This book in this edition won the 1922 Pulitzer Prize for Literature in the "Biography or Autobiography" category. As such, every attempt has been made to reproduce it exactly as it was printed and as it won the award. In particular, inconsistent hyphenation of compound words is pervasive in this text and has been retained. Unconventional punctuation—for example using a comma to splice two sentences—has also been retained exactly as printed.
A DAUGHTER OF THE MIDDLE BORDER
By HAMLIN GARLAND
A SON OF THE MIDDLE BORDER A DAUGHTER OF THE MIDDLE BORDER ULYSSES S. GRANT, HIS LIFE AND CHARACTER
A DAUGHTER OF THE MIDDLE BORDER
BY HAMLIN GARLAND Member of The American Academy of Arts and Letters
New York THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 1921
All rights reserved
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Copyright, 1921, By HAMLIN GARLAND.
Set up and electrotyped. Published October, 1921.
Press of J. J. Little & Ives Company New York, U. S. A.
To my wife Zulime Taft, who for more than twenty years has shared my toil and borne with my shortcomings, I dedicate this story of a household on the vanishing Middle Border, with an ever-deepening sense of her fortitude and serenity.
Acknowledgments are made to Florence Huber Schott, Edward Foley and Arthur Dudley for the use of the photographs which illustrate this volume.
To My New Readers
In the summer of 1893, after nine years of hard but happy literary life in Boston and New York, I decided to surrender my residence in the East and reestablish my home in the West, a decision which seemed to be—as it was—a most important event in my career.
This change of headquarters was due not to a diminishing love for New England, but to a deepening desire to be near my aging parents, whom I had persuaded, after much argument, to join in the purchase of a family homestead, in West Salem, Wisconsin, the little village from which we had all adventured some thirty years before.
My father, a typical pioneer, who had grown gray in opening new farms, one after another on the wind-swept prairies of Iowa and Dakota, was not entirely content with my plan but my mother, enfeebled by the hardships of a farmer's life, and grateful for my care, was glad of the arrangement I had brought about. In truth, she realized that her days of pioneering were over and the thought of ending her days among her friends and relatives was a comfort to her. That I had rescued her from a premature grave on the barren Dakota plain was certain, and the hope of being able to provide for her comfort was the strongest element in my plan.
After ten years of separation we were agreed upon a project which would enable us as a family to spend our summers together; for my brother, Franklin, an actor in New York City, had promised to take his vacation in the home which we had purchased.
As this homestead (which was only eight hours by rail from Chicago) is to be one of the chief characters in this story, I shall begin by describing it minutely. It was not the building in which my life began—I should like to say it was, but it was not. My birthplace was a cabin—part logs and part lumber—on the opposite side of the town. Originally a squatter's cabin, it was now empty and forlorn, a dreary monument of the pioneer days, which I did not take the trouble to enter. The house which I had selected for the final Garland homestead, was entirely without any direct associations with my family. It was only an old frame cottage, such as a rural carpenter might build when left to his own devices, rude, angular, ugly of line and drab in coloring, but it stood in the midst of a four-acre field, just on the edge of the farmland. Sheltered by noble elms and stately maples, its windows fronted on a low range of wooded hills, whose skyline (deeply woven into my childish memories) had for me the charm of things remembered, and for my mother a placid beauty which (after her long stay on the treeless levels of Dakota) was almost miraculous in effect. Entirely without architectural dignity, our new home was spacious and suggested the comfort of the region round about.
My father, a man of sixty-five, though still actively concerned with a wide wheat farm in South Dakota, had agreed to aid me in maintaining this common dwelling place in Wisconsin provided he could return to Dakota during seeding and again at harvest. He was an eagle-eyed, tireless man of sixty-five years of age, New England by origin, tall, alert, quick-spoken and resolute, the kind of natural pioneer who prides himself on never taking the back trail. In truth he had yielded most reluctantly to my plan, influenced almost wholly by the failing health of my mother, to whom the work of a farm household had become an intolerable burden. As I had gained possession of the premises early in November we were able to eat our Thanksgiving Dinner in our new home, happy in the companionship of old friends and neighbors. My mother and my Aunt Susan were entirely content. The Garlands seemed anchored at last.
To the Readers of "A Son of the Middle Border"
In taking up and carrying forward the theme of "A Son of the Middle Border" I am fully aware of my task's increasing difficulties, realizing that I must count on the clear understanding and continuing good will of my readers.
First of all, you must grant that the glamor of childhood, the glories of the Civil War, the period of prairie conquest which were the chief claims to interest in the first volume of my chronicle can not be restated in these pages. The action of this book moves forward into the light of manhood, into the region of middle age. Furthermore, its theme is more personal. Its scenes are less epic. It is a study of individuals and their relationships rather than of settlements and migrations. In short, "A Daughter of the Middle Border" is the complement of "A Son of the Middle Border," a continuation, not a repetition, in which I attempt to answer the many questions which readers of the first volume have persistently put to me.
"Did your mother get her new daughter?" "How long did she live to enjoy the peace of her Homestead?" "What became of David and Burton?" "Did your father live to see his grandchildren?" These and many other queries, literary as well as personal, are—I trust—satisfactorily answered in this book. Like the sequel to a novel, it attempts to account for its leading characters and to satisfy the persistent interest which my correspondents have so cordially expressed.
It remains to say that the tale is as true as my memory will permit—it is constructed only by leaving things out. If it reads, as some say, like fiction, that result is due not to invention but to the actual lives of the characters involved. Finally this closes my story of the Garlands and McClintocks and the part they took in a marvelous era in American settlement.
I. MY FIRST WINTER IN CHICAGO 1
II. I RETURN TO THE SADDLE 13
III. IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GENERAL GRANT 24
IV. RED MEN AND BUFFALO 38
V. THE TELEGRAPH TRAIL 53
VI. THE RETURN OF THE ARTIST 70
VII. LONDON AND EVENING DRESS 86
VIII. THE CHOICE OF THE NEW DAUGHTER 97
IX. A JUDICIAL WEDDING 122
X. THE NEW DAUGHTER AND THANKSGIVING 140
XI. MY FATHER'S INHERITANCE 153
XII. WE TOUR THE OKLAHOMA PRAIRIE 171
XIII. STANDING ROCK AND LAKE MCDONALD 184
XIV. THE EMPTY ROOM 204
XV. A SUMMER IN THE HIGH COUNTRY 219
XVI. THE WHITE HOUSE MUSICAL 237
XVII. SIGNS OF CHANGE 247
XVIII. THE OLD PIONEER TAKES THE BACK TRAIL 262
XIX. NEW LIFE IN THE OLD HOUSE 271
XX. MARY ISABEL'S CHIMNEY 289
XXI. THE FAIRY WORLD OF CHILDHOOD 307
XXII. THE OLD SOLDIER GAINS A GRANDDAUGHTER 326
XXIII. "CAVANAGH" AND THE "WINDS OF DESTINY" 341
XXIV. THE OLD HOMESTEAD SUFFERS DISASTER 355
XXV. DARKNESS JUST BEFORE THE DAWN 369
XXVI. SPRAY OF WILD ROSES 381
XXVII. A SOLDIER OF THE UNION MUSTERED OUT 389
Isabel Clintock Garland, A Daughter of the Middle Border Frontispiece
Zulime Taft: The New Daughter Frontispiece
Miss Zulime Taft, acting as volunteer housekeeper for the colony 104
At last the time came when I was permitted to take my wife—lovely as a Madonna—out into the sunshine 287
The old soldier loved to take the children on his knees and bask in the light of the fire 304
Entirely subject to my daughter, who regarded me as a wonderful giant, I paid tribute to her in song and story 322
That night as my daughters "dressed up" as princesses, danced in the light of our restored hearth, I forgot all the disheartenment which the burning of the house had brought upon me 368
The art career which Zulime Taft abandoned after our marriage, is now being taken up by her daughter Constance 400
To Mary Isabel who as a girl of eighteen still loves to impersonate the majesty of princesses 402
A DAUGHTER OF THE MIDDLE BORDER
My First Winter in Chicago
"Well, Mother," I said as I took my seat at the breakfast table the second day after our Thanksgiving dinner, "I must return to Chicago. I have some lectures to deliver and besides I must get back to my writing."
She made no objection to my announcement but her eyes lost something of their happy light. "When will you come again?" she asked after a pause.
"Almost any minute," I replied assuringly. "You must remember that I'm only a few hours away now. I can visit you often. I shall certainly come up for Christmas. If you need me at any time send me word in the afternoon and I'll be with you at breakfast."
That night at six o'clock I was in my city home, a lodging quite as humble in character as my fortunes.
In a large chamber on the north side of a house on Elm Street and only three doors from Lake Michigan, I had assembled my meager library and a few pitiful mementoes of my life in Boston. My desk stood near a narrow side window and as I mused I could look out upon the shoreless expanse of blue-green water fading mistily into the north-east sky, and, at night, when the wind was in the East the crushing thunder of the breakers along the concrete wall formed a noble accompaniment to my writing, filling me with vaguely ambitious literary plans. Exalted by the sound of this mighty orchestra I felt entirely content with the present and serenely confident of the future.
"This is where I belong," I said. "Here in the great Midland metropolis with this room for my pivot, I shall continue my study of the plains and the mountains."
I had burned no bridges between me and the Island of Manhattan, however! Realizing all too well that I must still look to the East for most of my income, I carefully retained my connections with Harper's, the Century and other periodicals. Chicago, rich and powerful as it had become, could not establish—or had not established—a paying magazine, and its publishing firms were mostly experimental and not very successful; although the Columbian Exposition which was just closing, had left upon the city's clubs and societies (and especially on its young men) an esthetic stimulation which bade fair to carry on to other and more enduring enterprises.
Nevertheless in the belief that it was to become the second great literary center of America I was resolved to throw myself into the task of hurrying it forward on the road to new and more resplendent achievement.
