Thomas Dykes Beasley.

A Tramp Through the Bret Harte Country online

. (page 1 of 5)
Online LibraryThomas Dykes BeasleyA Tramp Through the Bret Harte Country → online text (page 1 of 5)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by David A. Schwan


By Thomas Dykes Beasley

Author of "The Coming of Portola"

With A Foreword by Charles A. Murdock

Above the pines the moon was slowly drifting,
The river sang below;
The dim Sierras, far beyond, uplifting
Their minarets of snow.
- Dickens in Camp.

The Chapters



Reminiscences of Bret Harte. "Plain Language From Truthful
James." The Glamour of the Old Mining Towns

Inception of the Tramp. Stockton to Angel's Camp. Tuttletown
and the "Sage of Jackass Hill"

Tuolumne to Placerville. Charm of Sonora and Fascination of
San Andreas and Mokelumne Hill

J. H. Bradley and the Cary House. Ruins of Coloma. James W.
Marshall and His Pathetic End

Auburn to Nevada City Via Colfax and Grass Valley. Ben
Taylor and His Home

E. W. Maslin and His Recollections of Pioneer Days in Grass
Valley. Origin of Our Mining Laws

Grass Valley to Smartsville. Sucker Flat and Its Personal

Smartsville to Marysville. Some Reflections on Automobiles
and "Hoboes"

Bayard Taylor and the California of Forty-nine. Bret Harte
and His Literary Pioneer Contemporaries

The Illustrations

Ruins of Coloma, a Name "Forever Associated With the Wildest
Scramble for Gold the World Has Ever Been"

Map of the "Bret Harte Country," Showing the Route Taken by
the Writer, With the Towns, Important Rivers, and County
Boundaries of the Country Traversed

The Tuttletown Hotel, Tuttletown; a Wooden Building Erected
in the Early Fifties

Mokelumne River; "Whatever the Meaning of the Indian Name,
One May Rest Assured It Stands for Some Form of Beauty"

"A Mining Convention at Placerville"

South Fork of the American River, Coloma. The Bend in the
River Is the Precise Spot Where Gold Was First Discovered in

Ben Taylor and His Home, Grass Valley, Showing the Spruce He
Planted Nearly Half a Century Ago

E. W. Maslin in the Garden of His Alameda Home

Angel's Hotel, Angel's Camp, Erected in 1852, as was the
Wells Fargo Building Which Faces it Across the Street

Main Hoist of the Utica Mine, Angel's Camp, Situated on the
Summit of a Hill Overlooking the Town

The Stanislaus River, Near Tuttletown, "Running in a Deep
and Splendid Canon"

Jackass Hill, Tuttletown. The Road to the Left Leads to the
Former Home of "Jim" Gillis

Home of Mrs. Swerer, Tuttletown. The Hotel and This Dwelling
Comprise All That Is Habitable of the Tuttletown of Bret

Main Street, Sonora, "So Shaded by Trees That Buildings Are

Sonora, Looking Southeast. "No Matter From What Direction
You Approach It, Sonora Seems to Lie Basking in the Sun"

Main Street, San Andreas, "During the Mid-day Heat, Almost

Metropolitan Hotel, San Andreas; in the Bar-room of Which
Occurred the "Jumping Frog" Incident

Mokelumne Hotel, on the Summit of Mokelumne Hill, and at the
Head of the Famous Chili Gulch

Placerville, the County Seat of El Dorado County, From the
Road to Diamond Springs

The Cary House, Placerville. "It Was Here That Horace
Greeley Terminated His Celebrated Stage Ride With Hank Monk"

Middle Fork of the American River, Near Auburn, and Half a
Mile Above Its Junction With the North Fork

An Apple Orchard, Grass Valley, "The Trees Growing in the
Grass, as in England and the Atlantic States"

The Western Hotel, Grass Valley. "The Well and Pump Add a
Quaint and Characteristic Touch"

A Bit of Picturesque Nevada City, Embracing the Homes of Its
Leading Citizens


In California's imaginary Hall of Fame, Bret Harte must be accorded
a prominent, if not first place. His short stories and dialect poems
published fifty years ago made California well known the world over
and gave it a romantic interest conceded no other community. He saw the
picturesque and he made the world see it. His power is unaccountable if
we deny him genius. He was essentially an artist. His imagination gave
him vision, a new life in beautiful setting supplied colors and rare
literary skill painted the picture.

