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THE mountains are very high and steep about Carson,
Eagle and Washoe Valleys—very high and very steep,
and so when the snow gets to melting off fast in the Spring
and the warm surface-earth begins to moisten and soften, the
disastrous land-slides commence. The reader cannot know
what a land-slide is, unless he has lived in that country and
seen the whole side of a mountain taken off some fine morning
and deposited down in the valley, leaving a vast, treeless,
unsightly scar upon the mountain's front to keep the circumstance
fresh in his memory all the years that he may go on
living within seventy miles of that place.

General Buncombe was shipped out to Nevada in the
invoice of Territorial officers, to be United States Attorney.
He considered himself a lawyer of parts, and he very much
wanted an opportunity to manifest it—partly for the pure
gratification of it and partly because his salary was Territorially
meagre (which is a strong expression). Now the older
citizens of a new territory look down upon the rest of the
world with a calm, benevolent compassion, as long as it keeps
out of the way—when it gets in the way they snub it. Sometimes
this latter takes the shape of a practical joke.

One morning Dick Hyde rode furiously up to General
Buncombe's door in Carson city and rushed into his presence
without stopping to tie his horse. He seemed much excited.
He told the General that he wanted him to conduct a suit for
him and would pay him five hundred dollars if he achieved a
victory. And then, with violent gestures and a world of
profanity, he poured out his griefs. He said it was pretty


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 242. In-line image of a steep hill that has cascading falling cows, people and debris.]
well known that for some years he had been farming (or
ranching as the more customary term is) in Washoe District,
and making a successful thing of it, and furthermore it was
known that his ranch was situated just in the edge of the
valley, and that Tom Morgan owned a ranch immediately
above it on the mountain side. And now the trouble was, that
one of those hated and dreaded land-slides had come and slid
Morgan's ranch,
fences, cabins, cattle,
barns and everything
down on top of his
ranch and exactly
covered up every
single vestige of his
property, to a depth
of about thirty-eight
feet. Morgan was
in possession and refused
to vacate the
premises—said he
was occupying his
own cabin and not
interfering with anybody
else's—and said
the cabin was standing
on the same dirt
and same ranch it had always stood on,
and he would like to see anybody make
him vacate.

“And when I reminded him,” said
Hyde, weeping, “that it was on top of my ranch and that he
was trespassing, he had the infernal meanness to ask me why
didn't I stay on my ranch and hold possession when I see him
a-coming! Why didn't I stay on it, the blathering lunatic—
by George, when I heard that racket and looked up that hill it
was just like the whole world was a-ripping and a-tearing
down that mountain side—splinters, and cord-wood, thunder
and lightning, hail and snow, odds and ends of hay stacks,


Page 243
and awful clouds of dust!—trees going end over end in the
air, rocks as big as a house jumping 'bout a thousand feet
high and busting into ten million pieces, cattle turned inside
out and a-coming head on with their tails hanging out between
their teeth!—and in the midst of all that wrack and
destruction sot that cussed Morgan on his gate-post, a-wondering
why I didn't stay and hold possession! Laws bless me,
I just took one glimpse, General, and lit out'n the county in
three jumps exactly.

“But what grinds me is that that Morgan hangs on there
and won't move off'n that ranch—says it's his'n and he's going
to keep it—likes it better'n he did when it was higher up the
hill. Mad! Well, I've been so mad for two days I couldn't
find my way to town—been wandering around in the brush
in a starving condition—got anything here to drink, General?
But I'm here now, and I'm a-going to law. You hear me!

Never in all the world, perhaps, were a man's feelings so
outraged as were the General's. He said he had never heard
of such high-handed conduct in all his life as this Morgan's.
And he said there was no use in going to law—Morgan had
no shadow of right to remain where he was—nobody in the
wide world would uphold him in it, and no lawyer would take
his case and no judge listen to it. Hyde said that right there
was where he was mistaken—everybody in town sustained
Morgan; Hal Brayton, a very smart lawyer, had taken his
case; the courts being in vacation, it was to be tried before a
referee, and ex-Governor Roop had already been appointed to
that office and would open his court in a large public hall near
the hotel at two that afternoon.

The General was amazed. He said he had suspected before
that the people of that Territory were fools, and now he
knew it. But he said rest easy, rest easy and collect the witnesses,
for the victory was just as certain as if the conflict
were already over. Hyde wiped away his tears and left.