My first formal introduction to the literary and artistic circle in which I was destined to work and war for many years, took place through the medium of an address on Impressionism in Art which I delivered in the library of Franklin Head, a banker whose home had become one of the best-known intellectual meeting places on the North Side. This lecture, considered very radical at the time, was the direct outcome of several years of study and battle in Boston in support of the open-air school of painting, a school which was astonishing the West with its defiant play of reds and yellows, and the flame of its purple shadows. As a missionary in the interest of the New Art, I rejoiced in this opportunity to advance its inspiring heresies.
While uttering my shocking doctrines (entrenched behind a broad, book-laden desk), my eyes were attracted to the face of a slender black-bearded young man whose shining eyes and occasional smiling nod indicated a joyous agreement with the main points of my harangue. I had never seen him before, but I at once recognized in him a fellow conspirator against "The Old Hat" forces of conservatism in painting.
At the close of my lecture he drew near and putting out his hand, said, "My name is Taft—Lorado Taft. I am a sculptor, but now and again I talk on painting. Impressionism is all very new here in the West, but like yourself I am an advocate of it, I am doing my best to popularize a knowledge of it, and I hope you will call upon me at my studio some afternoon—any afternoon and discuss these isms with me."
Young Lorado Taft interested me, and I instantly accepted his invitation to call, and in this way (notwithstanding a wide difference in training and temperament), a friendship was established which has never been strained even in the fiercest of our esthetic controversies. Many others of the men and women I met that night became my co-workers in the building of the "greater Chicago," which was even then coming into being—the menace of the hyphenate American had no place in our thoughts.
In less than a month I fell into a routine as regular, as peaceful, as that in which I had moved in Boston. Each morning in my quiet sunny room I wrote, with complete absorption, from seven o'clock until noon, confidently composing poems, stories, essays, and dramas. I worked like a painter with several themes in hand passing from one to the other as I felt inclined. After luncheon I walked down town seeking exercise and recreation. It soon became my habit to spend an hour or two in Taft's studio (I fear to his serious detriment), and in this way I soon came to know most of the "Bunnies" of "the Rabbit-Warren" as Henry B. Fuller characterized this studio building—and it well deserved the name! Art was young and timid in Cook County.
Among the women of this group Bessie Potter, who did lovely statuettes of girls and children, was a notable figure. Edward Kemeys, Oliver Dennett Grover, Charles Francis Browne, and Hermon MacNeill, all young artists of high endowment, and marked personal charm became my valued associates and friends. We were all equally poor and equally confident of the future. Our doubts were few and transitory as cloud shadows, our hopes had the wings of eagles.
As Chicago possessed few clubs of any kind and had no common place of meeting for those who cultivated the fine arts, Taft's studio became, naturally, our center of esthetic exchange. Painting and sculpture were not greatly encouraged anywhere in the West, but Lorado and his brave colleagues, hardy frontiersmen of art, laughed in the face of all discouragement.
A group of us often lunched in what Taft called "the Beanery"—a noisy, sloppy little restaurant on Van Buren Street, where our lofty discussions of Grecian sculpture were punctuated by the crash of waiter-proof crockery, or smothered with the howl of slid chairs. However, no one greatly minded these barbarities. They were all a part of the game. If any of us felt particularly flush we dined, at sixty cents each, in the basement of a big department store a few doors further west; and when now and then some good "lay brother" like Melville Stone, or Franklin Head, invited us to a "royal gorge" at Kinsley's or to a princely luncheon in the tower room of the Union League, we went like minstrels to the baron's ball. None of us possessed evening suits and some of us went so far as to denounce swallowtail coats as "undemocratic." I was one of these.
This "artistic gang" also contained several writers who kept a little apart from the journalistic circle of which Eugene Field and Opie Read were the leaders, and though I passed freely from one of these groups to the other I acknowledged myself more at ease with Henry Fuller and Taft and Browne, and a little later I united with them in organizing a society to fill our need of a common meeting place. This association we called The Little Room, a name suggested by Madelaine Yale Wynne's story of an intermittently vanishing chamber in an old New England homestead.
For a year or two we met in Bessie Potter's studio, and on the theory that our club, visible and hospitable on Friday afternoon, was non-existent during all the other days of the week, we called it "the Little Room." Later still we shifted to Ralph Clarkson's studio in the Fine Arts Building—where it still flourishes.
The fact is, I was a poor club man. I did not smoke, and never used rum except as a hair tonic—and beer and tobacco were rather distasteful to me. I do not boast of this singularity, I merely state it. No doubt I was considered a dull and profitless companion even in "the Little Room," but in most of my sobrieties Taft and Browne upheld me, though they both possessed the redeeming virtue of being amusing, which I, most certainly, never achieved.
Taft was especially witty in his sly, sidewise comment, and often when several of us were in hot debate, his sententious or humorous retorts cut or stung in defence of some esthetic principle much more effectively than most of my harangues. Sculpture, with him, was a religious faith, and he defended it manfully and practiced it with skill and an industry which was astounding.
Though a noble figure and universally admired, he had, like myself, two very serious defects, he was addicted to frock coats and the habit of lecturing! Although he did not go so far as to wear a plaid Windsor tie with his "Prince Albert" coat (as I have been accused of doing), he displayed something of the professor's zeal in his platform addresses. I would demur against the plaid Windsor tie indictment if I dared to do so, but a certain snapshot portrait taken by a South-side photographer of that day (and still extant) forces me to painful confession—I had such a tie, and I wore it with a frock coat. My social status is thus clearly defined.
Taft's studio, which was on the top floor of the Athenaeum Building on Van Buren Street, had a section which he called "the morgue," for the reason that it was littered with plaster duplicates of busts, arms, and hands. This room, fitted up with shelf-like bunks, was filled nearly every night with penniless young sculptors who camped in primitive simplicity amid the grewsome discarded portraits of Cook County's most illustrious citizens. Several of these roomers have since become artists of wide renown, and I refrain from disclosing their names. No doubt they will smile as they recall those nights amid their landlord's cast-off handiwork.
Taft was an "easy mark" in those times, a shining hope to all the indigent models, discouraged painters and other esthetic derelicts of the Columbian Exposition. No artist suppliant ever knocked at his door without getting a dollar, and some of them got twenty. For several years Clarkson and I had him on our minds because of this gentle and yielding disposition until at last we discovered that in one way or another, in spite of a reckless prodigality, he prospered. The bread which he cheerfully cast upon these unknown waters, almost always returned (sometimes from another direction) in loaves at least as large as biscuits. His fame steadily increased with his charity. I did not understand the principle of his manner of life then, and I do not now. By all the laws of my experience he should at this moment be in the poorhouse, but he isn't—he is rich and honored and loved.
In sculpture he was, at this time a conservative, a worshiper of the Greek, and it would seem that I became his counter-irritant, for my demand for "A native art" kept him wholesomely stirred up. One by one as the years passed he yielded esthetic positions which at first he most stoutly held. He conceded that the Modern could not be entirely expressed by the Ancient, that America might sometime grow to the dignity of having an art of its own, and that in sculpture (as in painting and architecture) new problems might arise. Even in his own work (although he professed but one ideal, the Athenian) he came at last to include the plastic value of the red man, and to find in the expression of the Sioux or Omaha a certain sorrowful dignity which fell parallel with his own grave temperament, for, despite his smiling face, his best work remained somber, almost tragic in spirit.
Henry B. Fuller, who in The Chevalier of Pensieri-Vani had shown himself to be the finest literary craftsman in the West, became (a little later) a leader in our group and a keen delight to us all. He was at this time a small, brown-bearded man of thirty-five, whose quick humor, keen insight and unfailing interest in all things literary made him a caustic corrective of the bombast to which our local reviewers were sadly liable. Although a merciless critic of Chicago, he was a native of the city, and his comment on its life had to be confronted with such equanimity as our self-elected social hierarchy could assume.
Elusive if not austere with strangers, Henry's laugh (a musical "ha ha") was often heard among his friends. His face could be impassive not to say repellent when approached by those in whom he took no interest, and there were large numbers of his fellow citizens for whom the author of Pensieri-Vani had only contempt. Strange to say, he became my most intimate friend and confidant—antithetic pair!
Eugene Field, his direct opposite, and the most distinguished member of "the journalistic gang," took very little interest in the doings of "the Bunnies" and few of them knew him, but I often visited him in his home on the North Side, and greatly enjoyed his solemn-faced humor. He was a singular character, as improvident as Lorado but in a far different way.
I recall meeting him one day on the street wearing, as usual, a long, gray plaid ulster with enormous pockets at the sides. Confronting me with coldly solemn visage, he thrust his right hand into his pocket and lifted a heavy brass candlestick to the light. "Look," he said. I looked. Dropping this he dipped his left hand into the opposite pocket and displayed another similar piece, then with a faint smile lifting the corners of his wide, thin-lipped mouth, he gravely boomed, "Brother Garland—you see before you—a man—who lately—had ten dollars."
Thereupon he went his way, leaving me to wonder whether his wife would be equally amused with his latest purchase.
His library was filled with all kinds of curious objects—worthless junk they seemed to me—clocks, snuffers, butterflies, and the like but he also possessed many autographed books and photographs whose value I granted. His cottage which was not large, swarmed with growing boys and noisy dogs; and Mrs. Field, a sweet and patient soul, seemed sadly out of key with her husband's habit of buying collections of rare moths, door-knockers, and candle molds with money which should have gone to buy chairs and carpets or trousers for the boys.
Eugene was one of the first "Colyumists" in the country, and to fill his "Sharps and Flats" levied pitilessly upon his friends. From time to time we all figured as subjects for his humorous paragraphs; but each new victim understood and smiled. For example, in his column I read one morning these words: "La Crosse, a small city in Wisconsin, famous for the fact that all its trains back into town, and as the home of Hamlin Garland."
