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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]


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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]




WE were approaching the end of our long journey. It
was the morning of the twentieth day. At noon we
would reach Carson City, the capital of Nevada Territory.
We were not glad, but sorry. It had been a fine pleasure
trip; we had fed fat on wonders every day; we were now
well accustomed to stage life, and very fond of it; so the idea
of coming to a stand-still and settling down to a humdrum
existence in a village was not agreeable, but on the contrary

Visibly our new home was a desert, walled in by barren,
snow-clad mountains. There was not a tree in sight. There
was no vegetation but the endless sage-brush and greasewood.
All nature was gray with it. We were plowing through
great deeps of powdery alkali dust that rose in thick clouds
and floated across the plain like smoke from a burning house.
We were coated with it like millers; so were the coach, the
mules, the mail-bags, the driver—we and the sage-brush and
the other scenery were all one monotonous color. Long trains
of freight wagons in the distance enveloped in ascending
masses of dust suggested pictures of prairies on fire. These
teams and their masters were the only life we saw. Otherwise
we moved in the midst of solitude, silence and desolation.
Every twenty steps we passed the skeleton of some dead
beast of burthen, with its dust-coated skin stretched tightly
over its empty ribs. Frequently a solemn raven sat upon the


Page 158
skull or the hips and contemplated the passing coach with
meditative serenity.

By and by Carson City was pointed out to us. It nestled
in the edge of a great plain and was a sufficient number of
miles away to look like an assemblage
of mere white spots in the shadow of
a grim range of mountains overlooking
it, whose summits seemed lifted
clear out of companionship and consciousness
of earthly things.

We arrived, disembarked, and the
stage went on. It was a “wooden”
town; its population two thousand
souls. The main street consisted of
four or five blocks of little white frame stores which were too
high to sit down on, but not too high for various other purposes;
in fact, hardly high enough. They were packed close together,
side by side, as if room were scarce in that mighty plain. The
sidewalk was of boards that were more or less loose and
inclined to rattle when walked upon. In the middle of the
town, opposite the stores, was the “plaza” which is native to
all towns beyond the Rocky Mountains—a large, unfenced,
level vacancy, with a liberty pole in it, and very useful as a
place for public auctions, horse trades, and mass meetings, and
likewise for teamsters to camp in. Two other sides of the
plaza were faced by stores, offices and stables. The rest of
Carson City was pretty scattering.

We were introduced to several citizens, at the stage-office
and on the way up to the Governor's from the hotel—among
others, to a Mr. Harris, who was on horseback; he began to
say something, but interrupted himself with the remark:

“I'll have to get you to excuse me a minute; yonder is the
witness that swore I helped to rob the California coach—a
piece of impertinent intermeddling, sir, for I am not even
acquainted with the man.”

Then he rode over and began to rebuke the stranger with
a six-shooter, and the stranger began to explain with another.


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 159. In-line image of a tornado. The people are running in all directions, with pieces of wood and debris flying everywhere.]
When the pistols were emptied, the stranger resumed his work
(mending a whip-lash), and Mr. Harris rode by with a polite
nod, homeward bound, with a bullet through one of his lungs,
and several in his hips; and from them issued little rivulets
of blood that coursed down the horse's sides and made the
animal look quite picturesque. I never saw Harris shoot a
man after that but it recalled to mind that first day in Carson.

This was all we saw that day, for it was two o'clock, now,
and according to custom the daily “Washoe Zephyr” set in;
a soaring dust-drift about the size of the United States set up
edgewise came with it, and the capital of Nevada Territory
disappeared from view. Still, there were sights to be seen
which were not wholly uninteresting to new comers; for the
vast dust cloud was thickly freckled with things strange to the
upper air—things living and dead, that flitted hither and
thither, going and coming, appearing and disappearing among


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the rolling billows of dust—hats, chickens and parasols sailing
in the remote heavens; blankets, tin signs, sage-brush and
shingles a shade lower; door-mats and buffalo robes lower
still; shovels and coal scuttles on the next grade; glass doors,
cats and little children on the next; disrupted lumber yards,
light buggies and wheelbarrows on the next; and down only
thirty or forty feet above ground was a scurrying storm of
emigrating roofs and vacant lots.

It was something to see that much. I could have seen
more, if I could have kept the dust out of my eyes.

But seriously a Washoe wind is by no means a trifling
matter. It blows flimsy houses down, lifts shingle roofs occasionally,
rolls up tin ones like sheet music, now and then
blows a stage coach over and spills the passengers; and tradition
says the reason there are so many bald people there, is,
that the wind blows the hair off their heads while they are
looking skyward after their hats. Carson streets seldom look
inactive on Summer afternoons, because there are so many
citizens skipping around their escaping hats, like chambermaids
trying to head off a spider.