His capacity for absorption was marvelous. At the age of about twenty he
spent less than a year in the foot-hills of the Sierras, among pioneer
miners, and forty-five years of literary output did not exhaust his
impressions. He somewhere refers to an "eager absorption of the strange
life around me, and a photographic sensitiveness, to certain scenes
and incidents." "Eager absorption," "photographic sensitiveness," a
rich imagination and a fine literary style, largely due to his mother,
enabled him to win at his death this acknowledgment from the "London
Spectator:" "No writer of the present day has struck so powerful and
original a note as he has sounded."

Francis Bret Harte was born in Albany, New York, August 25, 1836.
His father was a teacher and translator; his mother a woman of high
character and cultivated tastes. His father having died, he, when nine,
became an office boy and later a clerk. In 1854 he came to California to
join his mother who had married again, arriving in Oakland in March of
that year. His employment for two years was desultory. He worked in a
drug store and also wrote for Eastern magazines. Then he went to Alamo
in the San Ramon Valley as tutor - a valued experience. Later in 1856 he
went to Tuolumne County where, among other things, he taught school, and
may have been an express messenger. At any rate, he stored his memory
with material that ten years later made him and the whole region famous.

In 1857 he went to Humboldt County where his sister was living. He was
an interesting figure, gentlemanly, fastidious, reserved, sensitive,
with a good fund of humor, a pleasant voice and a modest manner. He
seemed poorly fitted for anything that needed doing. He was willing, for
I saw him digging post holes and building a fence with results somewhat
unsatisfactory. He was more successful as tutor for two of my boy
friends. He finally became printers' devil in the office of the
"Northern Californian," where he learned the case, and incidentally
contributed graceful verse and clever prose.

He returned to San Francisco early in 1860 and found work on the "Golden
Era," at first as compositor and soon as writer. In May, 1864, he left
the "Golden Era" and joined others in starting "The Californian." Two
months later he was made editor of the new "Overland Monthly." The
second number contained "The Luck of Roaring Camp." It attracted wide
attention as a new note. Other stories and poems of merit followed.
Harte's growing reputation burst in full bloom when in 1870 he filled a
blank space in the "Overland" make-up with "The Heathen Chinee." It
was quoted on the floor of the Senate and gained world-wide fame. He
received flattering offers and felt constrained to accept the best. In
February, 1871, he left California. A Boston publisher had offered
him $10,000 for whatever he might write in the following year. Harte
accepted, but the output was small.

For seven years he wrote spasmodically, eking out his income by
lecturing and newspaper work. Life was hard. In 1878 he sailed for
Europe, having been appointed consular agent at Crefeld, Prussia, about
forty miles north of Cologne. In 1880 he was made Consul at Glasgow,
where he remained five years. His home thereafter was London, where he
continued his literary work until his death in March, 1902.

His complete works comprise nineteen volumes. His patriotic verse is
fervid, his idyls are graceful and his humorous verse delightful. The
short story he made anew.

Harte's instincts and habits were good. He had the artistic temperament
and some of its incidental weaknesses. He acknowledged himself
"constitutionally improvident," and a debt-burdened life is not easy.
His later years were pathetic. Those who knew and appreciated him
remember him fondly. California failing to know him, wrongs herself.

Charles A. Murdock.


A desire to obtain, at first hand, any possible information in regard to
reminiscences of Bret Harte, Mark Twain and others of the little
coterie of writers, who in the early fifties visited the mining camps
of California and through stories that have become classics, played
a prominent part in making "California" a synonym for romance, led to
undertaking the tramp of which this brief narrative is a record. The
writer met with unexpected success, having the good fortune to meet men,
all over eighty years of age, who had known - in some cases intimately
Bret Harte, Mark Twain, "Dan de Quille," Prentice Mulford, Bayard Taylor
and Horace Greeley.

It seems imperative that a relation of individual experiences - however
devoid of stirring incident and adventure - should be written in the
first person. At the same time, the writer of this unpretentious story
of a summer's tramp cannot but feel that he owes his readers - should he
have any an apology for any avoidable egotism. His excuse is that, no
twit notwithstanding ding the glamour attaching to the old mining towns,
it is almost incredible how little is known of them by the average
Californian; for the Eastern tourist there is more excuse, since the
foot-hills of the Sierras lie outside the beaten tracks of travel.
He has, therefore, assumed that "a plain unvarnished tale" of actual
experiences might not be without interest to the casual reader; and
possibly might incite in him a desire to see for himself a country
not only possessed of rare beauty, but absolutely unique in its

But the point to be emphasized is that the glamour is not a thing of the
past: it is there now. Nay, to a person possessed of any imagination,
the ruins - say, of Coloma - appeal in all probability far stronger than
would the actual town itself in the days when it seethed with bustle and
excitement. Not to have visited the old mining towns is not to have
seen the "heart" of California, or felt its pulsations. It is not to
understand why the very name "California" still stirs the blood and
excites the imagination throughout the civilized world.

