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IT was somewhere in the neighborhood of Mono Lake that
the marvellous Whiteman cement mine was supposed to
lie. Every now and then it would be reported that Mr. W.
had passed stealthily through Esmeralda at dead of night, in
disguise, and then we would have a wild excitement—because
he must be steering for his secret mine, and now was the time
to follow him. In less than three hours after daylight all the
horses and mules and donkeys in the vicinity would be bought,
hired or stolen, and half the community would be off for the
mountains, following in the wake of Whiteman. But W. would
drift about through the mountain gorges for days together, in
a purposeless sort of way, until the provisions of the miners ran
out, and they would have to go back home. I have known it
reported at eleven at night, in a large mining camp, that Whiteman
had just passed through, and in two hours the streets, so
quiet before, would be swarming with men and animals.
Every individual would be trying to be very secret, but yet
venturing to whisper to just one neighbor that W. had passed
through. And long before daylight—this in the dead of Winter—the
stampede would be complete, the camp deserted, and
the whole population gone chasing after W.

The tradition was that in the early immigration, more than
twenty years ago, three young Germans, brothers, who had
survived an Indian massacre on the Plains, wandered on foot
through the deserts, avoiding all trails and roads, and simply
holding a westerly direction and hoping to find California
before they starved, or died of fatigue. And in a gorge in the
mountains they sat down to rest one day, when one of them


Page 260


[Description: 504EAF. Page 260. In-line image of a man in a loin cloth standing prostrate with a staff in one hand.]
noticed a curious vein of cement running along the ground,
shot full of lumps of dull yellow metal. They saw that it was
gold, and that here was a fortune to be acquired in a single day.
The vein was about as wide as a curbstone, and fully two thirds
of it was pure gold. Every pound of the wonderful cement was
worth well-nigh $200. Each
of the brothers loaded himself
with about twenty-five
pounds of it, and then they
covered up all traces of the
vein, made a rude drawing
of the locality and the principal
landmarks in the vicinity,
and started westward
again. But troubles thickened
about them. In their
wanderings one brother fell
and broke his leg, and
the others were obliged to
go on and leave him to die
in the wilderness. Another,
worn out and starving, gave
up by and by, and laid down
to die, but after two or three
weeks of incredible hardships,
the third reached the
settlements of California exhausted,
sick, and his mind
deranged by his sufferings.
He had thrown away all his
cement but a few fragments,
but these were sufficient to
set everybody wild with excitement. However, he had had
enough of the cement country, and nothing could induce him
to lead a party thither. He was entirely content to work on
a farm for wages. But he gave Whiteman his map, and
described the cement region as well as he could, and thus


Page 261
transferred the curse to that gentleman—for when I had my
one accidental glimpse of Mr. W. in Esmeralda he had been
hunting for the lost mine, in hunger and thirst, poverty and
sickness, for twelve or thirteen years. Some people believed
he had found it, but most people believed he had not. I saw
a piece of cement as large as my fist which was said to have
been given to Whiteman by the young German, and it was of
a seductive nature. Lumps of virgin gold were as thick in it
as raisins in a slice of fruit cake. The privilege of working
such a mine one week would be sufficient for a man of reasonable

A new partner of ours, a Mr. Higbie, knew Whiteman well
by sight, and a friend of ours, a Mr. Van Dorn, was well acquainted
with him, and not only that, but had Whiteman's
promise that he should have a private hint in time to enable
him to join the next cement expedition. Van Dorn had promised
to extend the hint to us. One evening Higbie came in
greatly excited, and said he felt certain he had recognized
Whiteman, up town, disguised and in a pretended state of intoxication.
In a little while Van Dorn arrived and confirmed
the news; and so we gathered in our cabin and with heads
close together arranged our plans in impressive whispers.

We were to leave town quietly, after midnight, in two
or three small parties, so as not to attract attention, and
meet at dawn on the “divide” overlooking Mono Lake, eight
or nine miles distant. We were to make no noise after starting,
and not speak above a whisper under any circumstances.
It was believed that for once Whiteman's presence was unknown
in the town and his expedition unsuspected. Our
conclave broke up at nine o'clock, and we set about our
preparations diligently and with profound secrecy. At eleven
o'clock we saddled our horses, hitched them with their long
riatas (or lassos), and then brought out a side of bacon, a sack
of beans, a small sack of coffee, some sugar, a hundred pounds
of flour in sacks, some tin cups and a coffee pot, frying pan
and some few other necessary articles. All these things were
“packed” on the back of a led horse—and whoever has not been