He was one of the most popular of Western writers, and his home of a Sunday was usually crowded with visitors, many of whom were actors. I recall meeting Francis Wilson there—also E. S. Willard and Bram Stoker—but I do not remember to have seen Fuller there, although, later, Roswell, Eugene's brother, became Fuller's intimate friend.
George Ade, a thin, pale, bright-eyed young Hoosier, was a frequent visitor at Field's. George had just begun to make a place for himself as the author of a column in the News called "Stories of the Street and of the Town"; and John T. McCutcheon, another Hoosier of the same lean type was his illustrator. I believed in them both and took a kind of elder brother interest in their work.
In the companionship of men like Field and Browne and Taft, I was happy. My writing went well, and if I regretted Boston, I had the pleasant sense of being so near West Salem that I could go to bed in a train at ten at night, and breakfast with my mother in the morning, and just to prove that this was true I ran up to the Homestead at Christmas time and delivered my presents in person—keenly enjoying the smile of delight with which my mother received them.
West Salem was like a scene on the stage that day—a setting for a rural mid-winter drama. The men in their gayly-colored Mackinac jackets, the sleighbells jingling pleasantly along the lanes, the cottage roofs laden with snow, and the sidewalks, walled with drifts, were almost arctic in their suggestion, and yet, my parents in the shelter of the friendly hills, were at peace. The cold was not being driven against them by the wind of the plain, and a plentiful supply of food and fuel made their fireside comfortable and secure.
During this vacation I seized the opportunity to go a little farther and spend a few days in the Pineries which I had never seen. Out of this experience I gained some beautiful pictures of the snowy forest, and a suggestion for a story or two. A few days later, on a commission from McClure's, I was in Pittsburg writing an article on "Homestead and Its Perilous Trades," and the clouds of smoke, the flaming chimneys, the clang of steel, the roar of blast-furnaces and the thunder of monstrous steel rollers made Wisconsin lumber camps idyllic. The serene white peace of West Salem set Pittsburg apart as a sulphurous hell and my description of it became a passionate indictment of an industrial system which could so work and so house its men. The grimy hovels in which the toilers lived made my own homestead a poem. More than ever convinced that our social order was unjust and impermanent, I sent in my "story," in some doubt about its being accepted. It was printed with illustrations by Orson Lowell and was widely quoted at the time.
Soon after this I made a trip to Memphis, thus gaining my first impression of the South. Like most northern visitors, I was immediately and intensely absorbed in the negroes. Their singing entranced me, and my hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Judah, hired a trio of black minstrels to come in and perform for me. Their songs so moved me, and I became so interested in one old negro's curious chants that I fairly wore them out with demands for their most characteristic spirituals. Some of the hymns were of such sacred character that one of the men would not sing them. "I ain't got no right to sing dem songs," he said.
In Atlanta I met Joel Chandler Harris, who had done so much to portray the negro's inner kindliness, as well as his singularly poetic outlook. Harris was one of the editors of the Atlanta Constitution, and there I found him in a bare, prosaic office, a short, shy, red-haired man whom I liked at once. Two nights later I was dining with James A. Herne and William Dean Howells in New York City, and the day following I read some of my verses for the Nineteenth Century Club. At the end of March I was again at my desk in Chicago.
These sudden changes of scene, these dramatic meetings, so typical of my life for many years, took away all sense of drudgery, all routine weariness. Seldom remaining in any one place long enough to become bored I had little chance to bore others. Literary clubs welcomed my readings and lectures; and, being vigorous and of good digestion, I accepted travel as a diversion as well as a business. As a student of American life, I was resolved to know every phase of it.
Among my pleasant jobs I recall the putting into shape of a "Real Conversation" with James Whitcomb Riley, the material for which had been gained in a visit to Greenfield, Riley's native town, during August of the previous year.
My first meeting with Riley had been in Boston at a time when I was a penniless student and he the shining, highly-paid lecturer; and I still suffered a feeling of wonder that a poet—any poet—could demand such pay. I did not resent it—I only marveled at it—for in our conversation he had made his philosophy plain.
"Tell of the things just like they was, they don't need no excuse," one of his characters said. "Don't tech 'em up as the poets does till they're all too fine fer use," and in his talk with me Riley quaintly added, "Nature is good enough for God, it's good enough for me."
In this article which I wrote for McClure's, I made comment on the essential mystery of the poet's art, a conjury which is able to transmute a perfectly commonplace landscape into something fine and mellow and sweet; for the region in which Riley spent his youth, and from which he derived most of his later material, was to me a depressing land, a country without a hill, a river or a lake; a commonplace country, flat, unkempt and without a line of beauty, and yet from these rude fields and simple gardens the singer had drawn the sweetest honey of song, song with a tang in it, like the odor of ripe buckwheat and the taste of frost-bit persimmons. It reinforced my resolution that the mid-land was about to blossom into art.
In travel and in work such as this and in pleasant intercourse with the painters, sculptors, and writers of Chicago my first winter in the desolate, drab, and tumultuous city passed swiftly and on the whole profitably, I no longer looked backward to Boston, but as the first warm spring-winds began to blow, my thoughts turned towards my newly-acquired homestead and the old mother who was awaiting me there.
Eager to start certain improvements which should tend to make the house more nearly the kind of dwelling place I had promised myself it should become, hungry for the soil, rejoicing in the thought of once more planting and building, I took the train for the North with all my summer ward-robe and most of my manuscripts, with no intention of reentering the city till October at the earliest.
I Return to the Saddle
To pass from the crowds, the smoke and the iron clangor of Chicago into the clear April air of West Salem was a celestial change for me. For many years the clock of my seasons had been stilled. The coming of the birds, the budding of the leaves, the serial blossoming of spring had not touched me, and as I walked up the street that exquisite morning, a reminiscent ecstasy filled my heart. The laughter of the robins, the shrill ki-ki-ki of the golden-wing woodpeckers, and the wistful whistle of the lark, brought back my youth, my happiest youth, and when my mother met me at the door it seemed that all my cares and all my years of city life had fallen from me.
"Well, here I am!" I called, "ready for the spring's work."
With a silent laugh, as preface, she replied, "You'll get a-plenty. Your father is all packed, impatient to leave for Ordway."
The old soldier, who came in from the barn a few moments later, confirmed this. "I'm no truck farmer," he explained with humorous contempt. "I turn this onion patch over to you. It's no place for me. In two days I'll be broad-casting wheat on a thousand-acre farm. That's my size"—a fact which I admitted.
As we sat at breakfast he went on to say that he found Wisconsin woefully unprogressive. "These fellows back here are all stuck in the mud. They've got to wake up to the reform movements. I'll be glad to get back to Dakota where people are alive."
With the spirit of the seed-sower swelling within him he took the noon train, handing over to me the management of the Homestead.
An hour later mother and I went out to inspect the garden and to plan the seeding. The pie-plant leaves were unfolding and slender asparagus spears were pointing from the mold. The smell of burning leaves brought back to us both, with magic power, memories of the other springs and other plantings on the plain. It was glorious, it was medicinal!
"This is the life!" I exultantly proclaimed. "Work is just what I need. I shall set to it at once. Aren't you glad you are here in this lovely valley and not out on the bleak Dakota plain?"
Mother's face sobered. "Yes, I like it here—it seems more like home than any other place—and yet I miss the prairie and my Ordway friends."
As I went about the village I came to a partial understanding of her feeling. The small dark shops, the uneven sidewalks, the rickety wooden awnings were closely in character with the easy-going citizens who moved leisurely and contentedly about their small affairs. It came to me (with a sense of amusement) that these coatless shopkeepers who dealt out sugar and kerosene while wearing their derby hats on the backs of their heads, were not only my neighbors, but members of the Board of Education. Though still primitive to my city eyes, they no longer appeared remote. Something in their names and voices touched me nearly. They were American. Their militant social democracy was at once comical and corrective.
O, the peace, the sweetness of those days! To be awakened by the valiant challenge of early-rising roosters; to hear the chuckle of dawn-light worm-hunting robins brought a return of boy-hood's exultation. Not only did my muscles harden to the spade and the hoe, my soul rejoiced in a new and delightful sense of establishment. I had returned to citizenship. I was a proprietor. The clock of the seasons had resumed its beat.
Hiring a gardener, I bought a hand-book on Horticulture and announced my intent to make those four fat acres feed my little flock. I was now a land enthusiast. My feet laid hold upon the earth. I almost took root!
With what secret satisfaction I planned to widen the front porch and build a two-story bay-window on the north end of the sitting room—an enterprise of such audacity that I kept it strictly to myself! It meant the extravagant outlay of nearly two hundred dollars—but above and beyond that, it involved cutting a hole in the wall and cluttering up the yard; therefore I thought it best to keep my plot hidden from my mother till mid-summer gave more leisure to us all.
My notebook of that spring is crowded with descriptions, almost lyrical, of the glory of sunsets and the beauty of bird-song and budding trees—even the loud-voiced, cheerful democracy of the village was grateful to me.
"Yesterday I was deep in the tumult of Chicago," runs the entry, "to-day, I am hoeing in my sun-lit garden, hearing the mourning-dove coo and the cat-birds cry. Last night as the sun went down the hill-tops to the west became vividly purple with a subtle illusive deep-crimson glow beneath, while the sky above their tops, a saffron dome rose almost to the zenith. These mystical things are here joined: The trill of black-birds near at hand, the cackle of barn-yard fowls, the sound of hammers, a plowman talking to his team, the pungent smoke of burning leaves, the cool, sweet, spring wind and the glowing down-pouring sunshine—all marvelous and satisfying to me and mine. This is home!"