If this brief narrative should induce anyone to "gird up his loins,"
shoulder his pack and essay a similar pilgrimage, the author will feel
that he has not been unrewarded. And if a man over threescore years of
age can tramp through seven counties and return, in spite of intense
heat, feeling better and stronger than when he started, a young fellow
in the hey-day of life and sound of wind and limb surely ought not to be

Thomas Dykes Beasley.

A Tramp Through the Bret Harte Country

Chapter I

Reminiscences of Bret Harte. "Plain Language From Truthfulful James."
The Glamour of the Old Mining Towns

It is forty-four years since the writer met the author of "The Luck
of Roaring Camp" - that wonderful blending within the limits of a short
story of humor, pathos and tragedy - which, incredible as it may seem,
met with but a cold reception from the local press, and was even branded
as "indecent" and "immodest!"

On the occasion referred to, I was strolling on Rincon Hill - at that
time the fashionable residence quarter of San Francisco - in company with
Mr. J. H. Wildes, whose cousin, the late Admiral Frank Wildes, achieved
fame in the battle of Manila Bay. Mr. Wildes called my attention to an
approaching figure and said: "Here comes Bret Harte, a man of unusual
literary ability. He is having a hard struggle now, but only needs the
opportunity, to make a name for himself."

That opportunity arrived almost immediately. In the September number of
the Overland Monthly, 1870, of which magazine Mr. Harte was then editor,
appeared "Plain Language from Truthful James," or "The Heathen Chinee,"
as the poem was afterwards called. A few weeks later, to my amazement,
while turning the pages of Punch in the Mercantile Library, I came
across "The Heathen Chinee;" an unique compliment so far as my
recollection of Punch serves. To this generous and instantaneous
recognition of genius may be attributed in no small measure the rapid
distinction won by Bret Harte in the world of letters.

Mr. Harte read his "Heathen Chinee" to Mrs. Wildes, some time before it
was published. This lady, a woman of brilliant attainments and one who
had a host of friends in old San Francisco, possessed the keenest sense
of humor. Mr. Harte greatly valued her critical judgment. He was in
the habit of reading his stories and poems to her for her opinion
and decision, before publication, and it may well be that her hearty
laughter and warm approval helped to strengthen his wavering opinion of
the lines which convulsed Anglo-Saxondom; for no one was more surprised
than he at the sensation they created. He had even offered the poem for
publication to Mr. Ambrose Bierce, then editing the San Francisco News
Letter; but Mr. Bierce, recognizing its merit, returned it to Mr. Harte
and prevailed upon him to publish it in his own magazine.

Had one at that time encountered Mr. Harte in Piccadilly or Fifth
Avenue, he would simply have been aware of a man dressed in perfect
taste, but in the height of the prevailing fashion. On the streets of
San Francisco, however, Bret Harte was always a notable figure, from the
fact that the average man wore "slops," devoid alike of style or cut,
and usually of shiny broadcloth. Broad-brimmed black felt hats were the
customary headgear, completing a most funereal costume.

Mr. Harte impressed me as being singularly modest and utterly devoid
of any form of affectation. To be well dressed in a period when little
attention was paid clothes by the San Franciscan, might, it is true, in
some men have suggested assumption of an air of superiority; but with
Mr. Harte, to dress well was simply a natural instinct. His long,
drooping moustache and the side-whiskers of the time - incongruous as
the comparison may seem - called to mind the elder Sothern as "Lord
Dundreary." His natural expression was pensive, even sad. When one
considers that pathos and tragedy, perhaps even more than humor, pervade
his stories, that was not surprising.

I had but recently arrived from England - a mere lad. California was
still the land of gold and romance; the glamour with which Bret Harte
surrounded both, that bids fair to be immortal, held me enthralled.
Angel's, Rough and Ready, Sandy Bar, Poker Flat, Placerville, Tuolumne
and old Sonora represented to me enchanted ground. Fate and life's
vicissitudes prevented, except in imagination, a knowledge of the Sierra
foot-hill counties; but in the back of my head all these years had
persisted a determination to, at some time, visit a region close to the
heart of every old Californian, and what better way than on foot?

