STEWART EDWARD WHITE
"THE BLAZED TRAIL," "SILENT PLACES," "THE FOREST," ETC.
The author has followed a true sequence of events practically in all particulars save in respect to the character of the Tenderfoot. He is in one sense fictitious; in another sense real. He is real in that he is the apotheosis of many tenderfeet, and that everything he does in this narrative he has done at one time or another in the author's experience. He is fictitious in the sense that he is in no way to be identified with the third member of our party in the actual trip.
I. THE RIDGE TRAIL II. ON EQUIPMENT III. ON HORSES IV. HOW TO GO ABOUT IT V. THE COAST RANGES VI. THE INFERNO VII. THE FOOT-HILLS VIII. THE PINES IX. THE TRAIL X. ON SEEING DEER XI. ON TENDERFEET XII. THE CANON XIII. TROUT, BUCKSKIN, AND PROSPECTORS XIV. ON CAMP COOKERY XV. ON THE WIND AT NIGHT XVI. THE VALLEY XVII. THE MAIN CREST XVIII. THE GIANT FOREST XIX. ON COWBOYS XX. THE GOLDEN TROUT XXI. ON GOING OUT XXII. THE LURE OF THE TRAIL
THE RIDGE TRAIL
Six trails lead to the main ridge. They are all good trails, so that even the casual tourist in the little Spanish-American town on the seacoast need have nothing to fear from the ascent. In some spots they contract to an arm's length of space, outside of which limit they drop sheer away; elsewhere they stand up on end, zigzag in lacets each more hair-raising than the last, or fill to demoralization with loose boulders and shale. A fall on the part of your horse would mean a more than serious accident; but Western horses do not fall. The major premise stands: even the casual tourist has no real reason for fear, however scared he may become.
Our favorite route to the main ridge was by a way called the Cold Spring Trail. We used to enjoy taking visitors up it, mainly because you come on the top suddenly, without warning. Then we collected remarks. Everybody, even the most stolid, said something.
You rode three miles on the flat, two in the leafy and gradually ascending creek-bed of a canon, a half hour of laboring steepness in the overarching mountain lilac and laurel. There you came to a great rock gateway which seemed the top of the world. At the gateway was a Bad Place where the ponies planted warily their little hoofs, and the visitor played "eyes front," and besought that his mount should not stumble.
Beyond the gateway a lush level canon into which you plunged as into a bath; then again the laboring trail, up and always up toward the blue California sky, out of the lilacs, and laurels, and redwood chaparral into the manzanita, the Spanish bayonet, the creamy yucca, and the fine angular shale of the upper regions. Beyond the apparent summit you found always other summits yet to be climbed. And all at once, like thrusting your shoulders out of a hatchway, you looked over the top.
Then came the remarks. Some swore softly; some uttered appreciative ejaculation; some shouted aloud; some gasped; one man uttered three times the word "Oh,"—once breathlessly, Oh! once in awakening appreciation, OH! once in wild enthusiasm, OH! Then invariably they fell silent and looked.
For the ridge, ascending from seaward in a gradual coquetry of foot-hills, broad low ranges, cross-systems, canons, little flats, and gentle ravines, inland dropped off almost sheer to the river below. And from under your very feet rose, range after range, tier after tier, rank after rank, in increasing crescendo of wonderful tinted mountains to the main crest of the Coast Ranges, the blue distance, the mightiness of California's western systems. The eye followed them up and up, and farther and farther, with the accumulating emotion of a wild rush on a toboggan. There came a point where the fact grew to be almost too big for the appreciation, just as beyond a certain point speed seems to become unbearable. It left you breathless, wonder-stricken, awed. You could do nothing but look, and look, and look again, tongue-tied by the impossibility of doing justice to what you felt. And in the far distance, finally, your soul, grown big in a moment, came to rest on the great precipices and pines of the greatest mountains of all, close under the sky.
In a little, after the change had come to you, a change definite and enduring, which left your inner processes forever different from what they had been, you turned sharp to the west and rode five miles along the knife-edge Ridge Trail to where Rattlesnake Canon led you down and back to your accustomed environment.