The “Washoe Zephyr” (Washoe is a pet nickname for
Nevada) is a peculiarly Scriptural wind, in that no man
knoweth “whence it cometh.” That is to say, where it originates.
It comes right over the mountains from the West, but
when one crosses the ridge he does not find any of it on the
other side! It probably is manufactured on the mountain-top
for the occasion, and starts from there. It is a pretty regular
wind, in the summer time. Its office hours are from two in
the afternoon till two the next morning; and anybody venturing
abroad during those twelve hours needs to allow for the
wind or he will bring up a mile or two to leeward of the
point he is aiming at. And yet the first complaint a Washoe
visitor to San Francisco makes, is that the sea winds blow so,
there! There is a good deal of human nature in that.

We found the state palace of the Governor of Nevada
Territory to consist of a white frame one-story house with two
small rooms in it and a stanchion supported shed in front—for


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 161. In-line image of a man on a horse in front of a house with a couple of children.]
grandeur—it compelled the respect of the citizen and inspired
the Indians with awe. The newly arrived Chief and Associate
Justices of the Territory, and other machinery of the government,
were domiciled with less splendor. They were boarding
around privately, and had their offices in their bedrooms.

The Secretary and I took quarters in the “ranch” of a
worthy French lady by the name of Bridget O'Flannigan, a
camp follower of his Excellency the Governor. She had
known him in his prosperity as commander-in-chief of the
Metropolitan Police of New York, and she would not desert
him in his adversity as Governor of Nevada. Our room was
on the lower floor, facing the plaza, and when we had got our
bed, a small table, two chairs, the government fire-proof safe,
and the Unabridged Dictionary into it, there was still room
enough left for a visitor—may be two, but not without straining
the walls. But the walls could stand it—at least the partitions
could, for they consisted simply of one thickness of
white “cotton domestic” stretched from corner to corner of
the room. This was the rule in Carson—any other kind of
partition was the rare exception. And if you stood in a dark


Page 162


[Description: 504EAF. Page 162. In-line image of a man looking at a silhouette of two people kissing each other.]
room and your neighbors in the next had lights, the shadows
on your canvas told queer secrets sometimes! Very often
these partitions
were made of old
flour sacks basted
together; and then
the difference between
the common
herd and the aristocracy
was, that the
common herd had
sacks, while the
walls of the aristocrat
were overpowering
with rudimental
i. e., red and blue
mill brands on the
flour sacks. Occasionally, also, the better classes embellished
their canvas by pasting pictures from Harper's Weekly on them.
In many cases, too, the wealthy and the cultured rose to spittoons
and other evidences of a sumptuous and luxurious taste.[1]
We had a carpet and a genuine queen's-ware washbowl. Consequently
we were hated without reserve by the other tenants
of the O'Flannigan “ranch.” When we added a painted oilcloth
window curtain, we simply took our lives into our own
hands. To prevent bloodshed I removed up stairs and took
up quarters with the untitled plebeians in one of the fourteen
white pine cot-bedsteads that stood in two long ranks in the
one sole room of which the second story consisted.

It was a jolly company, the fourteen. They were principally
voluntary camp-followers of the Governor, who had
joined his retinue by their own election at New York and


Page 163
San Francisco and came along, feeling that in the scuffle for
little territorial crumbs and offices they could not make their
condition more precarious than it was, and might reasonably
expect to make it better. They were popularly known as the
“Irish Brigade,” though there were only four or five Irishmen
among all the Governor's retainers. His good-natured
Excellency was much annoyed at the gossip his henchmen
created—especially when there arose a rumor that they were
paid assassins of his, brought along to quietly reduce the
democratic vote when desirable!

Mrs. O'Flannigan was boarding and lodging them at ten
dollars a week apiece, and they were cheerfully giving their
notes for it. They were perfectly satisfied, but Bridget presently
found that notes that could not be discounted were but
a feeble constitution for a Carson boarding-house. So she
began to harry the Governor to find employment for the
“Brigade.” Her importunities and theirs together drove him
to a gentle desperation at last, and he finally summoned the
Brigade to the presence. Then, said he:


Page 164

“Gentlemen, I have planned a lucrative and useful service
for you—a service which will provide you with recreation amid
noble landscapes, and afford you never ceasing opportunities
for enriching your minds by observation and study. I want
you to survey a railroad from Carson City westward to a certain
point! When the legislature meets I will have the necessary
bill passed and the remuneration arranged.”

“What, a railroad over the Sierra Nevada Mountains?”

“Well, then, survey it eastward to a certain point!”

