a queensware
saucer that had seen better days. Of course this duke
sat at the head of the table. There was one isolated piece of
table furniture that bore about it a touching air of grandeur
in misfortune. This was the caster. It was German silver,
and crippled and rusty, but it was so preposterously out of
place there that it was suggestive of a tattered exiled king
among barbarians, and the majesty of its native position compelled
respect even in its degradation. There was only one
cruet left, and that was a stopperless, fly-specked, broken-necked
thing, with two
inches of vinegar in it, and
a dozen preserved flies with
their heels up and looking
sorry they had invested

The station-keeper upended
a disk of last week's
bread, of the shape and size
of an old-time cheese, and
carved some slabs from it
which were as good as Nicholson
pavement, and tenderer.

He sliced off a piece of bacon for each man, but only the
experienced old hands made out to eat it, for it was condemned
army bacon which the United States would not feed to its
soldiers in the forts, and the stage company had bought it
cheap for the sustenance of their passengers and employes.
We may have found this condemned army bacon further out
on the plains than the section I am locating it in, but we found
it—there is no gainsaying that.

Then he poured for us a beverage which he called “Slumgullion,”


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 044. In-line image of a wild-haired man drinking out of a mug, and reading at a table.]
and it is hard to think he was not inspired when
he named it. It really pretended to be tea, but there was
too much dish-rag, and sand, and old bacon-rind in it to deceive
the intelligent traveler. He had no sugar and no milk—not
even a spoon to stir the ingredients with.

We could not eat the bread or the meat, nor drink the
“slumgullion.” And when I looked at that melancholy vinegar-cruet,
I thought of the anecdote (a very, very old one, even
at that day) of the traveler who sat down to a table which
had nothing on it but a mackerel and a pot of mustard. He
asked the landlord if this was all. The landlord said:

All! Why, thunder and lightning, I should think there
was mackerel enough there for six.”

“But I don't like mackerel.”

“Oh—then help yourself to the mustard.”

In other days I had considered it a good, a very good,
anecdote, but there was a dismal plausibility about it, here,
that took all the humor out of it.


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 045. In-line image of a man holding a coffee pot with spurs on his boots, and a western hat.]

Our breakfast was before us, but our teeth were idle.

I tasted and smelt, and said I would take coffee, I believed.
The station-boss stopped dead still, and glared at me speechless.
At last, when he came to, he turned away and said, as one
who communes with himself upon a matter too vast to grasp:

Coffee! Well, if that
don't go clean ahead of me,
I'm d—d!”

We could not eat, and
there was no conversation
among the hostlers and
herdsmen—we all sat at the
same board. At least there
was no conversation further
than a single hurried request,
now and then, from one employe
to another. It was
always in the same form,
and always gruffly friendly.
Its western freshness and
novelty startled me, at first,
and interested me; but it
presently grew monotonous,
and lost its charm. It was:

“Pass the bread, you son
of a skunk!” No, I forget—skunk was not the word; it seems
to me it was still stronger than that; I know it was, in fact,
but it is gone from my memory, apparently. However, it is
no matter—probably it was too strong for print, anyway. It
is the landmark in my memory which tells me where I first
encountered the vigorous new vernacular of the occidental
plains and mountains.

We gave up the breakfast, and paid our dollar apiece and
went back to our mail-bag bed in the coach, and found comfort
in our pipes. Right here we suffered the first diminution
of our princely state. We left our six fine horses and took six
mules in their place. But they were wild Mexican fellows, and


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a man had to stand at the head of each of them and hold him
fast while the driver gloved and got himself ready. And
when at last he grasped the reins and gave the word, the men
sprung suddenly away from the mules' heads and the coach
shot from the station as if it had issued from a cannon. How
the frantic animals did scamper! It was a fierce and furious
gallop—and the gait never altered for a moment till we reeled
off ten or twelve miles and swept up to the next collection of
little station-huts and stables.

So we flew along all day. At 2 P.M. the belt of timber
that fringes the North Platte and marks its windings through
the vast level floor of the Plains came in sight. At 4 P.M.
we crossed a branch of the river, and at 5 P.M. we crossed
the Platte itself, and landed at Fort Kearney, fifty-six hours
out from St. Joe

Now that was stage-coaching on the great overland, ten or
twelve years ago, when perhaps not more than ten men in
America, all told, expected to live to see a railroad follow that
route to the Pacific. But the railroad is there, now, and it
pictures a thousand odd comparisons and contrasts in my mind
to read the following sketch, in the New York Times, of a
recent trip over almost the very ground I have been describing.
I can scarcely comprehend the new state of things:


“At 4.20 P.M., Sunday, we rolled out of the station at Omaha, and started
westward on our long jaunt. A couple of hours out, dinner was announced—
an “event” to those of us who had yet to experience what it is to eat in one
of Pullman's hotels on wheels; so, stepping into the car next forward of
our sleeping palace, we found ourselves in the dining-car. It was a revelation
to us, that first dinner on Sunday. And though we continued to dine
for four days, and had as many breakfasts and suppers, our whole party
never ceased to admire the perfection of the arrangements, and the marvelous
results achieved. Upon tables covered with snowy linen, and garnished with
services of solid silver, Ethiop waiters, flitting about in spotless white, placed
as by magic a repast at which Delmonico himself could have had no occasion
to blush; and, indeed, in some respects it would be hard for that distinguished
chef to match our menu; for, in addition to all that ordinarily makes


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 047. In-line image of four people sitting at a dining-car table on a railroad. ]
up a first-chop dinner, had we not our antelope steak (the gormand who has
not experienced this—bah! what does he know of the feast of fat things?)
our delicious mountain-brook trout, and choice fruits and berries, and (sauce
piquant and unpurchasable!) our sweet-scented, appetite-compelling air of
the prairies? You may depend upon it, we all did justice to the good things,
and as we washed them down with bumpers of sparkling Krug, whilst we
sped along at the rate of thirty miles an hour, agreed it was the fastest living
we had ever experienced. (We beat that, however, two days afterward
when we made twenty-seven miles in twenty-seven minutes, while our Champagne
glasses filled to the brim spilled not a drop!) After dinner we repaired
to our drawing-room car, and, as it was Sabbath eve, intoned some of
the grand old hymns—“Praise God from whom,” etc.; “Shining Shore,”
“Coronation,” etc.—the voices of the men singers and of the women singers
blending sweetly in the evening air, while our train, with its great, glaring
Polyphemus eye, lighting up long vistas of prairie, rushed into the night
and the Wild. Then to bed in luxurious couches, where we slept the sleep
of the just and only awoke the next morning (Monday) at eight o'clock, to
find ourselves at the crossing of the North Platte, three hundred miles from
Omaha—fifteen hours and forty minutes out.