On the twelfth of April, however, a most dramatic reversal to winter took place. "The day remained beautifully springlike till about two o'clock when a gray haze came rushing downward from the north-west. Big black clouds developed with portentous rapidity. Thunder arose, and an icy wind, furious and swift as a tornado roared among the trees. The rain, chilled almost into hail, drummed on the shingles. The birds fell silent, the hens scurried to shelter. In ten minutes the cutting blast died out. A dead calm succeeded. Then out burst the sun, flooding the land with laughter! The black-birds resumed their piping, the fowls ventured forth, and the whole valley again lay beaming and blossoming under a perfect sky."
The following night I was in the city watching a noble performance of "Tristan and Isolde!"
I took enormous satisfaction in the fact that I could plant peas in my garden till noon and hear a concert in Chicago on the same day. The arrangement seemed ideal.
On May 9th I was again at home, "the first whippoorwill sang to-night—trees are in full leaf," I note.
In a big square room in the eastern end of the house, I set up a handmade walnut desk which I had found in LaCrosse, and on this I began to write in the inspiration of morning sun-shine and bird-song. For four hours I bent above my pen, and each afternoon I sturdily flourished spade and hoe, while mother hobbled about with cane in hand to see that I did it right. "You need watching," she laughingly said.
With a cook and a housemaid, a man to work the garden, and a horse to plow out my corn and potatoes, I began to wear the composed dignity of an earl. I pruned trees, shifted flower beds and established berry patches with the large-handed authority of a southern planter. It was comical, it was delightful!
To eat home-cooked meals after years of dreadful restaurants gave me especial satisfaction, but alas! there was a flaw in my lute. We had to eat in our living room; and when I said "Mother, one of these days I'm going to move the kitchen to the south and build a real sure-enough dining room in between," she turned upon me with startled gaze.
"You'd better think a long time about that," she warningly replied. "We're perfectly comfortable the way we are."
"Comfortable? Yes, but we must begin to think of being luxurious. There's nothing too good for you, mother."
Early in July my brother Franklin joined me in the garden work, and then my mother's cup of contentment fairly overflowed its brim. So far as we knew she had no care, no regret. Day by day she sat in an easy chair under the trees, watching us as we played ball on the lawn, or cut weeds in the garden; and each time we looked at her, we both acknowledged a profound sense of satisfaction, of relief. Never again would she burn in the suns of the arid plains, or cower before the winds of a desolate winter. She was secure. "You need never work again," I assured her. "You can get up when you please and go to bed when you please. Your only job is to sit in the shade and boss the rest of us," and to this she answered only with a silent, characteristic chuckle of delight.
"The Junior," as I called my brother, enjoyed the homestead quite as much as I. Together we painted the porch, picked berries, hoed potatoes, and trimmed trees. Everything we did, everything we saw, recovered for us some part of our distant boyhood. The noble lines of the hills to the west, the weeds of the road-side, the dusty weather-beaten, covered-bridges, the workmen in the fields, the voices of our neighbors, the gossip of the village—all these sights and sounds awakened deep-laid, associated tender memories. The cadence of every song, the quality of every resounding jest made us at home, once and for all. Our twenty-five-year stay on the level lands of Iowa and Dakota seemed only an unsuccessful family exploration—our life in the city merely a business, winter adventure.
To visit among the farmers—to help at haying or harvesting, brought back minute touches of the olden, wondrous prairie world. We went swimming in the river just as we used to do when lads, rejoicing in the caress of the wind, the sting of the cool water, and on such expeditions we often thought of Burton and others of our play-mates faraway, and of Uncle David, in his California exile. "I wish he, too, could enjoy this sweet and tranquil world," I said, and in this desire my brother joined.
We wore the rudest and simplest clothing, and hoed (when we hoed) with furious strokes; but as the sun grew hot we usually fled to the shade of the great maples which filled the back yard, and there, at ease, recounted the fierce toil of the Iowa harvest fields, recalling the names of the men who shared it with us,—and so, while all around us green things valorously expanded, and ripening apples turned to scarlet and gold in their coverts of green, we burrowed deep in the soil like the badger which is the symbol of our native state.
After so many years of bleak and treeless farm-lands, it seemed that our mother could not get enough of the luxuriant foliage, the bloom and the odorous sweetness of this lovely valley. Hour by hour, day by day, she sat on the porch, or out under the trees, watching the cloud shadows slide across the hills, hearing the whistle of the orioles and the love songs of the cat-bird, happy in the realization that both her sons were, at last, within the sound of her voice. She had but one unsatisfied desire (a desire which she shyly reiterated), and that was her longing for a daughter, but neither Frank nor I, at the moment, had any well-defined hope of being able to fulfill that demand.
My life had not been one to bring about intimate relationships with women. I had been too poor and too busy in Boston to form any connections other than just good friendships, and even now, my means would not permit a definite thought of marriage. "Where can I keep a wife? My two little rooms in Chicago are all the urban home I can afford, and to bring a daughter of the city to live in West Salem would be dangerous." Nevertheless, I promised mother that on my return to Chicago, I would look around and see what I could find.
For three months—that is to say during May, June and July, I remained concerned with potato bugs, currant worms, purslane and other important garden concerns, but in August I started on a tour which had far-reaching effects.
Though still at work upon Rose of Dutcher's Coolly, I was beginning to meditate on themes connected with Colorado, and as the heat of July intensified in the low country, I fell to dreaming of the swift mountain streams whose bright waters I had seen in a previous trip, and so despite all my protestations, I found myself in Colorado Springs one August day, a guest of Louis Ehrich, a New Yorker and fellow reformer, in exile for his health. It was at his table that I met Professor Fernow, chief of the National Bureau of Forestry, who was in the west on a tour of the Federal Forests, and full of enthusiasm for his science.
His talk interested me enormously. I forecast, dimly, something of the elemental change which scientific control was about to bring into the mountain west, and when (sensing my genuine interest) he said "Why not accompany me on my round?" I accepted instantly, and my good friends, the Ehrichs out-fitted me for the enterprise.
We left next day for Glenwood Springs, at which point Fernow hired horses and a guide who knew the streams and camps of the White River Plateau, and early on the second morning we set out on a trail which, in a literary sense, carried me a long way and into a new world. From the plain I ascended to the peaks. From the barbed-wire lanes of Iowa and Kansas I entered the thread-like paths of the cliffs, and (most important of all) I returned to the saddle. I became once more the horseman in a region of horsemen.
For the first time in nearly twenty years I swung to the saddle, and by that act recovered a power and a joy which only verse could express. I found myself among men of such endurance and hardihood that I was ashamed to complain of my aching bones and overstrained muscles—men to whom dark nights, precipitous trails, noxious insects, mud and storms were all "a part of the game."
In those few days I absorbed the essential outlines of a new world. My note-book of the time is proof of it—and "The Prairie in the Sky," which was the title of the article I wrote for Harper's Weekly, is further evidence of it. How beautiful it all was! As I look back upon it I see green parks lit with larkspur and painter's brush. I taste the marvelous freshness of the air. The ptarmigan scuttles away among the rocks, the marmot whistles, the conies utter their slender wistful cries.
That trail led me back to the hunter's cabin, to the miner's shack on whose rough-hewn walls the fire-light flickered in a kind of silent music. It set me once again in the atmosphere of daring and filled me with the spirit of pioneer adventure.
In a physical sense I ended my exploration ten days later, but in imagination I continued to ride "The High Country." I had entered a fresh scene—discovered a new enthusiasm.
By this I do not mean to imply that I at once set about the composition of a Wild West novel, but for those who may be interested in the literary side of this chronicle, I will admit that this splendid trip into high Colorado, marks the beginning of my career as a fictionist of the Mountain West.
Thereafter neither the coulee country nor the prairie served exclusively as material for my books. From the plains, which were becoming each year more crowded, more prosaic, I fled in imagination as in fact to the looming silver-and-purple summits of the Continental Divide, while in my mind an ambition to embody, as no one at that time had done, the spirit and the purpose of the Rocky Mountain trailer was vaguely forming in my mind. To my home in Wisconsin I carried back a fragment of rock, whose gray mass, beautifully touched with gold and amber and orange-colored lichens formed a part of the narrow causeway which divides the White River from the Bear. It was a talisman of the land whose rushing waters, majestic forests and exquisite Alpine meadows I desired to hold in memory, and with this stone on my desk I wrote. It aided me in recalling the scenes and the characters I had so keenly admired.
* * * * *
In calling upon Lorado one afternoon soon after my return to Chicago I was surprised and a little disconcerted to find two strange young ladies making themselves very much at home in his studio. In greeting me he remarked in a mood of sly mischief, "You will not approve of these girls—they are on their way to Paris to study sculpture, but I want you to know them. They are Janet Scudder and my sister Zulime."
Up to this time, notwithstanding our growing friendship, I was not aware that he had a sister, but I greeted Miss Taft with something like fraternal interest. She was a handsome rather pale girl with fine, serious gray-blue eyes, and a composed and graceful manner. Her profile was particularly good and as she was not greatly interested in looking at me I had an excellent chance to study her.
Lorado explained "My sister has been in Kansas visiting mother and father and is now on her way to New York to take a steamer for France.... She intends to remain abroad for two years," he added.
Knowing that I was at that moment in the midst of writing a series of essays on The National Spirit in American Art, he expected this to draw my fire—and it did. "Why go abroad," I demanded bluntly. "Why not stay right here and study modeling with your brother? Paris is no place for an American artist."
With an amused glance at her friend, Miss Scudder, Miss Taft replied in a tone of tolerant contempt for my ignorance, "One doesn't get very far in art without Paris."
Somewhat nettled by her calm inflection and her supercilious glance I hotly retorted, "Nonsense! You can acquire all the technic you require, right here in Chicago. If you are in earnest, and are really in search of instruction you can certainly get it in Boston or New York. Stay in your own country whatever you do. This sending students at their most impressionable age to the Old World to absorb Old World conventions and prejudices is all wrong. It makes of them something which is neither American nor European. Suppose France did that? No nation has an art worth speaking of unless it has a national spirit."