To the left as you rode you saw, far on the horizon, rising to the height of your eye, the mountains of the channel islands. Then the deep sapphire of the Pacific, fringed with the soft, unchanging white of the surf and the yellow of the shore. Then the town like a little map, and the lush greens of the wide meadows, the fruit-groves, the lesser ranges—all vivid, fertile, brilliant, and pulsating with vitality. You filled your senses with it, steeped them in the beauty of it. And at once, by a mere turn of the eyes, from the almost crude insistence of the bright primary color of life, you faced the tenuous azures of distance, the delicate mauves and amethysts, the lilacs and saffrons of the arid country.
This was the wonder we never tired of seeing for ourselves, of showing to others. And often, academically, perhaps a little wistfully, as one talks of something to be dreamed of but never enjoyed, we spoke of how fine it would be to ride down into that land of mystery and enchantment, to penetrate one after another the canons dimly outlined in the shadows cast by the westering sun, to cross the mountains lying outspread in easy grasp of the eye, to gain the distant blue Ridge, and see with our own eyes what lay beyond.
For to its other attractions the prospect added that of impossibility, of unattainableness. These rides of ours were day rides. We had to get home by nightfall. Our horses had to be fed, ourselves to be housed. We had not time to continue on down the other side whither the trail led. At the very and literal brink of achievement we were forced to turn back.
Gradually the idea possessed us. We promised ourselves that some day we would explore. In our after-dinner smokes we spoke of it. Occasionally, from some hunter or forest-ranger, we gained little items of information, we learned the fascination of musical names—Mono Canon, Patrera Don Victor, Lloma Paloma, Patrera Madulce, Cuyamas, became familiar to us as syllables. We desired mightily to body them forth to ourselves as facts. The extent of our mental vision expanded. We heard of other mountains far beyond these farthest—mountains whose almost unexplored vastnesses contained great forests, mighty valleys, strong water-courses, beautiful hanging-meadows, deep canons of granite, eternal snows,—mountains so extended, so wonderful, that their secrets offered whole summers of solitary exploration. We came to feel their marvel, we came to respect the inferno of the Desert that hemmed them in. Shortly we graduated from the indefiniteness of railroad maps to the intricacies of geological survey charts. The fever was on us. We must go.
A dozen of us desired. Three of us went; and of the manner of our going, and what you must know who would do likewise, I shall try here to tell.
If you would travel far in the great mountains where the trails are few and bad, you will need a certain unique experience and skill. Before you dare venture forth without a guide, you must be able to do a number of things, and to do them well.
First and foremost of all, you must be possessed of that strange sixth sense best described as the sense of direction. By it you always know about where you are. It is to some degree a memory for back-tracks and landmarks, but to a greater extent an instinct for the lay of the country, for relative bearings, by which you are able to make your way across-lots back to your starting-place. It is not an uncommon faculty, yet some lack it utterly. If you are one of the latter class, do not venture, for you will get lost as sure as shooting, and being lost in the mountains is no joke.
Some men possess it; others do not. The distinction seems to be almost arbitrary. It can be largely developed, but only in those with whom original endowment of the faculty makes development possible. No matter how long a direction-blind man frequents the wilderness, he is never sure of himself. Nor is the lack any reflection on the intelligence. I once traveled in the Black Hills with a young fellow who himself frankly confessed that after much experiment he had come to the conclusion he could not "find himself." He asked me to keep near him, and this I did as well as I could; but even then, three times during the course of ten days he lost himself completely in the tumultuous upheavals and canons of that badly mixed region. Another, an old grouse-hunter, walked twice in a circle within the confines of a thick swamp about two miles square. On the other hand, many exhibit almost marvelous skill in striking a bee-line for their objective point, and can always tell you, even after an engrossing and wandering hunt, exactly where camp lies. And I know nothing more discouraging than to look up after a long hard day to find your landmarks changed in appearance, your choice widened to at least five diverging and similar canons, your pockets empty of food, and the chill mountain twilight descending.