In spite of Pullman cars and automobiles - or, rather, perhaps on account
of them - the only way to see a country, to get into touch with Nature
and meet the inhabitants on the dead level of equality and human
sympathy, is to use Nature's method of locomotion. Equipped with a stout
stick - with a view to dogs - a folding kodak camera, and your "goods
and chattels" slung in a haversack across your shoulders, you feel
independent of timecards and "routes;" and sally forth into the world
with the philosophical determination to take things as they come; keyed
to a pleasurable pitch of excitement by the knowledge that "Adventure"
walks with you hand-in-hand, and that the "humors of the road" are yours
for the seeing and understanding.

Chapter II

Inception of the Tramp. Stockton to Angel's Camp. Tuttletown and the
"Sage of Jackass Hill"

Following as near as might be the route of the old Argonauts, I avoided
trains, and on a warm summer night boarded the Stockton boat. In the
early morning you are aware of slowly rounding the curves of the San
Joaquin River. Careful steering was most essential, as owing to the dry
season the river was unusually low. The vivid greens afforded by the
tules and willows that fringe the river banks, and the occasional
homestead surrounded by trees, with its little landing on the edge of
the levee, should delight the eye of the artist.

I lost no time in Stockton and headed for Milton in the foot-hills,
just across the western boundary of Calaveras County. The distance
was variously estimated by the natives at from twenty to forty
miles - Californians are careless about distances, as in other matters.
Subsequently I entered it in my note book as a long twenty-eight.
Eighteen miles out from Stockton, at a place called Peters, which is
little more than a railway junction, you leave the cultivated land
and enter practically a desert country, destitute of water, trees,
undergrowth and with but a scanty growth of grass. I ate my lunch at the
little store and noted with apprehension that the thermometer registered
104 degrees in the shaded porch. I am not likely to forget that pull of
ten miles and inwardly confessed to a regret that I had not taken the
train to Milton. Accustomed on "hikes" to a thirst not surpassed by
anything "east of Suez," I never before appreciated the significance of
the word "parched" - the "tongue cleaving to the roof of the mouth."

At Milton one enters the land of romance. What was even more appreciable
at the time, it marks the limit of the inhospitable country I had
traversed. Mr. Robert Donner, the proprietor of the Milton Hotel, told
me he once had "Black Bart" as his guest for over a week, being unaware
at the time of his identity. This famous bandit in the early eighties
"held up" the Yosemite stage time and again. In fact, he terrorized the
whole Sierra country from Redding to Sacramento. He was finally captured
in San Francisco through a clew obtained from a laundry mark on a pair
of white cuffs. For years, Mr. Donner cherished a boot left by the
highwayman in the hurry of departure, which, much to his annoyance, was
finally abstracted by some person unknown. To dispose of Black Bart;
he served his term and was never seen again in the Sierras. There is a
rumor that Wells Fargo & Company, the chief sufferers by his activities,
made it worth his while to behave himself in the future.

The following day I reached Copperopolis. This place very justly has the
reputation of being one of the hottest spots in the foot-hills. Owing to
resumed operations on a large scale, of the Calaveras Copper Company,
I found the little settlement crowded to its fullest capacity, and was
perforce compelled to resort to genuine "hobo" methods - in short, I
spent the night under the lee of a haystack. My original intention had
been to walk thence to Sonora, twenty-four miles; but finding the road
would take me again into the valley, I decided to make for Angel's Camp,
only thirteen miles away.

It is uphill nearly all the way from Copperopolis to Angel's Camp, but
mostly you are in the pine woods. My spirits rose with the altitude
and delight at the magnificent view when I at last reached the summit.
Toiling up the grade in the dust, I met a good old-fashioned four-horse
Concord stage, which from all appearances might have been in action ever
since the days of Bret Harte. At last I felt I was in touch with the
Sierras. The driver even honored my bow with an abrupt "Howdy!" which
from such a magnate, I took to be a good omen.