Page 262
taught, by a Spanish adept, to pack an animal, let him never
hope to do the thing by natural smartness. That is impossible.
Higbie had had some experience, but was not perfect. He
put on the pack saddle (a thing like a saw-buck), piled the
property on it and then wound a rope all over and about it
and under it, “every which way,” taking a hitch in it every
now and then, and occasionally surging back on it till the
horse's sides sunk in and he gasped for breath—but every time
the lashings grew tight in one place they loosened in another.
We never did get the load tight all over, but we got it so that
it would do, after a fashion, and then we started, in single file,
close order, and without a word. It was a dark night. We
kept the middle of the road, and proceeded in a slow walk
past the rows of cabins, and whenever a miner came to his
door I trembled for fear the light would shine on us and excite
curiosity. But nothing happened. We began the long
winding ascent of the canyon, toward the “divide,” and presently
the cabins began to grow infrequent, and the intervals
between them wider and wider, and then I began to breathe
tolerably freely and feel less like a thief and a murderer. I
was in the rear, leading the pack horse. As the ascent grew
steeper he grew proportionately less satisfied with his cargo,
and began to pull back on his riata occasionally and delay
progress. My comrades were passing out of sight in the
gloom. I was getting anxious. I coaxed and bullied the
pack horse till I presently got him into a trot, and then the
tin cups and pans strung about his person frightened him and
he ran. His riata was wound around the pummel of my
saddle, and so, as he went by he dragged me from my horse
and the two animals traveled briskly on without me. But I
was not alone—the loosened cargo tumbled overboard from
the pack horse and fell close to me. It was abreast of almost
the last cabin. A miner came out and said:


I was thirty steps from him, and knew he could not see
me, it was so very dark in the shadow of the mountain. So I
lay still. Another head appeared in the light of the cabin


Page 263


[Description: 504EAF. Page 263. In-line image of a man sitting on the ground outside of a house, with another man peeking out of the door.]
door, and presently the two men walked toward me. They
stopped within ten steps of me, and one said:

“'St! Listen.”

I could not have been in a more distressed state if I had
been escaping justice with a price on my head. Then the
miners appeared to sit down on a boulder, though I could not
see them distinctly enough to be very sure what they did.
One said:

“I heard a noise, as plain as I ever heard anything. It
seemed to be about there—”

A stone whizzed by my head. I flattened myself out in
the dust like a postage stamp, and thought to myself if he
mended his aim ever so little he would probably hear another
noise. In my heart, now, I execrated secret expeditions. I
promised myself that this should be my last, though the Sierras
were ribbed with cement veins. Then one of the men said:

“I'll tell you what! Welch knew what he was talking about


Page 264
when he said he saw Whiteman to-day. I heard horses—that
was the noise. I am going down to Welch's, right away.”

They left and I was glad. I did not care whither they
went, so they went. I was willing they should visit Welch,
and the sooner the better.

As soon as they closed their cabin door my comrades
emerged from the gloom; they had caught the horses and were
waiting for a clear coast again. We remounted the cargo on
the pack horse and got under way, and as day broke we
reached the “divide” and joined Van Dorn. Then we journeyed
down into the valley of the Lake, and feeling secure,
we halted to cook breakfast, for we were tired and sleepy and
hungry. Three hours later the rest of the population filed over
the “divide” in a long procession, and drifted off out of sight
around the borders of the Lake!

Whether or not my accident had produced this result we
never knew, but at least one thing was certain—the secret was
out and Whiteman would not enter upon a search for the
cement mine this time. We were filled with chagrin.

We held a council and decided to make the best of our
misfortune and enjoy a week's holiday on the borders of the
curious Lake. Mono, it is sometimes called, and sometimes
the “Dead Sea of California.” It is one of the strangest freaks
of Nature to be found in any land, but it is hardly ever mentioned
in print and very seldom visited, because it lies away
off the usual routes of travel and besides is so difficult to get
at that only men content to endure the roughest life will consent
to take upon themselves the discomforts of such a trip.
On the morning of our second day, we traveled around to a
remote and particularly wild spot on the borders of the Lake,
where a stream of fresh, ice-cold water entered it from the
mountain side, and then we went regularly into camp. We
hired a large boat and two shot-guns from a lonely ranchman
who lived some ten miles further on, and made ready for comfort
and recreation. We soon got thoroughly acquainted with
the Lake and all its peculiarities.

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[Description: 504EAF. Illustration page of a lake with mountains and trees around the perimeter.]