Analogous to this is the ability to follow a dim trail. A trail in the mountains often means merely a way through, a route picked out by some prospector, and followed since at long intervals by chance travelers.
It may, moreover, mean the only way through. Missing it will bring you to ever-narrowing ledges, until at last you end at a precipice, and there is no room to turn your horses around for the return. Some of the great box canons thousands of feet deep are practicable by but one passage,—and that steep and ingenious in its utilization of ledges, crevices, little ravines, and "hog's-backs"; and when the only indications to follow consist of the dim vestiges left by your last predecessor, perhaps years before, the affair becomes one of considerable skill and experience. You must be able to pick out scratches made by shod hoofs on the granite, depressions almost filled in by the subsequent fall of decayed vegetation, excoriations on fallen trees. You must have the sense to know AT ONCE when you have overrun these indications, and the patience to turn back immediately to your last certainty, there to pick up the next clue, even if it should take you the rest of the day. In short, it is absolutely necessary that you be at least a persistent tracker.
Parenthetically; having found the trail, be charitable. Blaze it, if there are trees; otherwise "monument" it by piling rocks on top of one another. Thus will those who come after bless your unknown shade.
Third, you must know horses. I do not mean that you should be a horse-show man, with a knowledge of points and pedigrees. But you must learn exactly what they can and cannot do in the matters of carrying weights, making distance, enduring without deterioration hard climbs in high altitudes; what they can or cannot get over in the way of bad places. This last is not always a matter of appearance merely. Some bits of trail, seeming impassable to anything but a goat, a Western horse will negotiate easily; while others, not particularly terrifying in appearance, offer complications of abrupt turn or a single bit of unstable, leg-breaking footing which renders them exceedingly dangerous. You must, moreover, be able to manage your animals to the best advantage in such bad places. Of course you must in the beginning have been wise as to the selection of the horses.
Fourth, you must know good horse-feed when you see it. Your animals are depending entirely on the country; for of course you are carrying no dry feed for them. Their pasturage will present itself under a variety of aspects, all of which you must recognize with certainty. Some of the greenest, lushest, most satisfying-looking meadows grow nothing but water-grasses of large bulk but small nutrition; while apparently barren tracts often conceal small but strong growths of great value. You must differentiate these.
Fifth, you must possess the ability to pare a hoof, fit a shoe cold, nail it in place. A bare hoof does not last long on the granite, and you are far from the nearest blacksmith. Directly in line with this, you must have the trick of picking up and holding a hoof without being kicked, and you must be able to throw and tie without injuring him any horse that declines to be shod in any other way.
Last, you must of course be able to pack a horse well, and must know four or five of the most essential pack-"hitches."
With this personal equipment you ought to be able to get through the country. It comprises the absolutely essential.
But further, for the sake of the highest efficiency, you should add, as finish to your mountaineer's education, certain other items. A knowledge of the habits of deer and the ability to catch trout with fair certainty are almost a necessity when far from the base of supplies. Occasionally the trail goes to pieces entirely: there you must know something of the handling of an axe and pick. Learn how to swim a horse. You will have to take lessons in camp-fire cookery. Otherwise employ a guide. Of course your lungs, heart, and legs must be in good condition.
As to outfit, certain especial conditions will differentiate your needs from those of forest and canoe travel.
You will in the changing altitudes be exposed to greater variations in temperature. At morning you may travel in the hot arid foot-hills; at noon you will be in the cool shades of the big pines; towards evening you may wallow through snowdrifts; and at dark you may camp where morning will show you icicles hanging from the brinks of little waterfalls. Behind your saddle you will want to carry a sweater, or better still a buckskin waistcoat. Your arms are never cold anyway, and the pockets of such a waistcoat, made many and deep, are handy receptacles for smokables, matches, cartridges, and the like. For the night-time, when the cold creeps down from the high peaks, you should provide yourself with a suit of very heavy underwear and an extra sweater or a buckskin shirt. The latter is lighter, softer, and more impervious to the wind than the sweater. Here again I wish to place myself on record as opposed to a coat. It is a useless ornament, assumed but rarely, and then only as substitute for a handier garment.