Of course this is only a brief report of my harangue which might just as well have remained unspoken, so far as Miss Taft was concerned, and when her brother came to her aid I retired worsted. The two pilgrims went their way leaving me to hammer Lorado at my leisure.
I wish I could truthfully say that this brief meeting with Zulime Taft filled me with a deep desire to see her again but I cannot do so. On the contrary, my recollection is that I considered her a coldly-haughty young person running away from her native land, not to study art but to have a pleasant time in Paris—while she (no doubt) regarded me as a rude, forth-putting anarch—which I was. At this point our acquaintance and our controversy rested.
As the months and years passed I heard of her only through some incidental remark of her brother. Having no slightest premonition of the part she was to play in my after life, I made no inquiries concerning her. She, however, followed me—as I afterward learned, by means of my essays and stories in the magazines but remained quite uninterested (so far as I know) in the personality of their author.
In the Footsteps of General Grant
Among the new esthetic and literary enterprises which the Exposition had brought to Chicago was the high-spirited publishing firm of Stone and Kimball, which started out valiantly in the spring of '94. The head of the house, a youth just out of Harvard, was Herbert Stone, son of my friend Melville Stone, manager of the Associated Press. Kimball was Herbert's classmate.
Almost before he had opened his office, Herbert came to me to get a manuscript. "Eugene Field has given us one," he urged, "and we want one from you. We are starting a real publishing house in Chicago and we need your support."
There was no resisting such an appeal. Having cast in my lot with Chicago, it was inevitable that I should ally myself with its newest literary enterprise, a business which expressed something of my faith in the west. Not only did I turn over to Stone the rights to Main Traveled Roads, together with a volume of verse—I promised him a book of essays—and a novel.
These aspiring young collegians were joined in '95 by another Harvard man, a tall, dark, smooth-faced youth named Harrison Rhodes, and when, of an afternoon these three missionaries of culture each in a long frock coat, tightly buttoned, with cane, gloves and shining silk hats, paced side by side down the Lake Shore Drive they had the effect of an esthetic invasion, but their crowning audacity was a printed circular which announced that tea would be served in their office in the Caxton Building on Saturday afternoons! Finally as if to convince the city of their utter madness, this intrepid trio adventured the founding of a literary magazine to be called The Chap Book! Culture on the Middle Border had at last begun to hum!
Despite the smiles of elderly scoffers, the larger number of my esthetic associates felt deeply grateful to these devoted literary pioneers, whose taste, enterprise and humor were all sorely needed "in our midst." If not precisely cosmopolitan they were at least in touch with London.
Early in '94 they brought out a lovely edition of Main Traveled Roads and a new book called Prairie Songs. Neither of these volumes sold—the firm had no special facilities for selling books, but their print and binding delighted me, and in the autumn of the same year I gladly let them publish a collection of essays called Crumbling Idols, a small screed which aroused an astonishing tumult of comment, mostly antagonistic. Walter Page, editor of the Forum, in which one of the key-note chapters appeared, told me that over a thousand editorials were written upon my main thesis.
In truth the attention which this iconoclastic declaration of faith received at the hands of critics was out of all proportion to its size. Its explosive power was amazing. As I read it over now, with the clamor of "Cubism," "Imagism" and "Futurism" in my ears, it seems a harmless and on the whole rather reasonable plea for National Spirit and the freedom of youth, but in those days all of my books had mysterious power for arousing opposition, and most reviews of my work were so savage that I made a point of not reading them for the reason that they either embittered me, or were so lacking in discrimination as to have no value. In spite of all appearances to the contrary, I hated contention, therefore I left consideration of these assaults entirely to my publishers. (I learned afterwards that Miss Taft was greatly interested in Crumbling Idols. Perhaps she assumed that I was writing at her.)
Meanwhile in Rose of Dutcher's Coolly, the manuscript of which I had carried about with me on many of my lecturing trips, I was attempting to embody something of Chicago life, a task which I found rather difficult. After nine years of life in Boston, the city by the lake seemed depressingly drab and bleak, and my only hope lay in representing it not as I saw it, but as it appeared to my Wisconsin heroine who came to it from Madison and who perceived in it the mystery and the beauty which I had lost. To Rose, fresh from the farm, it was a great capital, and the lake a majestic sea. As in A Spoil of Office, I had tried to maintain the point of view of a countryman, so now I attempted to embody in Rose of Dutcher's Coolly, a picture of Chicago as an ambitious young girl from the Wisconsin farm would see it.
In my story Rose Dutcher made her way from Bluff Siding to the State University, and from Madison to a fellowship in the artistic and literary Chicago, of which I was a part. Her progress was intended to be typical. I said, "I will depict the life of a girl who has ambitious desires, and works toward her goal as blindly and as determinedly as a boy." It was a new thesis so far as Western girls were concerned, and I worked long and carefully on the problem, carrying the manuscript back and forth with me for two years.
As spring came on, I again put "Rose" in my trunk and hastened back to West Salem in order to build the two-story bay-window which I had minutely planned, which was, indeed, almost as important as my story and much more exciting. To begin the foundation of that extension was like setting in motion the siege of a city! It was extravagant—reckless—nevertheless assisted by a neighbor who was clever at any kind of building, I set to work in boyish, illogical enthusiasm.
Mother watched us tear out and rebuild with uneasy glance but when the windows were in and a new carpet with an entire "parlor suite" to match, arrived from the city, her alarm became vocal. "You mustn't spend your money for things like these. We can't afford such luxuries."
"Don't you worry about my money," I replied, "There's more where I found this. There's nothing too good for you, mother."
How sweet and sane and peaceful and afar off those blessed days seem to me as I muse over this page. At the village shops sirloin steak was ten cents a pound, chickens fifty cents a pair and as for eggs—I couldn't give ours away, at least in the early summer,—and all about us were gardens laden with fruit and vegetables, more than we could eat or sell or feed to the pigs. Wars were all in the past and life a simple matter of working out one's own individual problems. Never again shall I feel that confidence in the future, that joy in the present. I had no doubts—none that I can recall.
My brother came again in June and joyfully aided me in my esthetic pioneering. We amazed the town by seeding down a potato patch and laying out a tennis court thereon, the first play-ground of its kind in Hamilton township, and often as we played of an afternoon, farmers on their way to market with loads of grain or hogs, paused to watch our game and make audible comment on our folly. We also bought a lawn-mower, the second in the town, and shaved our front yard. We took down the old picket fence in front of the house and we planted trees and flowers, until at last some of the elderly folk disgustedly exclaimed, "What won't them Garland boys do next!"
Without doubt we "started something" in the sleepy village. Others following our example went so far as to take down their own fences and to buy lawn-mowers. That we were planning waterworks and a bath-room remained a secret—this was too revolutionary to be spoken of for the present. We were forced to make progress slowly.
Rose of Dutcher's Coolly, published during this year, was attacked quite as savagely as Main Traveled Roads had been, and this criticism saddened and depressed me. With a foolish notion that the Middle West should take a moderate degree of pride in me, I resented this condemnation. "Am I not making in my small way the same sort of historical record of the west that Whittier and Holmes secured for New England?" I asked my friends. "Am I not worthy of an occasional friendly word, a message of encouragement?"
Of course I should have risen superior to these local misjudgments, and in fact I did keep to my work although only a faint voice here and there was raised in my defence. Even after Rose had been introduced to London by William Stead, and Henry James and Israel Zangwill and James Barrie had all written in praise of her, the editors of the western papers still maintained a consistently militant attitude. Perhaps I should have taken comfort from the fact that they considered me worth assaulting, but that kind of comfort is rather bleak at its best, especially when the sales of your book are so small as to be confirmatory of the critic.
Without doubt this persistent antagonism, this almost universal depreciation of my stories of the plains had something to do with intensifying the joy with which I returned to the mountain world and its heroic types, at any rate I spent July and August of that year in Colorado and New Mexico, making many observations, which turned out to have incalculable value to me in later days. From a roundup in the Current Creek country I sauntered down through Salida, Ouray, Telluride, Durango and the Ute Reservation, a circuit which filled my mind with noble suggestions for stories and poems, a tour which profoundly influenced my life as well as my writing.
The little morocco-covered notebook in which I set down some of my impressions is before me as I write. It still vibrates with the ecstasy of that enthusiasm. Sentences like these are frequent. "From the dry hot plains, across the blazing purple of the mesa's edge, I look away to where the white clouds soar in majesty above the serrate crest of Uncomphagre. Oh, the splendor and mystery of those cloud-hid regions!... A coyote, brown and dry and hot as any tuft of desert grass drifts by.... Into the coolness and sweetness and cloud-glory of this marvelous land.... Gorgeous shadows are in motion on White House Peak.... Along the trail as though walking a taut wire, a caravan of burros streams, driven by a wide-hatted graceful horseman.... Twelve thousand feet! I am brother to the eagles now! The matchless streams, the vivid orange-colored meadows. The deep surf-like roar of the firs, the wailing sigh of the wind in the grass—a passionate longing wind." Such are my jottings.
In these pages I can now detect the beginnings of a dozen of my stories, a score of my poems. No other of my trips was ever so inspirational.
Not content with the wonders of Colorado I drifted down to Santa Fe and Isleta, with Charles Francis Browne and Hermon MacNeill, and got finally to Holbrook, where we outfitted and rode away across the desert, bound for the Snake Dance at Walpi. It would seem that we had decided to share all there was of romance in the South West. They were as insatiate as I.
For a week we lived on the mesa at Walpi in the house of Heli. Aided by Dr. Fewkes of Washington, we saw most of the phases of the snake ceremonies. The doctor and his own men were camped at the foot of the mesa, making a special study of the Hopi and their history. Remote, incredibly remote it all seemed even at that time, and some of that charm I put into an account of it which Harper's published—one of the earliest popular accounts of the Snake Dance.
