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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]


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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]




THERE were two men in the company who caused me particular
discomfort. One was a little Swede, about twenty-five
years old, who knew only one song, and he was forever singing
it. By day we were all crowded into one small, stifling barroom,
and so there was no escaping this person's music. Through
all the profanity, whisky-guzzling, “old sledge” and quarreling,
his monotonous song meandered with never a variation in
its tiresome sameness, and it seemed to me, at last, that I
would be content to die, in order to be rid of the torture. The
other man was a stalwart ruffian called “Arkansas,” who carried
two revolvers in his belt and a bowie knife projecting from
his boot, and who was always drunk and always suffering for
a fight. But he was so feared, that nobody would accommodate
him. He would try all manner of little wary ruses
to entrap somebody into an offensive remark, and his face
would light up now and then when he fancied he was fairly
on the scent of a fight, but invariably his victim would elude
his toils and then he would show a disappointment that was
almost pathetic. The landlord, Johnson, was a meek, well-meaning
fellow, and Arkansas fastened on him early, as a
promising subject, and gave him no rest day or night, for
awhile. On the fourth morning, Arkansas got drunk and sat
himself down to wait for an opportunity. Presently Johnson
came in, just comfortably sociable with whisky, and said:

“I reckon the Pennsylvania 'lection—”

Arkansas raised his finger impressively and Johnson stopped.
Arkansas rose unsteadily and confronted him. Said he:


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“Wha-what do you know a-about Pennsylvania? Answer
me that. Wha-what do you know 'bout Pennsylvania?”

“I was only goin' to say—”

“You was only goin' to say. You was! You was only
goin' to say—what was you goin' to say? That's it! That's
what I want to know. I want to know wha-what you ('ic)
what you know about Pennsylvania,
since you're makin' yourself
so d—d free. Answer me

“Mr. Arkansas, if you'd only
let me—”

“Who's a henderin' you?
Don't you insinuate nothing
agin me!—don't you do it.
Don't you come in here bullyin'
around, and cussin' and goin' on
like a lunatic—don't you do it.
'Coz I won't stand it. If fight's
what you want, out with it! I'm
your man! Out with it!”

Said Johnson, backing into
a corner, Arkansas following,

“Why, I never said nothing,
Mr. Arkansas. You don't give
a man no chance. I was only
goin' to say that Pennsylvania
was goin' to have an election
next week—that was all—that
was everything I was goin' to
say—I wish I may never stir if it wasn't.”

“Well then why d'n't you say it? What did you come
swellin' around that way for, and tryin' to raise trouble?”

“Why I didn't come swellin' around, Mr. Arkansas—I

“I'm a liar am I! Ger-reat Cæsar's ghost—”


Page 223

“Oh, please, Mr. Arkansas, I never meant such a thing as
that, I wish I may die if I did. All the boys will tell you
that I've always spoke well of you, and respected you more'n
any man in the house. Ask Smith. Ain't it so, Smith? Didn't
I say, no longer ago than last night, that for a man that was a
gentleman all the time and every way you took him, give me
Arkansas? I'll leave it to any gentleman here if them warn't
the very words I used. Come, now, Mr. Arkansas, le's take
a drink—le's shake hands and take a drink. Come up—everybody!
It's my treat. Come up, Bill, Tom, Bob, Scotty—
come up. I want you all to take a drink with me and Arkansas—
old Arkansas, I call him—bully old Arkansas. Gimme
your hand agin. Look at him, boys—just take a look at him.
Thar stands the whitest man in America!—and the man that
denies it has got to fight me, that's all. Gimme that old
flipper agin!”

They embraced, with drunken affection on the landlord's
part and unresponsive toleration on the part of Arkansas,
who, bribed by a drink, was disappointed of his prey once
more. But the foolish landlord was so happy to have escaped
butchery, that he went on talking when he ought to have
marched himself out of danger. The consequence was that
Arkansas shortly began to glower upon him dangerously,
and presently said:

“Lan'lord, will you p-please make that remark over agin
if you please?”

“I was a-sayin' to Scotty that my father was up'ards of
eighty year old when he died.”

“Was that all that you said?”

“Yes, that was all.”

“Didn't say nothing but that?”


Then an uncomfortable silence.

Arkansas played with his glass a moment, lolling on his
elbows on the counter. Then he meditatively scratched his
left shin with his right boot, while the awkward silence continued.
But presently he loafed away toward the stove,


Page 224
looking dissatisfied; roughly shouldered two or three men
out of a comfortable position; occupied it himself, gave a
sleeping dog a kick that sent him howling under a bench,
then spread his long legs and his blanket-coat tails apart
and proceeded to warm his back. In a little while he fell to
grumbling to himself, and soon he slouched back to the bar
and said:

“Lan'lord, what's your idea for rakin' up old personalities
and blowin' about your father? Ain't this company agreeable
to you? Ain't it? If this company ain't agreeable to you,
p'r'aps we'd better leave. Is that your idea? Is that what
you're coming at?”