He converted them into surveyors, chain-bearers and so
on, and turned them loose in the desert. It was “recreation”
with a vengeance! Recreation on foot, lugging chains through
sand and sage-brush, under a sultry sun and among cattle bones,
cayotes and tarantulas. “Romantic
adventure” could go no further. They
surveyed very slowly, very deliberately,
very carefully. They returned every
night during the first week, dusty,
footsore, tired, and hungry, but very
jolly. They brought in great store
of prodigious hairy spiders—tarantulas—and
imprisoned them in covered
tumblers up stairs in the “ranch.”
After the first week, they had to camp on the field, for they
were getting well eastward. They made a good many inquiries
as to the location of that indefinite “certain point,” but
got no information. At last, to a peculiarly urgent inquiry
of “How far eastward?” Governor Nye telegraphed back:

“To the Atlantic Ocean, blast you!—and then bridge it
and go on!”

This brought back the dusty toilers, who sent in a report
and ceased from their labors. The Governor was always comfortable
about it; he said Mrs. O'Flannigan would hold him
for the Brigade's board anyhow, and he intended to get what
entertainment he could out of the boys; he said, with his old-time
pleasant twinkle, that he meant to survey them into Utah
and then telegraph Brigham to hang them for trespass!


Page 165

The surveyors brought back more tarantulas with them,
and so we had quite a menagerie arranged along the shelves
of the room. Some of these spiders could straddle over a
common saucer with their hairy, muscular legs, and when
their feelings were hurt, or their dignity offended, they were
the wickedest-looking desperadoes the animal world can furnish.
If their glass prison-houses
were touched
ever so lightly they
were up and spoiling
for a fight in a minute.
Starchy?—proud? In
deed, they would take
up a straw and pick their teeth like a member of Congress.
There was as usual a furious “zephyr” blowing the first
night of the brigade's return, and about midnight the roof
of an adjoining stable blew off, and a corner of it came crashing
through the side of our ranch. There was a simultaneous
awakening, and a tumultuous muster of the brigade in
the dark, and a general tumbling and sprawling over each
other in the narrow aisle between the bed-rows. In the
midst of the turmoil, Bob H— sprung up out of a sound
sleep, and knocked down a shelf with his head. Instantly he

“Turn out, boys—the tarantulas is loose!”

No warning ever sounded so dreadful. Nobody tried, any
longer, to leave the room, lest he might step on a tarantula.
Every man groped for a trunk or a bed, and jumped on it.
Then followed the strangest silence—a silence of grisly suspense
it was, too—waiting, expectancy, fear. It was as dark
as pitch, and one had to imagine the spectacle of those fourteen
scant-clad men roosting gingerly on trunks and beds, for
not a thing could be seen. Then came occasional little interruptions
of the silence, and one could recognize a man and
tell his locality by his voice, or locate any other sound a sufferer
made by his gropings or changes of position. The occasional
voices were not given to much speaking—you simply


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 166. Image of a large woman carrying a lantern outside of her house to meet a mob of people.]
heard a gentle ejaculation of “Ow!” followed by a solid
thump, and you knew the gentleman had felt a hairy blanket
or something touch his bare skin and had skipped from a bed
to the floor. Another silence. Presently you would hear a
gasping voice say:

“Su-su-something's crawling up the back of my neck!”

Every now and then you could hear a little subdued scramble
and a sorrowful “O Lord!” and then you knew that somebody
was getting away from something he took for a tarantula,
and not losing any time about it, either. Directly a voice
in the corner rang out wild and clear:

“I've got him! I've got him!” [Pause, and probable
change of circumstances.] “No, he's got me! Oh, ain't they
never going to fetch a lantern!”

The lantern came at that moment, in the hands of Mrs.
O'Flannigan, whose anxiety to know the amount of damage
done by the assaulting roof had not prevented her waiting a
judicious interval, after getting out of bed and lighting up, to


Page 167
see if the wind was done, now, up stairs, or had a larger contract.

The landscape presented when the lantern flashed into the
room was picturesque, and might have been funny to some
people, but was not to us. Although we were perched so
strangely upon boxes, trunks and beds, and so strangely attired,
too, we were too earnestly distressed and too genuinely
miserable to see any fun about it, and there was not the semblance
of a smile anywhere visible. I know I am not capable
of suffering more than I did during those few minutes of
suspense in the dark, surrounded by those creeping, bloody-minded
tarantulas. I had skipped from bed to bed and from
box to box in a cold agony, and every time I touched anything
that was furzy I fancied I felt the fangs. I had rather go to
war than live that episode over again. Nobody was hurt. The
man who thought a tarantula had “got him” was mistaken—
only a crack in a box had caught his finger. Not one of those
escaped tarantulas was ever seen again. There were ten or
twelve of them. We took candles and hunted the place high
and low for them, but with no success. Did we go back to
bed then? We did nothing of the kind. Money could not
have persuaded us to do it. We sat up the rest of the night
playing cribbage and keeping a sharp lookout for the enemy.


Washoe people take a joke so hard that I must explain that the above
description was only the rule; there were many honorable exceptions in
Carson—plastered ceilings and houses that had considerable furniture in
them.—M. T.