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Without much regard to others, he now led Molly a little apart and
seated her on the sage beside him.

"Will Banion and Bill Jackson has went on to Californy, Miss Molly,"
said he. "You know why."

Mollie nodded.

"Ye'd orto! Ye told him."

"Yes, I did."

"I know. Him an' me had a talk. Owin' you an' me all he'll ever make,
he allowed to pay nothin'! Which is, admittin' he loves you, he don't
take no advice, ter finish that weddin' with another man substertuted.
No, says he, 'I kain't marry her, because I love her!' says he. Now,
that's crazy. Somethin' deep under that, Miss Molly."

"Let's not talk about it, please."

"All right. Let's talk erbout Sam Woodhull, huh?"

"No!"

"Then mebbe I'd better be goin'. I know you don't want ter talk erbout
me!" His wrinkling smile said he had more to tell.

"Miss Molly," said he at last, "I mout as well tell ye. Sam Woodhull is
on the way atter Will Banion. He's like enough picked out a fine bunch
o' horse thiefs ter go erlong with him. He knows somethin' erbout the
gold - I jest found out how.

"Ye see, some men ain't above shinin' up to a Injun womern even, such
bein' mebbe lonesome. Sam Woodhull wasn't. He seed one o' my fam'ly
wearin' a shiny thing on her neck. Hit were a piece o' gold Kit give me
atter I give you mine. He trades the womern out o' her necklace - fer all
o' two pesos, Mexican. But she not talkin' Missoury, an' him not talkin'
Shoshone, they don't git fur on whar the gold come from.

"She done told him she got hit from me, but he don't say a word ter me
erbout that; he's too wise. But she did tell him how Will Banion gits
some mules an' packs o' me. From then, plain guessin', he allows ter
watch Banion.

"My womern keeps sayin' - not meanin' no harm - thet thar's plenty more
necklaces in Cal'for; because she's heard me an' Banion say that word,
'Californy.'

"Slim guessin' hit were, Miss Molly, but enough fer a man keen as Sam,
that's not pertickler, neither. His plan was ter watch whar the packs
went. He knowed ef Banion went ter Oregon he'd not use packs.

"Huh! Fine time he'll have, follerin' that boy an' them mules with
wagons! I'm easier when I think o' that. Because, Miss Molly, ef them
two does meet away from friends o' both, thar's goin' to be trouble, an'
trouble only o' one kind."

Again Molly Wingate nodded, pale and silent.

"Well, a man has ter take keer o' his own self," went on Bridger. "But
that ain't all ner most what brung me here."

"What was it then?" demanded Molly. "A long ride!"

"Yeh. Eight hunderd mile out an' back, ef I see ye across the Snake,
like I allow I'd better do. I'm doin' hit fer you, Miss Molly. I'm ol'
an' ye're young; I'm a wild man an' ye're one o' God's wimern. But I had
sisters oncet - white they was, like you. So the eight hunderd mile is
light. But thet ain't why I come, neither, or all why, yit."

"What is it then you want to tell me? Is it about - him?"

Bridger nodded. "Yes. The only trouble is, I don't know what it is."

"Now you're foolish!"

"Shore I am! Ef I had a few drinks o' good likker mebbe I'd be
foolisher - er wiser. Leastways, I'd be more like I was when I plumb
forgot what 'twas Kit Carson said to me when we was spreein' at Laramie.
He had somethin' ter do, somethin' he was goin' ter do, somethin' I was
ter do fer him, er mebee-so, next season, atter he got East an' got
things done he was goin' ter do. Ye see, Kit's in the Army."

"Was it about - him?"

"That's what I kain't tell. I jest sorntered over here a few hunderd
mile ter ask ye what ye s'pose it is that I've plumb fergot, me not
havin' the same kind o' likker right now.

"When me an' Bill was havin' a few afore he left I was right on the
p'int o' rememberin' what it was I was fergittin'. I don't make no
doubt, ef Kit an' me er Bill an' me could only meet an' drink along day
er so hit'd all come plain to me. But all by myself, an' sober, an' not
sociable with Dang Yore Eyes jest now, I sw'ar, I kain't think o'
nothin'. What's a girl's mind fer ef hit hain't to think o' things?"

"It was about - him? It was about Kit Carson, something he had - was it
about the gold news?"

"Mebbe. I don't know."

"Did he - Mr. Banion - say anything?"

"Mostly erbout you, an' not much. He only said ef I ever got any mail
to send it ter the Judge in the Willamette settlements."

"He does expect to come back to Oregon!"