[Illustration: Utica Mine. Plate09]

In common with all the old mining towns - though I was unaware of it at
the time - Angel's, as it is usually called, is situated in the ravine
where gold was first discovered. It straggles down the gulch for a mile
and a half. There are a number of pretty cottages clinging to the steep
hillsides, surrounded with flowers and trees, the whole effect being
extremely pleasing. I registered at the Angel's Hotel, built in 1852.
Across the street is the Wells Fargo building, erected about the same
time and of solid stone, as is the hotel. Nothing on this trip surprised
me more than the solidity of the hotels and stores built in the early
fifties. Instead of the flimsy wooden structures I had imagined, I
found, for the most part, thick stone walls. It was evident the Pioneers
believed in the permanence of the gold deposits in the Mother Lode.
Possibly they were right; Angel's is anything but a dead town to-day.
The Utica, Angel's and Lightner mines give employment to hundreds of

In the afternoon I visited the Bret Harte Girls' High School. It is
a very simple frame building, on the summit of a hill overlooking the
town. The man who directed me how to find it, I discovered had not the
remotest idea who Bret Harte might be; "John Brown" would have answered
the purpose equally as well. In fact, all through the seven counties I
traversed - Tuolumne, Calaveras, Amador, El Dorado, Placer, Nevada and
Yuba - I found Bret Harte had left but a hazy and nebulous impression.
Mark Twain, Prentice Mulford, Horace Greeley, Bayard Taylor, even "Dan
de Quille," seemed better known.

[Illustration: Stanislaus River. Plate10]

The next morning I started for Sonora. In seven miles I came to the
Stanislaus River, running in a deep and splendid canon. The river here
is spanned by a fine concrete bridge, built jointly by Tuolumne and
Calaveras Counties, between which the river forms the dividing line. In
the bottom of the canon is the Melones mine, with a mill operating one
hundred stamps. The main tunnel is a mile and a half in length; the
longest mining tunnel in the State, I was told.

A steep pull of two miles out of the canon brought me to Tuttletown.
Here I stayed several hours, for the interest of the whole trip, so far
as Bret Harte was concerned, centered around this once celebrated camp,
and Jackass Hill, on which, at one time, lived James W. Gillis, the
supposed prototype of "Truthful James." He died a few years ago, but
his brother, Stephen R. Gillis, is living there to-day, and after some
little difficulty I succeeded in finding his house.

[Illustration: Jackass Hill. Plate11]

Mr. Gillis scouts the idea that his brother "Jim" was the "Truthful
James" of Bret Harte. He said that in reality it was J. W. E.
Townsend, known in old times as "Alphabetical Townsend," also by the
uncomplimentary appellation of "Lying Jim." According to Mr. Gillis,
Bret Harte made but one visit to Tuttletown. He arrived there one
evening "dead broke" and James put him up for the night and lent him
money to help him on his way. Personally, Mr. Gillis never met Bret
Harte but he had seen Mark Twain on a number of Occasions. I got the
distinct impression that Stephen Gillis disliked the notoriety
his brother had gained, through the fact that his name had become
indissolubly linked with the "Truthful James" of Bret Harte's verses.
Be that as it may, I later on met several men who had known "Jim" Gillis
intimately and they all agreed that he possessed a keen sense of humor
and had at command a practically inexhaustible stock of stories, upon
which he drew at will. Whether Bret Harte derived any inspiration from
"Jim" Gillis may perhaps always remain in doubt; but that Mark Twain
did, there cannot, I think, be any question.

In a recent life of Bret Harte, by Henry Childs Merwin, it is stated
(page 21) that in 1858 Bret Harte acted as tutor in a private family at
Alamo, in the San Ramon valley, which lies at the foot of Mount Diablo.
On, page 50, however, we read: "In 1858 or thereabouts, Bret Harte was
teaching school at Tuttletown, a few miles north of Sonora." It would
seem that this statement is erroneous, apart from the fact that it
conflicts with the prior date in reference to Alamo.

[Illustration: Tuttletown. Plate12]

Mrs. Swerer, who has lived continuously at Tuttletown since 1850, coming
there at the age of ten, told me she received her education at the
Tuttletown public school, as did her children and her children's
children - she is now a great-grandmother! She said most positively that
she never saw Bret Harte in her life, but had frequently seen "Dan de
Quille" and Mark Twain. The latter, she said, made periodic visits to
Tuttletown, and always stayed with "Jim" Gillis - called by Twain, the
"Sage of Jackass Hill."

Mrs. Gross, who keeps the Tuttletown Hotel and whose husband owned
a store across the way, built of stone but now in ruins, was born
in Tuttletown. She asserted she never heard of Bret Harte being in

1 3 4 5

Online LibraryThomas Dykes BeasleyA Tramp Through the Bret Harte Country → online text (page 1 of 5)