At two in the afternoon referee Roop's Court opened, and
Roop appeared throned among his sheriffs, the witnesses,
and spectators, and wearing upon his face a solemnity so
awe-inspiring that some of his fellow-conspirators had misgivings


Page 244


[Description: 504EAF. Page 244. In-line image of a courtroom. There is a judge, a listening crowd, and an angry man yelling.]
that maybe he had not comprehended, after all, that this
was merely a joke. An unearthly stillness prevailed, for at
the slightest noise the judge uttered sternly the command:

“Order in the Court!”

And the sheriffs promptly echoed it. Presently the
General elbowed his way through the crowd of spectators,
with his arms full of law-books, and on his ears fell an order
from the judge which was the first respectful recognition of
his high official dignity that had ever saluted them, and it
trickled pleasantly through his whole system:

“Way for the United States Attorney!”

The witnesses were called—legislators, high government
officers, ranchmen, miners, Indians, Chinamen, negroes. Three
fourths of them were called by the defendant Morgan, but no
matter, their testimony invariably went in favor of the plaintiff


Page 245
Hyde. Each new witness only added new testimony to
the absurdity of a man's claiming to own another man's property
because his farm had slid down on top of it. Then the
Morgan lawyers made their speeches, and seemed to make singularly
weak ones—they did really nothing to help the Morgan
cause. And now the General, with exultation in his face, got
up and made an impassioned effort; he pounded the table, he
banged the law-books, he shouted, and roared, and howled, he
quoted from everything and everybody, poetry, sarcasm, statistics,
history, pathos, bathos, blasphemy, and wound up with
a grand war-whoop for free speech, freedom of the press, free
schools, the Glorious Bird of America and the principles of
eternal justice! [Applause.]

When the General sat down, he did it with the conviction
that if there was anything in good strong testimony, a
great speech and believing and admiring countenances all
around, Mr. Morgan's case was killed. Ex-Governor Roop
leant his head upon his hand for some minutes, thinking, and
the still audience waited for his decision. Then he got up
and stood erect, with bended head, and thought again. Then
he walked the floor with long, deliberate strides, his chin in
his hand, and still the audience waited. At last he returned
to his throne, seated himself, and began, impressively:

“Gentlemen, I feel the great responsibility that rests upon
me this day. This is no ordinary case. On the contrary it is
plain that it is the most solemn and awful that ever man was
called upon to decide. Gentlemen, I have listened attentively
to the evidence, and have perceived that the weight of it, the
overwhelming weight of it, is in favor of the plaintiff Hyde.
I have listened also to the remarks of counsel, with high
interest—and especially will I commend the masterly and
irrefutable logic of the distinguished gentleman who represents
the plaintiff. But gentlemen, let us beware how we
allow mere human testimony, human ingenuity in argument
and human ideas of equity, to influence us at a moment so
solemn as this. Gentlemen, it ill becomes us, worms as we are,
to meddle with the decrees of Heaven. It is plain to me that


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 246. In-line image of a boulder protruding out of the side of a hill.]
Heaven, in its inscrutable wisdom, has seen fit to move this
defendant's ranch for a purpose. We are but creatures, and
we must submit. If Heaven has chosen to favor the defendant
Morgan in this marked and wonderful manner; and if Heaven,
dissatisfied with the position of the Morgan ranch upon the
mountain side, has chosen to remove it to a position more
eligible and more advantageous for its owner, it ill becomes
us, insects as we are, to question the legality of the act or
inquire into the reasons that prompted it. No—Heaven created
the ranches and it is Heaven's prerogative to rearrange them,
to experiment with them, to shift them around at its pleasure.
It is for us to submit, without repining. I warn you that this
thing which has happened is a thing with which the sacrilegious
hands and brains and tongues of men must not meddle.
Gentlemen, it is the verdict of this court that the plaintiff,


Page 247
Richard Hyde, has been deprived of his ranch by the visitation
of God! And from this decision there is no appeal.”

Buncombe seized his cargo of law-books and plunged out
of the court-room frantic with indignation. He pronounced
Roop to be a miraculous fool, an inspired idiot. In all good
faith he returned at night and remonstrated with Roop upon
his extravagant decision, and implored him to walk the floor
and think for half an hour, and see if he could not figure out
some sort of modification of the verdict. Roop yielded at last
and got up to walk. He walked two hours and a half, and at
last his face lit up happily and he told Buncombe it had occurred
to him that the ranch underneath the new Morgan ranch
still belonged to Hyde, that his title to the ground was just
as good as it had ever been, and therefore he was of opinion
that Hyde had a right to dig it out from under there and—

The General never waited to hear the end of it. He was
always an impatient and irascible man, that way. At the end
of two months the fact that he had been played upon with a
joke had managed to bore itself, like another Hoosac Tunnel,
through the solid adamant of his understanding.