University of Virginia Library

Search this document 


expand section 




IT was the end of August, and the skies were cloudless and
the weather superb. In two or three weeks I had grown
wonderfully fascinated with the curious new country, and
concluded to put off my return to “the States” awhile. I
had grown well accustomed to wearing a damaged slouch hat,
blue woolen shirt, and pants crammed into boot-tops, and
gloried in the absence of coat, vest and braces. I felt rowdyish
and “bully,” (as the historian Josephus phrases it, in his
fine chapter upon the destruction of the Temple). It seemed
to me that nothing could be so fine and so romantic. I had
become an officer of the government, but that was for mere
sublimity. The office was an unique sinecure. I had nothing
to do and no salary. I was private Secretary to his majesty
the Secretary and there was not yet writing enough for two
of us. So Johnny K— and I devoted our time to amusement.
He was the young son of an Ohio nabob and was out
there for recreation. He got it. We had heard a world of
talk about the marvellous beauty of Lake Tahoe, and finally
curiosity drove us thither to see it. Three or four members
of the Brigade had been there and located some timber lands
on its shores and stored up a quantity of provisions in their
camp. We strapped a couple of blankets on our shoulders
and took an axe apiece and started—for we intended to take
up a wood ranch or so ourselves and become wealthy. We
were on foot. The reader will find it advantageous to go
horseback. We were told that the distance was eleven miles.


Page 169


[Description: 504EAF. Page 169. In-line image of two men sitting in a boat. One of the men is rowing, and in the background there are mountains.]
We tramped a long time on level ground, and then toiled
laboriously up a mountain about a thousand miles high and
looked over. No lake there. We descended on the other
side, crossed the valley and toiled up another mountain three
or four thousand miles high, apparently, and looked over again.
No lake yet. We sat down tired and perspiring, and hired a
couple of Chinamen to curse those people who had beguiled
us. Thus refreshed, we presently resumed the march with
renewed vigor and determination. We plodded on, two or
three hours longer, and at last the Lake burst upon us—a
noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred
feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snowclad
mountain peaks that towered aloft full three thousand feet
higher still! It was a vast oval, and one would have to use
up eighty or a hundred good miles in traveling around it. As
it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly
photographed upon its still surface I thought it must surely
be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.

We found the small skiff belonging to the Brigade boys,
and without loss of time
set out across a deep bend
of the lake toward the landmarks
that signified the locality
of the camp. I got
Johnny to row — not because
I mind exertion myself,
but because it makes
me sick to ride backwards
when I am at work. But
I steered. A three-mile pull brought us to
the camp just as the night fell, and we
stepped ashore very tired and wolfishly hungry.
In a “cache” among the rocks we found
the provisions and the cooking utensils, and then, all fatigued
as I was, I sat down on a boulder and superintended while
Johnny gathered wood and cooked supper. Many a man who
had gone through what I had, would have wanted to rest.


Page 170



[Description: 504EAF. Page 170. In-line image of a man leaning against a crutch, with ragged hair and big eyes.]

It was a delicious supper—hot bread, fried bacon, and
black coffee. It was a delicious solitude we were in, too.
Three miles away was a saw-mill and some workmen, but
there were not fifteen other human beings throughout the
wide circumference of the lake. As the darkness closed down
and the stars came out and spangled the great mirror with
jewels, we smoked meditatively in the solemn hush and forgot
our troubles and our pains. In due time we spread our
blankets in the warm sand between two large boulders and
soon feel asleep, careless of the procession of ants that passed
in through rents in our clothing and explored our persons.
Nothing could disturb the sleep that fettered us, for it had
been fairly earned, and if our consciences had any sins on
them they had to adjourn court for that night, any way. The
wind rose just as we were losing consciousness, and we were
lulled to sleep by the beating of the surf upon the shore.

It is always very cold on that lake shore in the night, but
we had plenty of blankets and were warm enough. We never
moved a muscle all night, but waked at
early dawn in the original positions, and
got up at once, thoroughly refreshed,
free from soreness, and brim full of
friskiness. There is no end of wholesome
medicine in such an experience.
That morning we could have whipped
ten such people as we were the day
before—sick ones at any rate. But the
world is slow, and people will go to
“water cures” and “movement cures”
and to foreign lands for health. Three
months of camp life on Lake Tahoe
would restore an Egyptian mummy to
his pristine vigor, and give him an appetite like an alligator.
I do not mean the oldest and driest mummies, of course, but the
fresher ones. The air up there in the clouds is very pure and
fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn't it be?—it is
the same the angels breathe. I think that hardly any amount


Page 171


[Description: 504EAF. Page 171. In-line image of a man surveying a valley from the top of a mountain. He is in a hat, and is leaning against a shot gun.]
of fatigue can be gathered together that a man cannot sleep off
in one night on the sand by its side. Not under a roof, but
under the sky; it seldom or never rains there in the summer
time. I know a man who went there to die. But he made a
failure of it. He was a skeleton when he came, and could
barely stand. He had no appetite, and did nothing but read
tracts and reflect on the future. Three months later he was
sleeping out of doors regularly, eating all he could hold, three
times a day, and chasing game over mountains three thousand
feet high for recreation. And he was a skeleton no longer,
but weighed part of a ton. This is no fancy sketch, but the
truth. His disease was consumption. I confidently commend
his experience to other skeletons.

I superintended again, and as soon as we had eaten breakfast
we got in the boat and
skirted along the lake shore
about three miles and disembarked.
We liked the appearance
of the place, and so we
claimed some three hundred
acres of it and stuck our “notices”
on a tree. It was yellow
pine timber land—a dense forest
of trees a hundred feet high and
from one to five feet through at
the butt. It was necessary to
fence our property or we could
not hold it. That is to say, it was
necessary to cut down trees here
and there and make them fall in
such a way as to form a sort of
enclosure (with pretty wide gaps
in it). We cut down three trees apiece, and found it such
heart-breaking work that we decided to “rest our case” on
those; if they held the property, well and good; if they
didn't, let the property spill out through the gaps and go; it
was no use to work ourselves to death merely to save a few


Page 172


[Description: 504EAF. Page 172. In-line image of two men sitting under a lean-to in the woods. The lean-to is made out of leaves and in front there is a tree stump.]
acres of land. Next day we came back to build a house—
for a house was also necessary, in order to hold the property.
We decided to build a substantial log-house and excite the
envy of the Brigade boys; but by the time we had cut and
trimmed the first log it seemed unnecessary to be so elaborate,
and so we concluded to build it of saplings. However, two
saplings, duly cut and trimmed, compelled recognition of the
fact that a still modester architecture would satisfy the law,
and so we concluded to build a “brush” house. We devoted
the next day to this work, but we did so much “sitting
around” and discussing, that by the middle of the afternoon
we had achieved only a half-way sort of affair which one of us
had to watch while the other
cut brush, lest if both turned
our backs we might not be
able to find it again, it had
such a strong family resemblance
to the surrounding
vegetation. But we were
satisfied with it.

We were land owners
now, duly seized and possessed,
and within the protection
of the law. Therefore
we decided to take up
our residence on our own
domain and enjoy that large sense of
independence which only such an experience
can bring. Late the next afternoon,
after a good long rest, we sailed
away from the Brigade camp with all
the provisions and cooking utensils we could carry off—borrow
is the more accurate word—and just as the night was falling
we beached the boat at our own landing.