"How can I tell? My belief, he'd better jump in the Percific Ocean. He's
a damn fool, Miss Molly. Ef a man loves a womern, that's somethin' that
never orto wait. Yit he goes teeterin' erroun' like he had from now ter
doomsday ter marry the girl which he loves too much fer ter marry her.
That makes me sick. Yit he has resemblances ter a man, too, some
ways - faint resemblances, yes. Fer instance, I'll bet a gun flint these
here people that's been hearin' erbout the ford o' the Snake'd be a hull
lot gladder ef they knew Will Banion was erlong. Huh?"

Molly Wingate was looking far away, pondering many things.

"Well, anyways, hit's even-Stephen fer them both two now," went on
Bridger, "an' may God perteck the right an' the devil take the
him'mostest. They'll like enough both marry Injun wimern an' settle down
in Californy. Out o' sight, out o' mind. Love me little, love me long.
Lord Lovell, he's mounted his milk-white steed. Farewell, sweet sir,
partin' is such sweet sorrer; like ol' Cap'n Bonneville uster say. But
o' all the messes any fool bunch o' pilgrims ever got inter, this is the
worstest, an' hit couldn't be no worser.

"Now, Miss Molly, ye're a plumb diserpintment ter me. I jest drapped in
ter see ef ye couldn't tell me what hit was Kit done told me. But ye
kain't. Whar is yer boasted superiorness as a womern?

"But now, me, havin' did forty mile a day over that country yan, I need
sustenance, an' I'm goin' to see ef ol' Cap' Grant, the post trader, has
ary bit o' Hundson Bay rum left. Ef he has hit's mine, an' ef not, Jim
Bridger's a liar, an' that I say deliberate. I'm goin' to try to git
inter normal condition enough fer to remember a few plain, simple
truths, seein' as you all kain't. Way hit is, this train's in a hell of
a fix, an' hit couldn't be no worser."




CHAPTER XXXVIII

WHEN THE ROCKIES FELL


The news of Jim Bridger's arrival, and the swift rumor that he would
serve as pilot for the train over the dangerous portion of the route
ahead, spread an instantaneous feeling of relief throughout the hesitant
encampment at this, the last touch with civilization east of the
destination. He paused briefly at one or another wagon after he had made
his own animals comfortable, laughing and jesting in his own independent
way, _en route_ to fulfill his promise to himself regarding the trader's
rum.

In most ways the old scout's wide experience gave his dicta value. In
one assertion, however, he was wide of the truth, or short of it. So far
from things being as bad as they could be, the rapid events of that same
morning proved that still more confusion was to ensue, and that
speedily.

There came riding into the post from the westward a little party of
old-time mountain men, driving their near-spent mounts and packs at a
speed unusual even in that land of vast distances. They were headed by a
man well known in that vicinity who, though he had removed to California
since the fur days, made annual pilgrimage to meet the emigrant trains
at Fort Hall in order to do proselyting for California, extolling the
virtues of that land and picturing in direst fashion the horrors of the
road thence to Oregon and the worthlessness of Oregon if ever attained.
"Old Greenwood" was the only name by which he was known. He was an old,
old man, past eighty then, some said, with a deep blue eye, long white
hair, a long and unkempt beard and a tongue of unparalleled profanity.
He came in now, shouting and singing, as did the men of the mountains
making the Rendezvous in the old days.

"How, Greenwood! What brings ye here so late?" demanded his erstwhile
crony, Jim Bridger, advancing, tin cup in hand, to meet him. "Light.
Eat. Special, drink. How - to the old times!"

"Old times be damned!" exclaimed Old Greenwood. "These is new times."

He lifted from above the chafed hips of his trembling horse two sacks of
something very heavy.

"How much is this worth to ye?" he demanded of Bridger and the trader.
"Have ye any shovels? Have ye any picks? Have ye flour, meal,
sugar - anything?"

"Gold!" exclaimed Jim Bridger. "Kit Carson did not lie! He never did!"

And they did not know how much this was worth. They had no scales for
raw gold, nor any system of valuation for it. And they had no shovels
and no pickaxes; and since the families had come they now had very
little flour at Fort Hall.

But now they had the news! This was the greatest news that ever came to
old Fort Hall - the greatest news America knew for many a year, or the
world - the news of the great gold strikes in California.

