J. H. (John Hanson) Beadle.

Western wilds and the men who redeem them : an authentic narrative embracing an account of seven years travel and adventure in the far West ... online

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Online LibraryJ. H. (John Hanson) BeadleWestern wilds and the men who redeem them : an authentic narrative embracing an account of seven years travel and adventure in the far West ... → online text (page 15 of 62)
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old. Outlasting ninety average generations of men! And the fallen
ones are probably 1,000 years older.

And yet these are not the oldest trees in the world. In Africa
there grows a species of mimosa, which, by the same indications, is
proved to be 6,000 years old. A sapling when Adam was a strip-
ling! There seems to be no satisfactory theory to account for their
growth here. Climate and fertile soil may have done much ; but I
incline to the belief that they are a sort of relic of the age when
all vegetation was gigantic ; as one age of geology must have sub-
sided with easy grades to the next, we may have here the last vege-
table survivors of the age just before us, and after their fall, no more
big trees. Eight miles south of here is another collection, known as
the South Grove, and containing 1,380 trees in close order, averag-
ing larger than these, but the largest a foot or two less than the
largest here. But we have seen enough for the present to fill the
mind with images for years, and weary us in conjecture. Time
presses, and with to-morrow's earliest light we are off for Yosemite.

From the Big Trees we take the new or mountain road to Yosemite ;
instead of going back to the valley, we start directly southward across
Table Mountain, the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and smaller streams. This
route takes in the mining and fruit region, and a specimen of all that
has made California famous. The Sierras have a general course from
north to south, and a height of from ten to fourteen thousand feet ; and
from them successive rivers put out westward, each in its upper part
traversing a mountain gorge or clear-cut canon, which widens west-
ward to a broad valley bounded by slopes and foothills of genial clime
and rare fertility. Our southward route, one-third the way up the
slope of the Sierras, involves great variety ; we come back on the Big
Tree road to Vallecito, and there take a light wagon to cross Table
Mountain and the Stanislaus. Parenthetically, the names in this ac-
count are either Spanish or Indian, and pronounced thus : $<an-is-lowh,
Val-le-cee-to, Tu-o^-un-ny, Mo-M-un-ny, Gar-ro-ta, Man-zan-ee-ta,
Cap-i-ton,, Cal-a-ue-ras, and Yo-sera-i-ta.

From the brow of Table Mountain we look down two thousand feet
upon the Stanislaus, a narrow silvery band flowing down a rocky
trough. The canon wall seems to stand at a threatening angle of sev-
enty degrees; but down this slope the stage road goes by a zig-zag,
first out upon a projecting shelf, where two feet farther would send us
to destruction, and then into a groove in the rocky wall. Down this
combination of dips, spurs, angles, and sinuosities, the driver takes us
at full trot, with lines taut and foot on brake, ready to check at a mo-


ment's notice ; for an instant moderating to a walk as we make the out-
ward turn on some rocky flat, then loosing his team to a full run as we
shoot into the inward grooves, the coach bounding over bowlders or re-
acting from the stone bulwarks which line the most dangerous places.
We cringe and close our eyes in many places, or cling to the side of the


coach, half ashamed of the fear our acts betray ; but before we can
question, or exclaim a dozen times, we are at the bottom, and ready to
ferry the Stanislaus. The narrow band, as seen from above, has
widened to a considerable river, now quite low ; but in winter and
spring the melting snow from the notched hills 6,000 feet above
swells this stream to a destructive torrent, rising fifty feet above its


present level. On the south side another mountain-grooved road
leads up 2,500 feet to the divide between the Stanislaus and Tuo-
lumne. No running here, but with slow steps the steaming horses
drag us along, and we lounge back over the coach seats, gazing al-
ternately at frowning cliffs above and the river sinking in dim per-
spective below. No wonder that California is producing a new race
of original poets; for, surely, if a man have the poetic instinct, this
clime and scenery will bring it out in tropic luxuriance, and cause
his genius to put forth wondrous growths of freshness and quaint
originality. This society, these scenes and this clime Italy and
Switzerland combined are the true home of poetry and romance.