Inasmuch as you will be a great deal called on to handle abrading and sometimes frozen ropes, you will want a pair of heavy buckskin gauntlets. An extra pair of stout high-laced boots with small Hungarian hob-nails will come handy. It is marvelous how quickly leather wears out in the downhill friction of granite and shale. I once found the heels of a new pair of shoes almost ground away by a single giant-strides descent of a steep shale-covered thirteen-thousand-foot mountain. Having no others I patched them with hair-covered rawhide and a bit of horseshoe. It sufficed, but was a long and disagreeable job which an extra pair would have obviated.
Balsam is practically unknown in the high hills, and the rocks are especially hard. Therefore you will take, in addition to your gray army-blanket, a thick quilt or comforter to save your bones. This, with your saddle-blankets and pads as foundation, should give you ease—if you are tough. Otherwise take a second quilt.
A tarpaulin of heavy canvas 17 x 6 feet goes under you, and can be, if necessary, drawn up to cover your head. We never used a tent. Since you do not have to pack your outfit on your own back, you can, if you choose, include a small pillow. Your other personal belongings are those you would carry into the Forest. I have elsewhere described what they should be.
Now as to the equipment for your horses.
The most important point for yourself is your riding-saddle. The cowboy or military style and seat are the only practicable ones. Perhaps of these two the cowboy saddle is the better, for the simple reason that often in roping or leading a refractory horse, the horn is a great help. For steep-trail work the double cinch is preferable to the single, as it need not be pulled so tight to hold the saddle in place.
Your riding-bridle you will make of an ordinary halter by riveting two snaps to the lower part of the head-piece just above the corners of the horse's mouth. These are snapped into the rings of the bit. At night you unsnap the bit, remove it and the reins, and leave the halter part on the horse. Each animal, riding and packing, has furthermore a short lead-rope attached always to his halter-ring.
Of pack-saddles the ordinary sawbuck tree is by all odds the best, provided it fits. It rarely does. If you can adjust the wood accurately to the anatomy of the individual horse, so that the side pieces bear evenly and smoothly without gouging the withers or chafing the back, you are possessed of the handiest machine made for the purpose. Should individual fitting prove impracticable, get an old LOW California riding-tree and have a blacksmith bolt an upright spike on the cantle. You can hang the loops of the kyacks or alforjas—the sacks slung on either side the horse—from the pommel and this iron spike. Whatever the saddle chosen, it should be supplied with breast-straps, breeching, and two good cinches.
The kyacks or alforjas just mentioned are made either of heavy canvas, or of rawhide shaped square and dried over boxes. After drying, the boxes are removed, leaving the stiff rawhide like small trunks open at the top. I prefer the canvas, for the reason that they can be folded and packed for railroad transportation. If a stiffer receptacle is wanted for miscellaneous loose small articles, you can insert a soap-box inside the canvas. It cannot be denied that the rawhide will stand rougher usage.
Probably the point now of greatest importance is that of saddle-padding. A sore back is the easiest thing in the world to induce,—three hours' chafing will turn the trick,—and once it is done you are in trouble for a month. No precautions or pains are too great to take in assuring your pack-animals against this. On a pinch you will give up cheerfully part of your bedding to the cause. However, two good-quality woolen blankets properly and smoothly folded, a pad made of two ordinary collar-pads sewed parallel by means of canvas strips in such a manner as to lie along both sides of the backbone, a well-fitted saddle, and care in packing will nearly always suffice. I have gone months without having to doctor a single abrasion.
You will furthermore want a pack-cinch and a pack-rope for each horse. The former are of canvas or webbing provided with a ring at one end and a big bolted wooden hook at the other. The latter should be half-inch lines of good quality. Thirty-three feet is enough for packing only; but we usually bought them forty feet long, so they could be used also as picket-ropes. Do not fail to include several extra. They are always fraying out, getting broken, being cut to free a fallen horse, or becoming lost.