Old Greenwood suddenly broke out, "Have we left the mines an' come this
fur fer nothin'? I tell ye, we must have supplies! A hundred dollars fer
a pick! A hundred dollars fer a shovel! A hundred dollars fer a pair o'
blankets! An ounce fer a box of sardines, damn ye! An ounce fer half a
pound o' butter! A half ounce fer a aig! Anything ye like fer anything
that's green! Three hundred fer a gallon o' likker! A ounce for a box o'
pills! Eight hundred fer a barrel o' flour! Same fer pork, same fer
sugar, same fer coffee! Damn yer picayune hides, we'll show ye what
prices is! What's money to us? We can git the pure gold that money's
made out of, an' git it all we want! Hooray fer Californy!"

He broke into song. His comrades roared in Homeric chorus with him,
passing from one to another of the current ditties of the mines. They
declared in unison, "Old Grimes is dead, that good old man!" Then they
swung off to yet another classic ballad:

_There was an old woman who had three, sons -
Joshua, James and John!
Josh got shot, and Jim got drowned,
And John got lost and never was found,
And that was the end of the woman's three sons,
Joshua, James and John_.

Having finished the obsequies of the three sons, not once but many
times, they went forward with yet another adaptation, following Old
Greenwood, who stood with head thrown back and sang with tones of
Bashan:

_Oh, then Susannah,
Don't you cry fer me!
I'm goin' to Californuah,
With my wash pan on my knee_.

The news of the gold was out. Bridger forgot his cups, forgot his
friends, hurried to Molly Wingate's cart again.

"Hit's true, Miss Molly!" he cried - "truer'n true hitself! Yan's men
just in from Californy, an' they've got two horseloads o' gold, an' they
say hit's nothin' - they come out fer supplies. They tried to stop Will
Banion - they did trade some with Woodhull. They're nigh to Humboldt by
now an' goin' hard. Miss Molly, gal, he's in ahead o' the hull country,
an' got six months by hisself! Lord give him luck! Hit'll be winter,
afore the men back East kin know. He's one year ahead - thanks ter yer
lie ter me, an ter Kit, and Kit's ter his General.

"Gold! Ye kain't hide hit an' ye kain't find hit an' ye kain't dig hit
up an' ye kain't keep hit down. Miss Molly, gal, I like ye, but how I do
wish't ye was a man, so's you an' me could celerbrate this here fitten!"

"Listen!" said the girl. "Our bugle! That's Assembly!"

"Yes, they'll all be there. Come when ye kin. Hell's a-poppin' now!"

The emigrants, indeed, deserted their wagons, gathering in front of the
stockade, group after group. There was a strange scene on the far-flung,
unknown, fateful borderlands of the country Senator McDuffie but now had
not valued at five dollars for the whole. All these now, half-way
across, and with the ice and snow of winter cutting off pursuit for a
year, had the great news which did not reach publication in the press of
New York and Baltimore until September of 1848. It did not attain notice
of the floor of Congress until December fifth of that year, although
this was news that went to the very foundation of this republic; which,
indeed, was to prove the means of the perpetuity of this republic.

The drunken hunters in their ragged wools, their stained skins, the
emigrants in their motley garb - come this far they knew not why, since
men will not admit of Destiny in nations - also knew not that they were
joying over the death of slavery and the life of the Union. They did not
know that now, in a flash, all the old arguments and citations over
slavery and secession were ancient and of no avail. The wagoners of the
Sangamon, in Illinois, gathered here, roistering, did not know that they
were dancing on the martyr's grave of Lincoln, or weaving him his crown,
or buying shot and shell for him to win his grievous ordeal, brother
against brother. Yet all those things were settled then, beyond that
range of the Rockies which senators had said they would not spend a
dollar to remove, "were they no more than ten feet high."

Even then the Rockies fell. Even then the great trains of the covered
wagons, driven by men who never heard of Destiny, achieved their places
on the unwritten scroll of Time.

The newcomers from beyond the Sierras, crazed with their easy fortune,
and now inflamed yet further by the fumes of alcohol, even magnified the
truth, as it then seemed. They spent their dust by the handful. They
asked for skillets, cooking pans, that they could wash more gold. They
wanted saws, nails, axes, hammers, picks. They said they would use the
wagon boxes for Long Toms. They said if men would unite in companies to
dam and divert the California rivers they would lay bare ledges of
broken gold which would need only scooping up. The miners would pay
anything for labor in iron and wood. They would buy any food and all
there was of it at a dollar a pound. They wanted pack horses to cross
the Humboldt Desert loaded. They would pay any price for men to handle
horses for a fast and steady flight.