Two hours of toil bring us to the summit, and thence down a bar-
ren hollow a sudden turn reveals an oval valley of rare beauty, in
the midst of which is the pretty town of Columbia, fourteen miles
from where we changed coaches. Here we enter the great region of
placer and drift mining, once alive with twenty thousand miners, and
musical with the hum of an exciting and curious industry. For six
miles we run among washed-out-placers, beds of " tailings " and
"poor dirt;" wind around sluice-boxes, or cross ditches which lead in
the water from a main canal which begins fifty miles up the Stanis-
laus. At intervals all day we encounter the great ditch of the
" Union Water Company," sometimes winding along the mountain
side in rocky flumes, sometimes passing beneath us in deep cuts
through narrow ridges, and as often far above our heads in mid-air
aqueducts carried on trestlework for hundreds of feet across a rocky
hollow to me a curiosity almost as great as any in the scenery.
This ditch, built by an incorporated company at an expense of two
million dollars, begins at the very head of the Stanislaus, where that
stream is formed by affluents from the melting snows of the Sierras.
It is sixty miles in length, winding a devious course to preserve its
level, along the mountains and through gorges down to the foothills;
furnishes water to a hundred mining camps, and at last, after being-
used, collected, cleared in reservoirs, and used again half a dozen
times, its water, yellow with the refuse of pay dirt, or red with iron
dust, spreads in a dozen irrigating streams upon the lower valley.
Careful study to select the route, skillful engineering to lay it
out, economy of space and material, perseverance and capital
all spurred on by the love of gold combined to produce the

Mining here began with the " rocker," many of which we see even
now rotting along the gulches; next came the "long torn," which




shares the same fate, and lastly was introduced " piping " and com-
plete hydraulic raining. Little by little this great industry has
passed away ; the works are fallen to decay ; the placers are mostly
worked out ; three-fourths of the mining camps are abandoned ; picks
and " long toms " lie among rocks and debris, and California, from
an annual production of
forty millions in gold, has
sunk to half that amount.
" Ranching " came next, and
all this industry is not lost ;
the flumes and water are used
for irrigation, without which
the smaller vegetables and
fruits are not a perfect

Six miles through
mines bring us to Sonora,
where we gladly take a Con-
cord coach for the rest of
the trip. Sonora Valley,
opening to the south-west,
enjoys an Italian clime, and
from February to December
is glorified by flowers of all
hues. Here we see giant
oleanders, fifteen feet high,
which grow out doors all the
year, and gardens excelling
the utmost flights of my
fancy. Apples, peaches,
pears, apricots, figs, damsons, grapes, and quinces we see growing lux-
uriantly in the same inclosure, many now ripe, and affording most
grateful refreshment to our heated excursionists. All along the route
to Yosemite fruit is abundant and cheap all one can eat for ten
cents growing even to within half a day's staging of the valley.

But this beauty is brief. Right beside these blooming gardens,
right up against the walls, are worked-out mines, hundreds of acres
of bare boulders in beds, all the soil " piped " away in search of the
" pay dirt," which lies below the soil and upon the rocks. A massive
brick church stands in the south part of the town, around it lies an
acre of ground dotted with tombstones, the city grave-yard, and up



to the very walls of the inclosure the dirt is washed away down to an
unsightly mass of bare, gray rocks, leaving the church-yard by rare
grace perched upon an eminence ten feet above the placer flats.
There the rude forefathers of this mountain hamlet dead miners by
scores lie in "pay dirt'- fit resting place and their living com-
panions seem to have barely respected their last repose. Over all
this region, with rare exceptions, is a peculiar air of abandon and
decay; worked-out placers, deserted cabins, dry flumes and sluice-
boxes falling to pieces, look as though the site were haunted by the
ghost of former prosperity. Fifteen miles of comfortable staging in
the valley of the Tuolumne bring us to Chinese Camp, originally set-
tled by Mongolians working " old diggings," but since mining gave
place to agriculture, settled by the whites. A few hundred Chinese
remain, and as we pass the outskirts of the town, we note a rude
"frame tent and beside it a dozen China women chattering and howl-
ing alternately, and learn that a sick Chinaman has been removed
there to die. These people never allow one to die in their cabins, if
it can be decently prevented.