“Why bless your soul, Arkansas, I warn't thinking of such
a thing. My father and my mother—”

“Lan'lord, don't crowd a man! Don't do it. If nothing'll
do you but a disturbance, out with it like a man ('ic)—but
don't rake up old bygones and fling 'em in the teeth of a passel
of people that wants to be peaceable if they could git a chance.
What's the matter with you this mornin', anyway? I never
see a man carry on so.”

“Arkansas, I reely didn't mean no harm, and I won't go
on with it if it's onpleasant to you. I reckon my licker's got
into my head, and what with the flood, and havin' so many
to feed and look out for—”

“So that's what's a-ranklin' in your heart, is it? You want
us to leave do you? There's too many on us. You want us
to pack up and swim. Is that it? Come!”

“Please be reasonable, Arkansas. Now you know that I
ain't the man to—”

“Are you a threatenin' me? Are you? By George, the
man don't live that can skeer me! Don't you try to come
that game, my chicken—'cuz I can stand a good deal, but I
won't stand that. Come out from behind that bar till I clean
you! You want to drive us out, do you, you sneakin' underhanded
hound! Come out from behind that bar! I'll learn
you to bully and badger and browbeat a gentleman that's
forever trying to befriend you and keep you out of trouble!”


Page 225



[Description: 504EAF. Page 225. In-line image of a group of people in a bar. The bar maid is threatening a man with a pair of scissors.]

“Please, Arkansas, please don't shoot! If there's got to
be bloodshed—”

“Do you hear that, gentlemen? Do you hear him talk
about bloodshed? So it's blood you want, is it, you ravin'
desperado! You'd made up your mind to murder somebody
this mornin'—I knowed it perfectly well. I'm the man, am
I? It's me you're goin' to murder, is it? But you can't do
it 'thout I get one chance first, you thievin' black-hearted,
white-livered son of a nigger! Draw your weepon!”

With that, Arkansas began to shoot, and the landlord to
clamber over benches, men and every sort of obstacle in a
frantic desire to escape. In the midst of the wild hubbub the
landlord crashed through a glass door, and as Arkansas charged
after him the landlord's wife suddenly appeared in the doorway


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and confronted the desperado with a pair of scissors! Her
fury was magnificent. With head erect and flashing eye she
stood a moment and then advanced, with her weapon raised.
The astonished ruffian hesitated, and then fell back a step.
She followed. She backed him step by step into the middle
of the bar-room, and then, while the wondering crowd closed
up and gazed, she gave him such another tongue-lashing as
never a cowed and shamefaced braggart got before, perhaps!
As she finished and retired victorious, a roar of applause shook
the house, and every man ordered “drinks for the crowd” in
one and the same breath.

The lesson was entirely sufficient. The reign of terror was
over, and the Arkansas domination broken for good. During
the rest of the season of island captivity, there was one man
who sat apart in a state of permanent humiliation, never mixing
in any quarrel or uttering a boast, and never resenting the
insults the once cringing crew now constantly leveled at him,
and that man was “Arkansas.”

By the fifth or sixth morning the waters had subsided from
the land, but the stream in the old river bed was still high and
swift and there was no possibility of crossing it. On the eighth
it was still too high for an entirely safe passage, but life in the
inn had become next to insupportable by reason of the dirt,
drunkenness, fighting, etc., and so we made an effort to get
away. In the midst of a heavy snow-storm we embarked in a
canoe, taking our saddles aboard and towing our horses after us
by their halters. The Prussian, Ollendorff, was in the bow, with
a paddle, Ballou paddled in the middle, and I sat in the stern
holding the halters. When the horses lost their footing and
began to swim, Ollendorff got frightened, for there was great
danger that the horses would make our aim uncertain, and it
was plain that if we failed to land at a certain spot the current
would throw us off and almost surely cast us into the main
Carson, which was a boiling torrent, now. Such a catastrophe
would be death, in all probability, for we would be swept to
sea in the “Sink” or overturned and drowned. We warned
Ollendorff to keep his wits about him and handle himself carefully,


Page 227


[Description: 504EAF. Page 227. In-line image of a capsized boat, floating people and horses thrashing around in a flooded river.]
but it was useless; the moment the bow touched the
bank, he made a spring and the canoe whirled upside down in
ten-foot water. Ollendorff seized some brush and dragged
himself ashore, but Ballou and I had to swim for it, encumbered
with our overcoats. But we held on to the canoe, and
although we were washed down nearly to the Carson, we managed
to push the boat ashore and make a safe landing. We
were cold and water-soaked, but safe. The horses made a
landing, too, but our saddles were gone, of course. We tied
the animals in the sage-brush and there they had to stay for
twenty-four hours. We baled out the canoe and ferried over
some food and blankets for them, but we slept one more night
in the inn before making another venture on our journey.