One night as I was standing on the edge of the cliff looking out over the sand to the west, I saw a train of pack horses moving toward Walpi like a jointed, canvas-colored worm. It was the outfit of another party of "tourists" coming to the dance, and half an hour later a tall, lean, brown and smiling man of middle life rode up the eastern trail at the head of his train.
Greeting me pleasantly he asked, "Has the ceremony begun?"
"The snakes are in process of being gathered," I replied, "but you are in time for the most interesting part of the festival."
In response to a question he explained, "I've been studying the Cliff-Dwellings of the Mesa Verde. My name is Pruden. I am from New York."
It was evident that "The Doctor" (as his guides called him) was not only a man of wide experience on the trail, but a scientist as well, and I found him most congenial.
We spent the evening together, and together we witnessed the mysterious snake dance which the natives of Walpi give every other year—a ceremony so incredibly primitive that it carried me back into the stone age, and three days later (leaving Browne and MacNeill to paint and sculpture the Hopi) we went to Zuni and Acoma and at last to the Grand Canon of the Colorado, a trip which laid upon my mind a thousand glorious impressions of the desert and its life. It was so beautiful, so marvelous that sand and flies and hunger and thirst were forgotten.
Aside from its esthetic delight, this summer turned out to be the most profitable season of my whole career. It marks a complete 'bout face in my march. Coming just after Rose of Dutcher's Coolly, it dates the close of my prairie tales and the beginning of a long series of mountain stories. Cripple Creek and the Current Creek country suggested The Eagle's Heart, Witches' Gold, Money Magic, and a dozen shorter romances. In truth every page of my work thereafter was colored by the experiences of this glorious savage splendid summer.
The reasons are easy to define. All my emotional relationships with the "High Country" were pleasant, my sense of responsibility was less keen, hence the notes of resentment, of opposition to unjust social conditions which had made my other books an offense to my readers were almost entirely absent in my studies of the mountaineers. My pity was less challenged in their case. Lonely as their lives were, it was not a sordid loneliness. The cattle rancher was at least not a drudge. Careless, slovenly and wasteful as I knew him to be, he was not mean. He had something of the Centaur in his bearing. Marvelous horsemanship dignified his lean figure and lent a notable grace to his gestures. His speech was picturesque and his observations covered a wide area. Self-reliant, fearless, instant of action in emergency, his character appealed to me with ever-increasing power.
I will not say that I consciously and deliberately cut myself off from my prairie material, the desertion came about naturally. Swiftly, inevitably, the unplowed valleys, the waterless foothills and the high peaks, inspired me, filled me with desire to embody them in some form of prose, of verse.
Laden with a myriad impressions of Indians, mountaineers and miners, I returned to my home as a bee to its hive, and there, during October, in my quiet chamber worked fast and fervently to transform my rough notes into fiction. Making no attempt to depict the West as some one else had seen it, or might thereafter see it, I wrote of it precisely as it appeared to me, verifying every experience, for, although I had not lingered long in any one place—a few weeks at most—I had observed closely and my impressions were clearly and deeply graved.
In fear of losing that freshness of delight, that emotion which gave me inspiration, I had made copious notes while in the field and although I seldom referred to them after I reached my desk, the very act of putting them down had helped to organize and fix them in my mind.
All of September and October was spent at the Homestead. Each morning I worked at my writing, and in the afternoon I drove my mother about the country or wrought some improvement to the place.
* * * * *
In the midst of these new literary enthusiasms I received a message which had a most disturbing effect on my plans. It was a letter from Sam McClure whose new little magazine was beginning to show astonishing vitality. "I want you to write for me a life of Ulysses Grant. I want it to follow Ida Tarbell's Lincoln which is now nearing an end. Come to New York and talk it over."
This request arrested me in my fictional progress. I was tempted to accept this commission, not merely because of the editor's generous terms of payment but for the deeper reason that Grant was a word of epic significance in my mind. From the time when I was three years of age, this great name had rung in my ears like the sound of a mellow bell. I knew I could write Grant's story—but—I hesitated.
"It is a mighty theme," I replied, "and yet I am not sure that I ought to give so much of my time at this, the most creative period of my life. It may change the whole current of my imagination."
My father, whose attitude toward the great Commander held much of hero-worship and who had influenced my childish thinking, influenced me now, but aside from his instruction I had come to consider Grant's career more marvelous than that of any other American both by reason of its wide arc of experience and its violent dramatic contrasts. It lent itself to epic treatment. With a feeling that if I could put this deeply significant and distinctively American story into a readable volume, I should be adding something to American literature as well as to my own life, I consented. Dropping my fictional plans for the time I became the historian.
In order to make the biography a study from first-hand material I planned a series of inspirational trips which filled in a large part of '96. Beginning at Georgetown, Ohio, where I found several of Grant's boyhood playmates, I visited Ripley, where he went to school, and then at the Academy at West Point I spent several days examining the records. In addition, I went to each of the barracks at which young Grant had been stationed. Sacketts Harbor, Detroit and St. Louis yielded their traditions. A month in Mexico enabled me to trace out on foot not only the battle grounds of Monterey, but that of Vera Cruz, Puebla and Molina del Rey. No spot on which Grant had lived long enough to leave a definite impression was neglected. In this work I had the support of William Dean Howells who insisted on my doing the book bravely.
In pursuit of material concerning Grant's later life I interviewed scores of his old neighbors in Springfield and Galena, and in pursuit of his classmates, men like Buckner and Longstreet and Wright and Franklin, I took long journeys. In short I spared no pains to give my material a first-hand quality, and in doing this I traveled nearly thirty thousand miles, making many interesting acquaintances, in more than half the states of the Union.
During all these activities, however, the old Wisconsin farmhouse remained my pivot. In my intervals of rest I returned to my study and made notes of the vividly contrasting scenes through which I had passed. Orizaba and Jalapa, Perote with its snowy mountains rising above hot, cactus-covered plains, and Mexico City became almost dream-like by contrast with the placid beauty of Neshonoc. Some of my experiences, like "the Passion Play at Coyocan," for example, took on a medieval quality, so incredibly remote was its scene,—and yet, despite all this travel, notwithstanding my study of cities and soldiers and battle maps, I could not forget to lay out my garden. I kept my mother supplied with all the necessaries and a few of the luxuries of life.
In my note book of that time I find these lines: "I have a feeling of swift change in art and literature here in America. This latest trip to New York has shocked and saddened me. To watch the struggle, to feel the bitterness and intolerance of the various groups—to find one clique of artists set against another, to know that most of those who come here will fail and die—is appalling. The City is filled with strugglers, students of art, ambitious poets, journalists, novelists, writers of all kinds—I meet them at the clubs—some of them will be the large figures of 1900, most of them will have fallen under the wheel—This bitter war of Realists and Romanticists will be the jest of those who come after us, and they in their turn will be full of battle ardor with other cries and other banners. How is it possible to make much account of the cries and banners of to-day when I know they will be forgotten of all but the students of literary history?"
My contract with McClure's called for an advance of fifty dollars a week (more money than I had ever hoped to earn) and with this in prospect I purchased a new set of dinner china and a piano, which filled my mother's heart with delight. As I thought of her living long weeks in the old homestead with only my invalid aunt for company my conscience troubled me, and as it was necessary for me to go to Washington to complete my history, I attempted to mitigate her loneliness by buying a talking machine, through which I was able send her messages and songs. She considered these wax cylinders a poor substitute for my actual voice, but she got some entertainment from them by setting the machine going for the amazement of her callers.
November saw me settled in Washington, hard at work on my history, but all the time my mind was working, almost unconsciously, on my new fictional problems, "After all, I am a novelist," I wrote to Fuller, and I found time even in the midst of my historical study to compose an occasional short story of Colorado or Mexico.
Magazine editors were entirely hospitable to me now, for my tales of the Indian and the miner had created a friendlier spirit among their readers. My later themes were, happily, quite outside the controversial belt. Concerned less with the hopeless drudgery, and more with the epic side of western life, I found myself almost popular. My critics, once off their guard, were able to praise, cautiously it is true, but to praise. Some of them assured me with paternal gravity that I might, by following their suggestions become a happy and moderately successful writer, and this prosperity, you may be sure, was reflected to some degree in the dining room of the old Homestead.
My father, though glad of the shelter of the Wisconsin hills in winter, was too vigorous,—far too vigorous—to be confined to the limits of a four-acre garden patch, and when I urged him to join me in buying one of the fine level farms in our valley he agreed, but added "I must sell my Dakota land first."
With this I was forced to be content. Though sixty years old he still steered the six-horse header in harvest time, tireless and unsubdued. Times were improving slowly, very slowly in Dakota but opportunities for selling his land were still remote. He was not willing to make the necessary sacrifices. "I will not give it away," he grimly declared.
My return to the Homestead during the winter holidays brought many unforgettable experiences. Memories of those winter mornings come back to me—sunrises with steel-blue shadows lying along the drifts, whilst every weed, every shrub, feathered with frost, is lit with subtlest fire and the hills rise out of the mist, domes of brilliant-blue and burning silver. Splashes of red-gold fill all the fields, and small birds, flying amid the rimy foliage, shake sparkles of fire from their careless wings.
It was the antithesis of Indian summer, and yet it had something of the same dream-like quality. Its beauty was more poignant. The rounded tops of the red-oaks seemed to float in the sparkling air in which millions of sun-lit frost flakes glittered. All forms and lines were softened by this falling veil, and the world so adorned, so transfigured, filled the heart with a keen regret, a sense of pity that such a world should pass.
At such times I was glad of my new home, and my mother found in me only the confident and hopeful son. My doubts of the future, my discouragements of the present I carefully concealed.