Here we change again to the stoutest of mountain wagons; for, we
are kindly assured, all the pounding we have suffered is child's play
to what is to come. Fifteen miles of stony up-grade bring us to Gar-
rote, which we reach at nine P. M., and gladly sink to sleep. It
seems that we have but closed our eyes to half forget in sleep the
beauties or toils of the way, when at three A. M. the call comes to take
a fresh start. We take the invariable " eye-opener " of ice-cooled Cal-
ifornia white wine, and after a hasty breakfast are off into a dense
forest, the daylight breaking grandly through the green arches and
casting great scallops of light and shade to cheer the still sleepy trav-
elers. We are out of the foothills, and upon the spurs of the mount-
ains. The streams are clear as crystal and delightfully cold, for we
are far above the mining districts and near their snowy sources.

Vast forests of redwoods and sugar pine, the trees from two to eight
feet in thickness, shade the way. At every pause we hear a strange,
solemn murmur from far above our heads, a gentle swell as the mount-
ain breeze thrills the tree tops, like the far-off diapason of a mon-
strous organ, or a gentle tremulo stealing upon the senses with a
music all the more subtle that it can not be described. My compan-
ion, Mr. J. W. Bookwalter, of Springfield, Ohio, compares the scenery
to that of a Florida forest of a winter morning. One by one all who
started with us have stopped to rest, but being old travelers, we have
held on, and to-day have the coach to ourselves.


Before noon we enter the Tuolumne Grove, where many trees are as
large as the average at Calaveras, but none within less than two or
three feet of the largest there. Over all this part of the Sierras, prob-
ably forty miles each way, the timber is immense. We drive between
two trees, each twenty feet in thickness. We find one stump forty
feet high and twenty-six feet thick, and hundreds scattered for miles
along the way from ten to eighteen feet thick, and from two hundred
to two hundred and fifty feet high. If the traveler does not wish to
make the diversion by Calaveras Grove, he can still enjoy the sight
of tall timber here, on the direct route to Yosemite. Thirty-
seven miles from Garrote bring us to Tamarack Flat, the highest point
on the road, the end of staging, and no wonder. The remaining five
miles down into the valley must be made on horseback.

While transferring baggage very little is allowed to pack-mules,
the guide and driver amuse us with accounts of former tourists, partic-
ularly, of Anna Dickinson, who rode astride into the valley, and
thereby demonstrated her right to vote, drink " cocktails/ bear arms,
and work the roads, without regard to age, sex, or previous condition
of servitude. They tell us with great glee of Olive Logan, who,
when told she must ride thus into the valley, tried practising on the
back of the coach seats, and when laughed at for her pains, took her
revenge by savagely abusing every thing on the road. When Mrs.
Cady Stanton was here a few weeks before, she found it impossible to
fit herself to the saddle, averring she had not been in one for thirty
years. Our accomplished guide, Mr. F. A. Brightman, saddled seven
different mules for her (she states the fact in her report), and still
she would not risk it, and "while the guides laughed behind their
horses, and even the mules winked knowingly, and shook their long
ears comically, still she stood a spectacle for men and donkeys." In
vain the skillful Brightman assured her he had piloted five thousand
persons down that fearful incline, and not an accident. She would
not be persuaded, and walked the entire distance, equal to twenty
miles on level ground.

While we pause, a brief note on the route is in order. From Mil-
ton, by way of the Big Trees to Yosemite, is 150 miles; and from
Yosemite back by Chinese Camp direct is 109 miles, making a total
of staging of 259 miles. Add 100 by rail going to Milton, and
twenty by rail and 100 by steamer returning, and we have a total of
220 by rail and steamer, and a grand total of 479 miles in going
and return. For all this we pay the moderate price of forty-six dol-
lars per man. To this must be added three dollars per day for nee-



essaries upon the road, and the same for each day in the valley for
guide and horse ; that is, if you go to see all that is there, and if
you do not, you had better not go at all. But hundreds of visitors
never go out of the little open flat around the hotel, contenting them-
selves with a general view of distant wonders. Horace Greeley,
when he visited the valley, rode sixty miles on horseback, though he
had not been in a saddle for twenty years, reach-
ing the hotel at midnight completely exhausted,
and minus at least two square feet of abraded
cuticle. He went supperless to bed, and having

an engage-
ba* ' '~'

ment to fill,
left at noon
next day, and
the second
night there-
after lectured
at a town
nearly two
hundred miles
away. When
the railroad
is completed
southward to
the Merced, it
i s estimated
that a first-
class stage-
road could be
built from the
crossing right
up the Mer-
ced to the
Yosemite, for

$100,000, and certainly the State could not make a better investment.
The road would have to be blasted out of the foot of the cliffs along
the gateway, where the Merced flows out of Yosemite ; below, the
grade would not be difficult, and it would save two-thirds of the wear
at present required. All that man can do has been done on the
present route, and still the trip is very exhausting.

