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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]


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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]




HURRY, was the word! We wasted no time. Our
party consisted of four persons—a blacksmith sixty
years of age, two young lawyers, and myself. We bought a
wagon and two miserable old horses. We put eighteen
hundred pounds of provisions and mining tools in the wagon
and drove out of Carson on a chilly December afternoon.
The horses were so weak and old that we soon found that it
would be better if one or two of us got out and walked. It
was an improvement. Next, we found that it would be better
if a third man got out. That was an improvement also. It
was at this time that I volunteered to drive, although I had
never driven a harnessed horse before and many a man in
such a position would have felt fairly excused from such a
responsibility. But in a little while it was found that it
would be a fine thing if the driver got out and walked also.
It was at this time that I resigned the position of driver, and
never resumed it again. Within the hour, we found that it
would not only be better, but was absolutely necessary, that
we four, taking turns, two at a time, should put our hands
against the end of the wagon and push it through the sand,
leaving the feeble horses little to do but keep out of the way
and hold up the tongue. Perhaps it is well for one to know
his fate at first, and get reconciled to it. We had learned
ours in one afternoon. It was plain that we had to walk
through the sand and shove that wagon and those horses two
hundred miles. So we accepted the situation, and from that
time forth we never rode. More than that, we stood regular
and nearly constant watches pushing up behind.


Page 199



[Description: 504EAF. Page 199. In-line image of a covered wagon being pushed from behind by two men. The wagon is being driven by another man up front. They appear to be in the desert.]

We made seven miles, and camped in the desert. Young
Clagett (now member of Congress from Montana) unharnessed
and fed and watered the horses; Oliphant and I cut sage-brush,
built the fire and brought water to cook with; and old
Mr. Ballou the blacksmith did the cooking. This division of
labor, and this appointment, was adhered to throughout the
journey. We had no tent, and so we slept under our blankets
in the open plain. We were so tired that we slept soundly.

We were fifteen days making the trip—two hundred
miles; thirteen, rather, for we lay by a couple of days, in one
place, to let the horses rest. We could really have accomplished
the journey in ten days if we had towed the horses
behind the wagon, but we did not think of that until it was
too late, and so went on shoving the horses and the wagon too
when we might have saved half the labor. Parties who met
us, occasionally, advised us to put the horses in the wagon,
but Mr. Ballou, through whose iron-clad earnestness no sarcasm
could pierce, said that that would not do, because the
provisions were exposed and would suffer, the horses being
“bituminous from long deprivation.” The reader will excuse
me from translating. What Mr. Ballou customarily meant,
when he used a long word, was a secret between himself and
his Maker. He was one of the best and kindest hearted men
that ever graced a humble sphere of life. He was gentleness


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and simplicity itself—and unselfishness, too. Although he was
more than twice as old as the eldest of us, he never gave himself
any airs, privileges, or exemptions on that account. He did
a young man's share of the work; and did his share of conversing
and entertaining from the general stand-point of any age—
not from the arrogant, overawing summit-height of sixty years.
His one striking peculiarity was his Partingtonian fashion of
loving and using big words for their own sakes, and independent
of any bearing they might have upon the thought he
was purposing to convey. He always let his ponderous syllables
fall with an easy unconsciousness that left them wholly
without offensiveness. In truth his air was so natural and so
simple that one was always catching himself accepting his
stately sentences as meaning something, when they really
meant nothing in the world. If a word was long and grand
and resonant, that was sufficient to win the old man's love,
and he would drop that word into the most out-of-the-way
place in a sentence or a subject, and be as pleased with it as
if it were perfectly luminous with meaning.

We four always spread our common stock of blankets
together on the frozen ground, and slept side by side; and
finding that our foolish, long-legged hound pup had a deal of
animal heat in him, Oliphant got to admitting him to the bed,
between himself and Mr. Ballon, hugging the dog's warm
back to his breast and finding great comfort in it. But in the
night the pup would get stretchy and brace his feet against the
old man's back and shove, grunting complacently the while;
and now and then, being warm and snug, grateful and happy,
he would paw the old man's back simply in excess of comfort;
and at yet other times he would dream of the chase and in
his sleep tug at the old man's back hair and bark in his ear.
The old gentleman complained mildly about these familiarities,
at last, and when he got through with his statement he said
that such a dog as that was not a proper animal to admit to bed
with tired men, because he was “so meretricious in his movements
and so organic in his emotions.” We turned the dog out.

It was a hard, wearing, toilsome journey, but it had its


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bright side; for after each day was done and our wolfish
hunger appeased with a hot supper of fried bacon, bread, molasses
and black coffee, the pipe-smoking, song-singing and
yarn-spinning around the evening camp-fire in the still solitudes
of the desert was a happy, care-free sort of recreation
that seemed the very summit and culmination of earthly
luxury. It is a kind of life that has a potent charm for all
men, whether city or country-bred. We are descended from
desert-lounging Arabs, and countless ages of growth toward
perfect civilization have failed to root out of us the nomadic
instinct. We all confess to a gratified thrill at the thought of
“camping out.”

Once we made twenty-five miles in a day, and once we
made forty miles (through the Great American Desert), and
ten miles beyond—fifty in all—in twenty-three hours, without
halting to eat, drink or rest. To stretch out and go to sleep,
even on stony and frozen ground, after pushing a wagon and
two horses fifty miles, is a delight so supreme that for the
moment it almost seems cheap at the price.

We camped two days in the neighborhood of the “Sink
of the Humboldt.” We tried to use the strong alkaline water
of the Sink, but it would not answer. It was like drinking
lye, and not weak lye, either. It left a taste in the mouth,


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bitter and every way execrable, and a burning in the stomach
that was very uncomfortable. We put molasses in it, but that
helped it very little; we added a pickle, yet the alkali was the
prominent taste, and so it was unfit for drinking. The coffee
we made of this water was
the meanest compound man
has yet invented. It was
really viler to the taste than
the unameliorated water itself.
Mr. Ballou, being the
architect and builder of the
beverage felt constrained to endorse and uphold it, and so
drank half a cup, by little sips, making shift to praise it faintly
the while, but finally threw out the remainder, and said frankly
it was “too technical for him.

But presently we found a spring of fresh water, convenient,
and then, with nothing to mar our enjoyment, and no
stragglers to interrupt it, we entered into our rest.