The next morning it was still snowing furiously when we


Page 228
got away with our new stock of saddles and accoutrements.
We mounted and started. The snow lay so deep on the
ground that there was no sign of a road perceptible, and the
snow-fall was so thick that we could not see more than a hundred
yards ahead, else we could have guided our course by the
mountain ranges. The case looked dubious, but Ollendorff
said his instinct was as sensitive as any compass, and that he
could “strike a bee-line” for Carson city and never diverge
from it. He said that if he were to straggle a single point out
of the true line his instinct would assail him like an outraged
conscience. Consequently we dropped into his wake happy
and content. For half an hour we poked along warily enough,
but at the end of that time we came upon a fresh trail, and
Ollendorff shouted proudly:

“I knew I was as dead certain as a compass, boys! Here
we are, right in somebody's tracks that will hunt the way for
us without any trouble. Let's hurry up and join company with
the party.”

So we put the horses into as much of a trot as the deep
snow would allow, and before long it was evident that we
were gaining on our predecessors, for the tracks grew more
distinct. We hurried along, and at the end of an hour the
tracks looked still newer and fresher—but what surprised us
was, that the number of travelers in advance of us seemed to
steadily increase. We wondered how so large a party came to
be traveling at such a time and in such a solitude. Somebody
suggested that it must be a company of soldiers from the fort,
and so we accepted that solution and jogged along a little faster
still, for they could not be far off now. But the tracks still
multiplied, and we began to think the platoon of soldiers was
miraculously expanding into a regiment—Ballou said they had
already increased to five hundred! Presently he stopped his
horse and said:

“Boys, these are our own tracks, and we've actually been
circussing round and round in a circle for more than two
hours, out here in this blind desert! By George this is perfectly


Page 229



[Description: 504EAF. Page 229. In-line image of three men on horseback talking together in the rain.]

Then the old man waxed wroth and abusive. He called
Ollendorff all manner of hard names—said he never saw
such a lurid fool as he was, and ended with the peculiarly
venomous opinion that he “did not know as much as a

We certainly had been following our own tracks. Ollendorff
and his “mental compass” were in disgrace from that
moment. After all our hard travel, here we were on the bank
of the stream again, with the inn beyond dimly outlined
through the driving snow-fall. While we were considering
what to do, the young Swede landed from the canoe and took
his pedestrian way Carson-wards, singing his same tiresome
song about his “sister and his brother” and “the child in
the grave with its mother,” and in a short minute faded and
disappeared in the white oblivion. He was never heard of


Page 230
again. He no doubt got bewildered and lost, and Fatigue
delivered him over to Sleep and Sleep betrayed him to Death.
Possibly he followed our treacherous tracks till he became exhausted
and dropped.

Presently the Overland stage
forded the now fast receding stream
and started toward Carson on its
first trip since the flood came. We
hesitated no longer, now, but took
up our march in its wake, and trotted
merrily along, for we had good
confidence in the driver's bump of
locality. But our horses were no
match for the fresh stage team. We
were soon left out of sight; but it
was no matter, for we had the deep ruts the wheels made for
a guide. By this time it was three in the afternoon, and consequently
it was not very long before night came—and not
with a lingering twilight, but with a sudden shutting down
like a cellar door, as is its habit in that country. The snowfall
was still as thick as ever, and of course we could not see
fifteen steps before us; but all about us the white glare of the
snow-bed enabled us to discern the smooth sugar-loaf mounds
made by the covered sage-bushes, and just in front of us the
two faint grooves which we knew were the steadily filling
and slowly disappearing wheel-tracks.

Now those sage-bushes were all about the same height—
three of four feet; they stood just about seven feet apart, all
over the vast desert; each of them was a mere snow-mound,
now; in any direction that you proceeded (the same as in a
well laid out orchard) you would find yourself moving down
a distinctly defined avenue, with a row of these snow-mounds
an either side of it—an avenue the customary width of a road,
nice and level in its breadth, and rising at the sides in the
most natural way, by reason of the mounds. But we had not
thought of this. Then imagine the chilly thrill that shot
through us when it finally occurred to us, far in the night,


Page 231
that since the last faint trace of the wheel-tracks had long ago
been buried from sight, we might now be wandering down a
mere sage-brush avenue, miles away from the road and diverging
further and further away from it all the time. Having a
cake of ice slipped down one's back is placid comfort compared
to it. There was a sudden leap and stir of blood that had
been asleep for an hour, and as sudden a rousing of all the
drowsing activities in our minds and bodies. We were alive
and awake at once—and shaking and quaking with consternation,
too. There was an instant halting and dismounting, a
bending low and an anxious scanning of the road-bed. Useless,
of course; for if a faint depression could not be discerned
from an altitude of four or five feet above it, it certainly could
not with one's nose nearly against it.