With all set and every thing tightly "cinched," we took the start



with guide in front, finding the first mile and a half to Prospect
Peak not particularly difficult. A sudden turn brings us in view of
the valley, but little is to be seen as yet; then we emerge from the
timber upon a shelving rock, and the guide stops for us to take our
first view at Prospect Peak. We walked out upon the rock, which
becomes level as we near the edge, with a feeling of disappointment ;
but suddenly, when far enough to see below, we paused and trem-
bled. Astonishment and awe kept us silent for a moment. At our
feet yawned a chasm bounded on this side by a precipice with sheer
descent of near two thousand feet ; on the other a mist-enveloped
cascade poured from heights so high and dim, that to our eyes it
seemed tumbling from the clouds. Far, far below, the Merced
foamed through the rocky gateway which forms the outlet of the val-
ley, while the whole wall below us seemed fringed with pines, jut-
ting from every crevice, and growing apparently straight into the air
from the solid wall of rock.

We turn again to the left into a sort of stairway in the mountain
side, and cautiously tread the stony defile downward; at places over
loose boulders, at others around or over the points of shelving rock,
where one false step would send horse and rider a mangled mass two
thousand feet below, and more rarely over ground covered with
bushes and grade moderate enough to afford a brief rest. It is im-
possible to repress fear. Every nerve is tense; the muscles involun-
tarily make ready for a spring, and even the bravest lean timorously
toward the mountain side and away from the cliff, with foot loose in
stirrup and eye alert, ready for a spring in case of peril. The thought
is vain : should the horse go, the rider would infallibly go with him.
And the poor brutes seem to fully realize their danger and ours, as
with wary steps and tremulous ears, emitting almost human sighs,
with more than brute caution they deliberately place one foot before
the other, calculating seemingly at each step the desperate chances,
and intensely conscious of our mutual peril. We learn with surprise
that of all the thousands who have made this passage, not one has
been injured. Such a route would be impassable to any horse but
these mountain-trained mustangs, to whom a broken stone staircase
would be as safe as a macadamized road.

At last comes a gentler slope, then a crystal spring, dense grove
and grassy plat, and we are down into the valley. Gladly we take
the stage, and are whirled along in the gathering twilight. To our
right, Bridal Vail Fall, shedding a brilliant sheen in the twilight;
further up Inspiration Point, and to the left El Capitan rearing his


bare, bald head 3,300 feet above us, beautifully, purely gray, in clear
outline against the rosy sky. Darkness shuts out all beauty by the
time we reach Hutehings' Hotel, and we gladly sink to rest, with little
thought of the wonderland we are in.

We rise to view a new creation, as it seems a rift in the earth five
miles long and nearly two miles wide in the center, walled in by ever-
during granite. Here is a minor cosmos, where nature seems to have
proceeded on a more extensive plan, as if determined to outdo all in
the outer world of common-place. A forenoon we give to rest and
gazing, for there is enough to be seen for that time from the porch of
the hotel. After noon we start out northward, to the foot of Yosem-
ite Falls, one and a half miles from us. The cliffs in front rise
nearly 3,000 feet above us, and all along the perpendicular wall we
see the marks of ancient glaciers and waves wearing smooth the rocky
face ; but above, where first the peaks rose from the sea of primal
chaos, rough and frowning battlements attest the violence of the rent
which divided this from the southern side. About half way up the
cliff is a small offset, where grows a beautiful pine, with branch and
foliage forming a perfect cone, seeming like the larger growth of orna-
mental shrubbery. Yet that shrub is a monster tree 160 feet high,
and above it the perpendicular cliff is just eleven times its height.
Go into the forests of Ohio or Indiana and select the tallest tree, and
remember that the upper division merely of Yosemite Fall is at least
ten times that height! Or imagine ten Niagaras piled one above