Because, they said, there was no longer any use in measuring life by the
old standards of value. Wages at four bits a day, a dollar a day, two
dollars, the old prices - why, no man would work for a half hour for such
return when any minute he might lift twenty dollars in the hollow of an
iron spoon. Old Greenwood had panned his five hundred in a day. Men had
taken two thousand - three - in a week; in a week, men, not in a year!
There could be no wage scale at all. Labor was a thing gone by. Wealth,
success, ease, luxury was at hand for the taking. What a man had dreamed
for himself he now could have. He could overleap all the confining
limits of his life, and even if weak, witless, ignorant or in despair,
throw all that aside in one vast bound into attainment and enjoyment.

Rich? Why should any man remain poor? Work? Why should work be known,
save the labor of picking up pure gold - done, finished, delivered at
hand to waiting and weary humanity? Human cravings could no longer
exist. Human disappointment was a thing no more to be known. In
California, just yonder, was gold, gold, gold! Do you mind - can you
think of it, men? Gold, gold, gold! The sun had arisen at last on the
millennial day! Now might man be happy and grieve no more forever!

Arguments such as these did not lack and were not needed with the
emigrants. It took but a leap to the last conclusion. Go to California?
Why should they not go? Had it not been foreordained that they should
get the news here, before it was too late? Fifty miles more and they had
lost it. A week earlier and they would not have known it for a year. Go
to Oregon and plow? Why not go to California and dig in a day what a
plow would earn in a year?

Call it stubbornness or steadfastness, at least Jesse Wingate's strength
of resolution now became manifest. At first almost alone, he stayed the
stampede by holding out for Oregon in the council with his captains.

They stood near the Wingate wagon, the same which had carried him into
Indiana, thence into Illinois, now this far on the long way to Oregon.
Old and gray was Mary Ann, as he called his wagon, by now, the paint
ground from felly, spoke and hub, the sides dust covered, the tilt
disfigured and discolored. He gazed at the time-worn, sturdy frame with
something akin to affection. The spokes were wedged to hold them tight,
the rims were bound with hide, worn away at the edges where the tire
gave no covering, the tires had been reset again and again. He shook the
nearest wheel to test it.

"Yes," said he, "we all show wear. But I see little use in changing a
plan once made in a man's best sober judgment. For me, I don't think all
the world has been changed overnight."

"Oh, well, now," demanded Kelsey, his nomad Kentucky blood dominant,
"what use holding to any plan just for sake of doing it? If something
better comes, why not take it? That stands to reason. We all came out
here to better ourselves. These men have done in six months what you and
I might not do in ten years in Oregon."

"They'd guide us through to California, too," he went on. "We've no
guide to Oregon."

Even Caleb Price nodded.

"They all say that the part from here on is the worst - drier and drier,
and in places very rough. And the two fords of the Snake - well, I for
one wish we were across them. That's a big river, and a bad one. And if
we crossed the Blue Mountains all right, there's the Cascades, worse
than the Blues, and no known trail for wagons."

"I may have to leave my wagons," said Jesse Wingate, "but if I do I aim
to leave them as close to the Willamette Valley as I can. I came out to
farm. I don't know California. How about you, Hall? What do your
neighbors say?"

"Much as Price says. They're worn out and scared. They're been talking
about the Snake crossings ever since we left the Soda Springs. Half want
to switch for California. A good many others would like to go back
home - if they thought they'd ever get there!"

"But we've got to decide," urged Wingate. "Can we count on thirty wagons
to go through? Others have got through in a season, and so can we if we
stick. Price?"

His hesitant glance at his staunch trail friend's face decided the
latter.

"I'll stick for Oregon!" said Caleb Price. "I've got my wife and
children along. I want my donation lands."

"You, Hall?"

"I'll go with you," said Hall, the third column leader, slowly. "Like to
try a whirl in California, but if there's so much gold there next
year'll do. I want my lands."

"Why, there's almost ten thousand people in Oregon by now, or will be
next year," argued Wingate. "It may get to be a territory - maybe not a
state, but anyways a territory, some time. And it's free! Not like Texas
and all this new Mexican land just coming in by the treaty. What do you
say, finally, Kelsey?"

The latter chewed tobacco for some time.

"You put it to me hard to answer," said he. "Any one of us'd like to try
California. It will open faster than Oregon if all this gold news is
true. Maybe ten thousand people will come out next year, for all we
know."

"Yes, with picks and shovels," said Jesse Wingate. "Did ever you see
pick or shovel build a country? Did ever you see steel traps make or
hold one? Oregon's ours because we went out five years ago with wagons
and plows - we all know that. No, friends, waterways never held a
country. No path ever held on a river - that's for exploring, not for
farming. To hold a country you need wheels, you need a plow. I'm for
Oregon!"