Besides the picket-ropes, you will also provide for each horse a pair of strong hobbles. Take them to a harness-maker and have him sew inside each ankle-band a broad strip of soft wash-leather twice the width of the band. This will save much chafing. Some advocate sheepskin with the wool on, but this I have found tends to soak up water or to freeze hard. At least two loud cow-bells with neck-straps are handy to assist you in locating whither the bunch may have strayed during the night. They should be hung on the loose horses most inclined to wander.
Accidents are common in the hills. The repair-kit is normally rather comprehensive. Buy a number of extra latigos, or cinch-straps. Include many copper rivets of all sizes—they are the best quick-repair known for almost everything, from putting together a smashed pack-saddle to cobbling a worn-out boot. Your horseshoeing outfit should be complete with paring-knife, rasp, nail-set, clippers, hammer, nails, and shoes. The latter will be the malleable soft iron, low-calked "Goodenough," which can be fitted cold. Purchase a dozen front shoes and a dozen and a half hind shoes. The latter wear out faster on the trail. A box or so of hob-nails for your own boots, a waxed end and awl, a whetstone, a file, and a piece of buckskin for strings and patches complete the list.
Thus equipped, with your grub supply, your cooking-utensils, your personal effects, your rifle and your fishing-tackle, you should be able to go anywhere that man and horses can go, entirely self-reliant, independent of the towns.
I really believe that you will find more variation of individual and interesting character in a given number of Western horses than in an equal number of the average men one meets on the street. Their whole education, from the time they run loose on the range until the time when, branded, corralled, broken, and saddled, they pick their way under guidance over a bad piece of trail, tends to develop their self-reliance. They learn to think for themselves.
To begin with two misconceptions, merely by way of clearing the ground: the Western horse is generally designated as a "bronco." The term is considered synonymous of horse or pony. This is not so. A horse is "bronco" when he is ugly or mean or vicious or unbroken. So is a cow "bronco" in the same condition, or a mule, or a burro. Again, from certain Western illustrators and from a few samples, our notion of the cow-pony has become that of a lean, rangy, wiry, thin-necked, scrawny beast. Such may be found. But the average good cow-pony is apt to be an exceedingly handsome animal, clean-built, graceful. This is natural, when you stop to think of it, for he is descended direct from Moorish and Arabian stock.
Certain characteristics he possesses beyond the capabilities of the ordinary horse. The most marvelous to me of these is his sure-footedness. Let me give you a few examples.
I once was engaged with a crew of cowboys in rounding up mustangs in southern Arizona. We would ride slowly in through the hills until we caught sight of the herds. Then it was a case of running them down and heading them off, of turning the herd, milling it, of rushing it while confused across country and into the big corrals. The surface of the ground was composed of angular volcanic rocks about the size of your two fists, between which the bunch-grass sprouted. An Eastern rider would ride his horse very gingerly and at a walk, and then thank his lucky stars if he escaped stumbles. The cowboys turned their mounts through at a dead run. It was beautiful to see the ponies go, lifting their feet well up and over, planting them surely and firmly, and nevertheless making speed and attending to the game. Once, when we had pushed the herd up the slope of a butte, it made a break to get through a little hog-back. The only way to head it was down a series of rough boulder ledges laid over a great sheet of volcanic rock. The man at the hog-back put his little gray over the ledges and boulders, down the sheet of rock,—hop, slip, slide,—and along the side hill in time to head off the first of the mustangs. During the ten days of riding I saw no horse fall. The animal I rode, Button by name, never even stumbled.
In the Black Hills years ago I happened to be one of the inmates of a small mining-camp. Each night the work-animals, after being fed, were turned loose in the mountains. As I possessed the only cow-pony in the outfit, he was fed in the corral, and kept up for the purpose of rounding up the others. Every morning one of us used to ride him out after the herd. Often it was necessary to run him at full speed along the mountain-side, over rocks, boulders, and ledges, across ravines and gullies. Never but once in three months did he fall.