A thick forest of pines and firs fills the center of the valley, and
through it we follow up the bed, now almost dry, of Yosemite Creek,
the bowlders increasing regularly in size as we proceed, until at last
the way is blocked by vast masses of granite, hurled, as in Titanic
war, from the cliffs above. The immense wall gives back, leaving an
inlet into the mountain, the sides of which, like buttresses, approach
each other at a sharp angle, and down one side of this inlet pours the
Yosemite, now shrunk to a mere rill. But in May and June the
congealed floods, on heights 5,000 feet above, are loosed and fill the
high flume with a raging torrent. Then great liquid volumes fall
from the first height, 1,600 feet, strike and break to a thousand
splintered streams, lacing all the second fall for 400 feet with daz-
zling lines of foam ; then gather in another flume, take another
plunge, and rebounding from the cliff in a million comminuted
streams, roar into the basin below. Large logs from the mountain
forests plunge a thousand feet without check and splinter into frag-



raents, but sometimes pass entire, and with many tumblings are
drifted far down the plain. The three divisions of the fall are, re-
spectively, sixteen hundred, four hundred and thirty-four, and six
hundred and thirty-three feet, making the total fall two thousand six
hundred and sixty-seven feet. Climbing for two hours, we reach the
highest accessible ledge, inscribe our names, and return.

A cool evening follows, and on the porch at Hutchings' I rest
and gaze and
think. To the
north-west is
El Cap it an,
glorified in the
s o f t moon-
light; oppo-
site Yosemite
Fall, to the
right, the
Royal Arches,
and all around
the monster
with shrubby
fringe, till we
seem walled in
far down in
the depths of
earth, and in-
ask : What if
ancient order
suddenly re-
turn, and these
cliffs again
unite, as sci-
ence tells us

they were once united? What ages of cosmic process were re-
quired to bring about this wondrous combination which I can sur-
vey in one quick glance; what infinite forces, working silently in
God's laboratory for inconceivable ages, produced all this scene my eye
can sweep over in ten seconds? What ages; what unending aeons of
duration an immensity clipped out of eternity were required to



perfect this work? Can the mind with utmost stretch revert to a
period when all was ethereal, gaseous ; when earth was a nebulous
mass ; when Cosmos first had being then the time required for it to
become a molten mass ; the ages thence to solidity the first crust
the shrinking, the ridging, the upheaval ; then the earthquake wave
which rent these cliffs asunder; then the convulsions lasting through
millions of years, and ending in the mighty subsidence in the bottom
of this fissure crevice! Then came the age of erosion, the glaciers
successively writing their history on these rocky tablets ; the ages of
wear required to polish smooth these granite walls, and symmetrize
the facings of the cliffs. At last came the age of disintegration, of
mold, of soil, of growth, of animals, and last of all man the last by
all reasoning the shortest.

The next day is set for the great excursion to Mirror Lake and
Nevada and Vernal Falls; and, after a hasty breakfast, we are off
for the most toilsome and yet most enjoyable day to be spent in the
valley. Saddles are carefully set, and mules " cinched " with these
mountain girths, eight inches wide, until it seems they can scarcely
breathe ; for we are to have perils of water and mountain perils by
the way. We cross the crystal Merced, of deceitful depth it looks
four feet and is really ten and lively with mountain trout, in front
of the hotel, and take our way eastward up the valley, with the
Royal Arches to our left. In some convulsions past, the granite has
fallen from the north side in successive sections in such shape as to
form the likeness of five great arches, one within the other, half a
mile long from west to east, and rising in the center 1,500 feet.

Standing on the northern shore of Mirror Lake, we view, reflected
in the lake from right to left, South Dome, Old Man of the Mount-
ains, Cloud's Rest, Mount Watkins, and the Watch Eye, all notable
and noble peaks upon the south side, rising from 2,000 to 4,000 feet
above the cliffs that bound the valley. Crossing in a skiff to the
south side, we see, reflected from the north, Mount Washington,
Mount Calhoun, and the far-reaching wall of the lower valley. The
lake is a great crystal map of all the adjacent hills and cliffs, beau-
tiful only because of beautiful surroundings, not remarkable in itself,
but dazzling by reflection of greater glories.

From Mirror Lake we come back on the same trail a little way,
then straight south across the valley till we are directly under the
southern cliff, which, instead of being perpendicular, here overhangs,
and seems momentarily to threaten destruction ; then eastward up
what may be called the main branch of the Merced to the head of


the valley. The smaller branch comes in from the north-east, under

Online LibraryJ. H. (John Hanson) BeadleWestern wilds and the men who redeem them : an authentic narrative embracing an account of seven years travel and adventure in the far West ... → online text (page 15 of 62)