Red Men and Buffalo
Although my Ulysses Grant, His Life and Character absorbed most of my time and the larger part of my energy during two years, I continued to dream (in my hours of leisure), of the "High Country" whose splendors of cloud and peak, combined with the broad-cast doings of the cattleman and miner, had aroused my enthusiasm. The heroic types, both white and red, which the trail has fashioned to its needs continued to allure me, and when in June, '97, my brother, on his vacation, met me again at West Salem, I outlined a tour which should begin with a study of the Sioux at Standing Rock and end with Seattle and the Pacific Ocean. "I must know the North-west," I said to him.
In order to report properly to any army post, I had in my pocket a letter from General Miles which commended me to all agents and officers, and with this as passport I was in the middle of getting my equipment in order when Ernest Thompson Seton and his wife surprised me by dropping off the train one morning late in the month. They too, were on their way to the Rockies, and in radiant holiday humor.
My first meeting with Seton had been in New York at a luncheon given for James Barrie only a few months before, but we had formed one of those instantaneous friendships which spring from the possession of many identical interests. His skill as an illustrator and his knowledge of wild animals had gained my admiration but I now learned that he knew certain phases of the West better than I, for though of English birth he had lived in Manitoba for several years. We were of the same age also, and this was another bond of sympathy.
He asked me to accompany him on his tour of the Yellowstone but as I had already arranged for a study of the Sioux, and as his own plans were equally definite, we reluctantly gave up all idea of camping together, but agreed to meet in New York City in October to compare notes.
The following week, on the first day of July, my brother and I were in Bismark, North Dakota, on our way to the Standing Rock Reservation to witness the "White Men's Big Sunday," as the red people were accustomed to call the Fourth of July.
It chanced to be a cool, sweet, jocund morning, and as we drove away, in an open buggy, over the treeless prairie swells toward the agency some sixty miles to the south, I experienced a sense of elation, a joy of life, a thrill of expectancy, which promised well for fiction. I knew the signs.
There was little settlement of any kind for twenty miles, but after we crossed the Cannonball River we entered upon the unviolated, primeval sod of the red hunter. Conical lodges were grouped along the streams. Horsemen with floating feathers and beaded buck-skin shirts over-took us riding like scouts, and when on the second morning we topped the final hill and saw the agency out-spread below us on the river bank, with hundreds of canvas tepees set in a wide circle behind it, our satisfaction was complete. Thousands of Sioux, men, women, and children could be seen moving about the teepees, while platoons of mounted warriors swept like scouting war parties across the plain. I congratulated myself on having reached this famous agency while yet its festival held something tribal and primitive.
After reporting to the Commander at Fort Yates, and calling upon the Agent in his office, we took lodgings at a little half-breed boarding house near the store, and ate our dinner at a table where full-bloods, half-bloods and squaw men were the other guests.
Every waking hour thereafter we spent in observation of the people. With an interpreter to aid me I conversed with the head men and inquired into their history. The sign-talkers, sitting in the shade of a lodge or wagon-top, depicting with silent grace the stirring tales of their youth, were absorbingly interesting. I spent hours watching the play of their expressive hands.
The nonchalant cow-boys riding about the camp, the somber squaw-men (attended by their blanketed wives and groups of wistful half-breed children), and the ragged old medicine men all in their several ways made up a marvelous scene, rich with survivals of pioneer life.
The Gall and the Sitting Bull were both dead, but Rain-in-the-Face (made famous by Longfellow) was alive, very much alive, though a cripple. We met him several times riding at ease (his crutch tied to his saddle), a genial, handsome, dark-complexioned man of middle age, with whom it was hard to associate the acts of ferocity with which he was charged.
My letter of introduction from General Miles not only made me welcome at the Fort, it authorized me to examine the early records of the Agency, and these I carefully read in search of material concerning the Sitting Bull.
In those dingy, brief, bald lines of record, I discovered official evidence of this chief's supremacy long before the Custer battle. As early as 1870 he was set down as one of the "irreconcilables," and in 1874 the Sioux most dreaded by the whites was "Sitting Bull's Band." To Sitting Bull all couriers were sent, and the brief official accounts of their meetings with him were highly dramatic and sometimes humorous.
He was a red man, and proud of it. He believed in remaining as he was created. "The great spirit made me red, and red I am satisfied to remain," he declared. "All my people ask is to be let alone, to hunt the buffalo, and to live the life of our fathers"—and in this he had the sympathy of many white men even of his day.
(In the final count this chieftain, for the reason that he kept the red man's point of view, will outlive the opportunists who truckled to the white man's power. He will stand as a typical Sioux.)
Our days at the Agency passed so swiftly, so pleasantly that we would have lingered on indefinitely had not the report of an "outbreak" among the northern Cheyennes aroused a more intense interest. In the hope of seeing something of this uprising I insisted on hurriedly returning to Bismark, where we took the earliest possible train for Custer City, Montana.
At that strange little cow-town my brother hired a man to drive us to Fort Custer, some forty or fifty miles to the south, a ride which carried us deep into a wild and beautiful land, a country almost untouched of man, and when, toward sun-set, we came in sight of the high bluff which stands at the confluence of the Big Horn and the Little Big Horn rivers, the fort, the ferry, the stream were a picture by Catlin or a glorious illustration in a romance of the Border. It was easy to imagine ourselves back in the stirring days of Sitting Bull and Roman Nose.
The commander of the Garrison, Colonel Anderson, a fine soldierly figure, welcomed us courteously and turned us over to Lieutenant Aherne, a hospitable young Irishman who invited us to spend the night in his quarters. It happened most opportunely that he was serving as Inspector of the meat issue at the Crow Agency, and on the following day we accompanied him on his detail, a deeply instructive experience, for, at night we attended a ceremonial social dance given by the Crows in honor of Chief Two Moon, a visiting Cheyenne.
Two Moon, a handsome broad-shouldered man of fifty, met us at the door of the Dance Lodge, welcomed us with courtly grace, and gave us seats beside him on the honor side of the circle. It appeared that he was master of ceremonies, and under his direction the dancing proceeded with such dramatic grace and skill that we needed very little help to understand its action.
In groups of eight, in perfect order, the young men rose from their seats, advanced to the center of the circle, and there reenacted by means of signs, attitudes and groupings, various notable personal or tribal achievements of the past. With stealthy, silent stride this one delineated the exploit of some ancestral chief, who had darted forth alone on a solitary scouting expedition. Others depicted the enemy, representing his detection and his capture. A third band arose, and trailing the hero spy, swiftly, silently, discovered the captors, attacked and defeated them and with triumphant shouts released the captive and brought him to camp—all in perfect unison with the singers at the drum whose varying rhythm set the pace for each especial episode, almost as precisely as a Chinese orchestra augments or diminishes the action on the stage.
To me this was a thrilling glimpse into prehistoric America, for these young men, stripped of their tainted white-man rags, were wholly admirable, painted lithe-limbed warriors, rejoicing once again in the light of their ancestral moons. On every face was a look like that of a captive leopard, dreaming of far-seen, familiar sands. The present was forgot, the past was momentarily restored. At midnight we went away but the strangely-moving beat of that barbaric drum was still throbbing in my ears as I fell asleep.
* * * * *
Early the following morning, eager to reach the scene of the Cheyenne outbreak we hired saddle horses and rode away directly across the Custer battle field on our way toward Lame Deer, where we were told the troops were still in camp to protect the agency.
What a ride that was! Our trail led us beyond the plow and the wagon wheel, far into the midst of hills where herds of cattle were feeding as the bison had fed for countless ages. Every valley had its story, for here the last battles of the Cheyennes had taken place. I had overtaken the passing world of the red nomad.
We stopped that night at a ranch about half way across the range, and in its cabin I listened while the cattlemen expressed their hatred of the Cheyenne. The violence of their antagonism, their shameless greed for the red man's land revealed to me once and for all the fomenting spirit of each of the Indian Wars which had accompanied the exterminating, century-long march of our invading race. In a single sentence these men expressed the ruthless creed of the land-seeker. "We intend to wipe these red sons-of-dogs from the face of the earth." Here was displayed shamelessly the seamy side of western settlement.
At about ten o'clock next morning we topped the scantily-timbered ridge which walls in the Lame Deer Agency, and looked down upon the tents of the troops. A company of cavalry drilling on the open field to the north gave evidence of active service, and as I studied the mingled huts and tepees of the village, I realized that I had arrived in time to witness some part of the latest staging of the red man's final stand.
Reporting at once to the agent, Major George Stouch, I found him to be a veteran officer of the regular army "On Special Duty," a middle-aged, pleasant-faced man of unassuming dignity whose crooked wrist (caused by a bullet in the Civil War) gave him a touch of awkwardness; but his eyes were keen, and his voice clear and decisive.
"The plans of the cattlemen have been momentarily checked," he said, "but they are still bitter, and a single pistol-shot may bring renewed trouble. The Cheyennes, as you know, are warriors."
He introduced me to Captain Cooper, in command of the troopers, and to Captain Reed, Commander of the Infantry, who invited us to join his mess, an invitation which we gladly accepted.
Cooper was a soldier of wide experience, a veteran of the Civil War, and an Indian fighter of distinction. But his Lieutenant, a handsome young West Pointer named Livermore, interested me still more keenly, for he was a student of the sign language and had been at one time in command of an experimental troop of red "rookies." Like Major Stouch he was a broad-minded friend of all primitive peoples, and his experiences and stories were of the greatest value to me.
With the aid of Major Stouch I won the confidence of White Bull, Two Moon, Porcupine, American Horse and other of the principal Cheyennes, and one of the Agency policemen, a fine fellow called Wolf Voice, became my interpreter. Though half-Cheyenne and half-Assiniboin, he spoke English well, and manifested a marked sense of humor. He had served one summer as guide to Frederick Remington, and had some capital stories concerning him. "Remington fat man—too heavy on pony. Him 'fraid Injuns sure catch him," he said with a chuckle. "Him all-time carry box—take pictures. Him no warrior."