On the trail, too, they will perform feats little short of marvelous. Mere steepness does not bother them at all. They sit back almost on their haunches, bunch their feet together, and slide. I have seen them go down a hundred feet this way. In rough country they place their feet accurately and quickly, gauge exactly the proper balance. I have led my saddle-horse, Bullet, over country where, undoubtedly to his intense disgust, I myself have fallen a dozen times in the course of a morning. Bullet had no such troubles. Any of the mountain horses will hop cheerfully up or down ledges anywhere. They will even walk a log fifteen or twenty feet above a stream. I have seen the same trick performed in Barnum's circus as a wonderful feat, accompanied by brass bands and breathlessness. We accomplished it on our trip with out any brass bands; I cannot answer for the breathlessness. As for steadiness of nerve, they will walk serenely on the edge of precipices a man would hate to look over, and given a palm's breadth for the soles of their feet, they will get through. Over such a place I should a lot rather trust Bullet than myself.
In an emergency the Western horse is not apt to lose his head. When a pack-horse falls down, he lies still without struggle until eased of his pack and told to get up. If he slips off an edge, he tries to double his fore legs under him and slide. Should he find himself in a tight place, he waits patiently for you to help him, and then proceeds gingerly. A friend of mine rode a horse named Blue. One day, the trail being slippery with rain, he slid and fell. My friend managed a successful jump, but Blue tumbled about thirty feet to the bed of the canon. Fortunately he was not injured. After some difficulty my friend managed to force his way through the chaparral to where Blue stood. Then it was fine to see them. My friend would go ahead a few feet, picking a route. When he had made his decision, he called Blue. Blue came that far, and no farther. Several times the little horse balanced painfully and unsteadily like a goat, all four feet on a boulder, waiting for his signal to advance. In this manner they regained the trail, and proceeded as though nothing had happened. Instances could be multiplied indefinitely.
A good animal adapts himself quickly. He is capable of learning by experience. In a country entirely new to him he soon discovers the best method of getting about, where the feed grows, where he can find water. He is accustomed to foraging for himself. You do not need to show him his pasturage. If there is anything to eat anywhere in the district he will find it. Little tufts of bunch-grass growing concealed under the edges of the brush, he will search out. If he cannot get grass, he knows how to rustle for the browse of small bushes. Bullet would devour sage-brush, when he could get nothing else; and I have even known him philosophically to fill up on dry pine-needles. There is no nutrition in dry pine-needles, but Bullet got a satisfyingly full belly. On the trail a well-seasoned horse will be always on the forage, snatching here a mouthful, yonder a single spear of grass, and all without breaking the regularity of his gait, or delaying the pack-train behind him. At the end of the day's travel he is that much to the good.
By long observation thus you will construct your ideal of the mountain horse, and in your selection of your animals for an expedition you will search always for that ideal. It is only too apt to be modified by personal idiosyncrasies, and proverbially an ideal is difficult of attainment; but you will, with care, come closer to its realization than one accustomed only to the conventionality of an artificially reared horse would believe possible.
The ideal mountain horse, when you come to pick him out, is of medium size. He should be not smaller than fourteen hands nor larger than fifteen. He is strongly but not clumsily built, short-coupled, with none of the snipy speedy range of the valley animal. You will select preferably one of wide full forehead, indicating intelligence, low in the withers, so the saddle will not be apt to gall him. His sureness of foot should be beyond question, and of course he must be an expert at foraging. A horse that knows but one or two kinds of feed, and that starves unless he can find just those kinds, is an abomination. He must not jump when you throw all kinds of rattling and terrifying tarpaulins across him, and he must not mind if the pack-ropes fall about his heels. In the day's march he must follow like a dog without the necessity of a lead-rope, nor must he stray far when turned loose at night.