"You put it strong," admitted Kelsey. "But the only thing that holds me
back from California is the promise we four made to each other when we
started. Our train's fallen apart little by little. I'm ole Kaintucky.
We don't rue back, and we keep our word. We four said we'd go through.
I'll stand by that, I'm a man of my word."

Imperiously as though he were Pizarro's self, he drew a line in the dust
of the trail.

"Who's for Oregon?" he shouted; again demanded, as silence fell, "This
side for Oregon!" And Kelsey of Kentucky, man of his word, turned the
stampede definitely.

Wingate, his three friends; a little group, augmenting, crossed for
Oregon. The women and the children stood aloof, - sunbonneted women,
brown, some with new-born trail babes in arms, silent as they always
stood. Across from the Oregon band stood almost as many men, for the
most part unmarried, who had not given hostages to fortune, and were
resolved for California. A cheer arose from these.

"Who wants my plow?" demanded a stalwart farmer, from Indiana, more than
fifteen hundred miles from his last home. "I brung her this fur into
this damned desert. I'll trade her fer a shovel and make one more try
fer my folks back home."

He loosed the wires which had bound the implement to the tail of his
wagon all these weary miles. It fell to the ground and he left it there.

"Do some thinking, men, before you count your gold and drop your plow.
Gold don't last, but the soil does. Ahead of you is the Humboldt Desert.
There's no good wagon road over the mountains if you get that far. The
road down Mary's River is a real gamble with death. Men can go through
and make roads - yes; but where are the women and the children to stay?
Think twice, men, and more than twice!" Wingate spoke solemnly.

"Roll out! Roll out!" mocked the man who had abandoned his plow. "This
way for Californy!"

The council ended in turmoil, where hitherto had been no more than a
sedate daily system. Routine, become custom, gave way to restless
movement, excited argument. Of all these hundreds now encamped on the
sandy sagebrush plain in the high desert there was not an individual who
was not affected in one way or another by the news from California, and
in most cases it required some sort of a personal decision, made
practically upon the moment. Men argued with their wives heatedly; women
gathered in groups, talking, weeping. The stoic calm of the trail was
swept away in a sort of hysteria which seemed to upset all their world
and all its old values.

Whether for Oregon or California, a revolution in prices was worked
overnight for every purchase of supplies. Flour, horses, tools,
everything merchantable, doubled and more than doubled. Some fifty
wagons in all now formed train for California, which, in addition to the
long line of pack animals, left the Sangamon caravan, so called, at best
little more than half what it had been the day before. The men without
families made up most of the California train.

The agents for California, by force of habit, still went among the
wagons and urged the old arguments against Oregon - the savage tribes on
ahead, the forbidding desolation of the land, the vast and dangerous
rivers, the certainty of starvation on the way, the risk of arriving
after winter had set in on the Cascade Range - all matters of which they
themselves spoke by hearsay. All the great West was then unknown.
Moreover, Fort Hall was a natural division point, as quite often a third
of the wagons of a train might be bound for California even before the
discovery of gold. But Wingate and his associates felt that the Oregon
immigration for that year, even handicapped as now, ultimately would run
into thousands.

It was mid-morning of the next blazing day when he beckoned his men to
him.

"Lets pull out," he said. "Why wait for the Californians to move? Bridger
will go with us across the Snake. 'Twill only be the worse the longer we
lie here, and our wagons are two weeks late now."

The others agreed. But there was now little train organization. The old
cheery call, "Catch up! Catch up!" was not heard. The group, the family,
the individual now began to show again. True, after their leaders came,
one after another, rattling, faded wagons, until the dusty trail that
led out across the sage flats had a tenancy stretched out for over a
half mile, with yet other vehicles falling in behind; but silent and
grim were young and old now over this last defection.

"About that old man Greenwood," said Molly Wingate to her daughter as
they sat on the same jolting seat, "I don't know about him. I've saw
elders in the church with whiskers as long and white as his'n, but you'd
better watch your hog pen. For me, I believe he's a liar. It like
enough is true he used to live back in the Rockies in Injun times, and
he may be eighty-five years old, as he says, and California may have a
wonderful climate, the way he says; but some things I can't believe.

"He says, now, he knows a man out in California, a Spanish man, who was
two hundred and fifty years old, and he had quite a lot of money, gold
and silver, he'd dug out of the mountains. Greenwood says he's known of


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