For two weeks I absorbed "material" at every pore, careless of other duties, thinking only of this world, avid for the truth, yet selecting my facts as every artist must, until, at last, measurably content I announced my intention to return to the railway. "We have tickets to Seattle," I said to Stouch, "and we must make use of them."
"I'm sorry to have you go," he replied, "but if you must go I'll send Wolf Voice with you as far as Custer."
We had no real need of a guide but I was glad to have Wolf Voice riding with me, for I had grown to like him and welcomed any opportunity for conversing with him. He was one of the few full-bloods who could speak English well enough to enjoy a joke.
As we were passing his little cabin, just at the edge of the Agency, he said, "Wait, I get you somesing."
In a few moments he returned, carrying a long eagle feather in his hand. This he handed to me, saying, "My little boy—him dead. Him carry in dance dis fedder. You my friend. You take him."
Major Stouch had told me of this boy, a handsome little fellow of only five years of age, who used to join most soberly and cunningly with the men in their ceremonial dances; and so when Wolf Voice said, "I give you dis fedder—you my friend. You Indian's friend," I was deeply moved.
"Wolf Voice, I shall keep this as a sign, a sign that we are friends."
He pointed toward a woman crouching over a fire in the corral, "You see him—my wife? Him cry—all time cry since him son die. Him no sleep in house. Sleep all time in tepee. Me no sleep in house. Spirit come, cry, woo-oo-oo in chimney. My boy spirit come,—cry—me 'fraid! My heart very sore."
The bronze face of the big man was quivering with emotion as he spoke, and not knowing what to say to comfort him I pretended to haste. "Let us go. You can tell me about it while we ride."
As we set forth he recovered his smile, for he was naturally of a cheerful disposition, and in our long, leisurely journey I obtained many curious glimpses into his psychology—the psychology of the red man. He led us to certain shrines or "medicine" rocks and his remarks concerning the offerings of cartridges, calico, tobacco and food which we found deposited beside a twisted piece of lava on the side of a low hill were most revealing.
"Wolf Voice, do you believe the dead come back to get these presents," I asked.
"No," he soberly replied. "Spirit no eat tobacco, spirit eat spirit of tobacco."
His reply was essentially Oriental in its philosophy. It was the essence of the offering, the invisible part which was taken by the invisible dead.
Many other of his remarks were almost equally revelatory. "White soldier heap fool," he said. "Stand up in rows to be shot at. Injun fight running—in bush—behind trees."
We stopped again at The Half-Way Ranch, and the manner in which the cattlemen treated Wolf Voice angered me. He was much more admirable than they, and yet they would not allow him to sleep in the house.
He rode all the way back to Fort Custer with us and when we parted I said, "Wolf Voice, I hope we meet again," and I meant it. His spirit is in all that I have since written of the red men. He, Two Moon, American Horse, and Porcupine were of incalculable value to me in composing The Captain of the Gray Horse Troop, which was based upon this little war.
From Billings we went almost directly to the Flat Head Reservation. We had heard that a herd of buffalo was to be seen in its native pastures just west of Flat Head Lake and as I put more value on seeing that herd than upon any other "sight" in the state of Montana, we made it our next objective.
Outfitting at Jocko we rode across the divide to the St. Ignacio Mission. Less wild than the Cheyenne reservation the Flat Head country was much more beautiful, and we were entirely happy in our camp beside the rushing stream which came down from the Jocko Lakes.
"Yes, there is such a herd," the trader said. "It is owned by Michel Pablo and consists of about two hundred, old and young. They can be reached by riding straight north for some twenty miles and then turning to the west. You will have to hunt them, however; they are not in a corral. They are feeding just as they used to do. They come and go as they happen to feel the need of food or water."
With these stimulating directions we set forth one morning to "hunt a herd of buffalo," excited as a couple of boys, eager as hunters yet with only the desire to see the wild kine.
After we left the road and turned westward our way led athwart low hills and snake-like ravines and along deep-worn cattle paths leading to water holes. All was magnificently primeval. No mark of plow or spade, no planted stake or post assailed our eyes. We were deep in the land of the bison at last.
Finally, as we topped a long, low swell, my brother shouted, "Buffalo!" and looking where he pointed, I detected through the heated haze of the midday plain, certain vague, unfamiliar forms which hinted at the prehistoric past. They were not cows or horses, that was evident. Here and there purple-black bodies loomed, while close beside them other smaller objects gave off a singular and striking contrast. There was no mistaking the character of these animals. They were bison.
To ride down upon them thus, in the silence and heat of that uninhabited valley, was to realize in every detail, a phase of the old-time life of the plains. We moved in silence. The grass-hoppers springing with clapping buzz before our horses' feet gave out the only sound. No other living thing uttered voice. Nothing moved save our ponies and those distant monstrous kine whose presence filled us with the same emotion which had burned in the hearts of our pioneer ancestors.
As we drew nearer, clouds of dust arose like lazy smoke from smoldering fires, curtains which concealed some mighty bull tossing the powdery earth with giant hoof. The cows seeing our approach, began to shift and change. The bulls did not hurry, on the contrary, they fell to the rear and grimly halted our advance. Towers of alkali dust, hot and white, lingering smoke-like in the air shielded us like a screen, and so—slowly riding—we drew near enough to perceive the calves and hear the mutter of the cows as they reenacted for us the life of the vanished millions of their kind.
Here lay a calf beside its dam. Yonder a solitary ancient and shaggy bull stood apart, sullen and brooding. Nearer a colossal chieftain, glossy, black, and weighing two thousand pounds moved from group to group, restless and combative, wrinkling his ridiculously small nose, and uttering a deep, menacing, muttering roar. His rivals, though they slunk away, gave utterance to similar sinister snarls, as if voicing bitter resentment. They did not bellow, they growled, low down in their cavernous throats, like angry lions. Nothing that I had ever heard or read of buffaloes had given me the quality of this majestic clamor.
Occasionally one of them, tortured by flies, dropped to earth, and rolled and tore the sod, till a dome of dust arose and hid him. Out of this gray curtain he suddenly reappeared, dark and savage, like a dun rock emerging from mist. One furious giant, moving with curling upraised tail, challenged to universal combat, whilst all his rivals gave way, reluctant, resentful, yet afraid. The rumps of some of the veterans were as bare of hair as the loins of lions, but their enormous shoulders bulked into deformity by reason of a dense mane. They moved like elephants—clumsy, enormous, distorted, yet with astonishing celerity.
It was worth a long journey to stand thus and watch that small band of bison, representatives of a race whose myriads once covered all America, for though less than two hundred in number, they were feeding and warring precisely as their ancestors had fed and warred for a million years. Small wonder that the red men believe the white invader must have used some evil medicine, some magic power in sweeping these majestic creatures from the earth. Once they covered the hills like a robe of brown, now only a few small bands are left to perpetuate the habits and the customs of the past.
As we watched, they fed, fought, rose up and lay down in calm disdain of our presence. It was as if, unobserved, and yet close beside them, we were studying the denizens of a small corner of aboriginal America, America in pre-Columbian times. Reluctantly, slowly we turned and rode away, back to our tent, back to the railway and the present day.
* * * * *
On our return to Missoula we found the town aflame with a report that a steamer had just landed at Seattle, bringing from Alaska nearly three million dollars in gold-dust, and that the miners who owned the treasure had said, "We dug it from the valley of the Yukon, at a point called the Klondike. A thousand miles from anywhere. The Yukon is four thousand miles long, and flows north, so that the lower half freezes solid early in the fall, and to cross overland from Skagway—the way we came out—means weeks of travel. It is the greatest gold camp in the world but no one can go in now. Everybody must wait till next June."
It was well that this warning was plainly uttered, for the adventurous spirits of Montana instantly took fire. Nothing else was talked of by the men on the street and in the trains. Even my brother said, "I wish I could go."
"But you can't," I argued. "It is time you started for New York. Herne will drop you if you don't turn up for rehearsal in September."
Reluctantly agreeing to this, he turned his face toward the East whilst I kept on toward Seattle, to visit my classmate Burton Babcock, who was living in a village on Puget Sound.
The coast towns were humming with mining news and mining plans. The word "Klondike" blazed out on banners, on shop windows and on brick walls. Alert and thrifty merchants at once began to advertise Klondike shoes, Klondike coats, Klondike camp goods. Hundreds of Klondike exploring companies were being organized. In imagination each shop-keeper saw the gold seekers of the world in line of march, their faces set toward Seattle and the Sound. Every sign indicated a boom.
This swift leaping to grasp an opportunity was characteristically American, and I would have gladly taken part in the play, but alas! my Grant history was still unfinished, and I had already overstayed my vacation limit. I should have returned at once, but my friend Babcock was expecting me to visit him, and this I did.
Anacortes (once a port of vast pretentions), was, at this time, a boom-town in decay, and Burton whom I had not seen for ten years, seemed equally forlorn. After trying his hand at several professions, he had finally drifted to this place, and was living alone in a rude cabin, camping like a woodsman. Being without special training in any trade, he had fallen into competition with the lowest kind of unskilled labor.
Like my Uncle David, another unsuccessful explorer, he had grown old before his time, and for a few minutes I could detect in him nothing of the lithe youth I had known at school on the Iowa prairie twenty years before. Shaggy of beard, wrinkled and bent he seemed already an old man.
By severest toil in the mills and in the forest he had become the owner of two small houses on a ragged street—these and a timber claim on the Skagit River formed his entire fortune.
Though careless of dress and hard of hand, his speech remained that of the thinker, and much of his reading was still along high, philosophical lines. He had been a singular youth, and he had developed into a still more singular man. With an instinctive love of the forest, he had become a daring and experienced mountaineer. As he described to me his solitary trips over the high Cascades I was reminded of John Muir, for he, too, often spent weeks in the high peaks above his claim with only such outfit as he could carry on his back.