Fortunately, when removed from the reassuring environment of civilization, horses are gregarious. They hate to be separated from the bunch to which they are accustomed. Occasionally one of us would stop on the trail, for some reason or another, thus dropping behind the pack-train. Instantly the saddle-horse so detained would begin to grow uneasy. Bullet used by all means in his power to try to induce me to proceed. He would nibble me with his lips, paw the ground, dance in a circle, and finally sidle up to me in the position of being mounted, than which he could think of no stronger hint. Then when I had finally remounted, it was hard to hold him in. He would whinny frantically, scramble with enthusiasm up trails steep enough to draw a protest at ordinary times, and rejoin his companions with every symptom of gratification and delight. This gregariousness and alarm at being left alone in a strange country tends to hold them together at night. You are reasonably certain that in the morning, having found one, you will come upon the rest not far away.
The personnel of our own outfit we found most interesting. Although collected from divergent localities they soon became acquainted. In a crowded corral they were always compact in their organization, sticking close together, and resisting as a solid phalanx encroachments on their feed by other and stranger horses. Their internal organization was very amusing. A certain segregation soon took place. Some became leaders; others by common consent were relegated to the position of subordinates.
The order of precedence on the trail was rigidly preserved by the pack-horses. An attempt by Buckshot to pass Dinkey, for example, the latter always met with a bite or a kick by way of hint. If the gelding still persisted, and tried to pass by a long detour, the mare would rush out at him angrily, her ears back, her eyes flashing, her neck extended. And since Buckshot was by no means inclined always to give in meekly, we had opportunities for plenty of amusement. The two were always skirmishing. When by a strategic short cut across the angle of a trail Buckshot succeeded in stealing a march on Dinkey, while she was nipping a mouthful, his triumph was beautiful to see. He never held the place for long, however. Dinkey's was the leadership by force of ambition and energetic character, and at the head of the pack-train she normally marched.
Yet there were hours when utter indifference seemed to fall on the militant spirits. They trailed peacefully and amiably in the rear while Lily or Jenny marched with pride in the coveted advance. But the place was theirs only by sufferance. A bite or a kick sent them back to their own positions when the true leaders grew tired of their vacation.
However rigid this order of precedence, the saddle-animals were acknowledged as privileged;—and knew it. They could go where they pleased. Furthermore theirs was the duty of correcting infractions of the trail discipline, such as grazing on the march, or attempting unauthorized short cuts. They appreciated this duty. Bullet always became vastly indignant if one of the pack-horses misbehaved. He would run at the offender angrily, hustle him to his place with savage nips of his teeth, and drop back to his own position with a comical air of virtue. Once in a great while it would happen that on my spurring up from the rear of the column I would be mistaken for one of the pack-horses attempting illegally to get ahead. Immediately Dinkey or Buckshot would snake his head out crossly to turn me to the rear. It was really ridiculous to see the expression of apology with which they would take it all back, and the ostentatious, nose-elevated indifference in Bullet's very gait as he marched haughtily by. So rigid did all the animals hold this convention that actually in the San Joaquin Valley Dinkey once attempted to head off a Southern Pacific train. She ran at full speed diagonally toward it, her eyes striking fire, her ears back, her teeth snapping in rage because the locomotive would not keep its place behind her ladyship.
Let me make you acquainted with our outfit.
I rode, as you have gathered, an Arizona pony named Bullet. He was a handsome fellow with a chestnut brown coat, long mane and tail, and a beautiful pair of brown eyes. Wes always called him "Baby." He was in fact the youngster of the party, with all the engaging qualities of youth. I never saw a horse more willing. He wanted to do what you wanted him to; it pleased him, and gave him a warm consciousness of virtue which the least observant could not fail to remark. When leading he walked industriously ahead, setting the pace; when driving,—that is, closing up the rear,—he attended strictly to business. Not for the most luscious bunch of grass that ever grew would he pause even for an instant. Yet in his off hours, when I rode irresponsibly somewhere in the middle, he was a great hand to forage. Few choice morsels escaped him. He confided absolutely in his rider in the matter of bad country, and would tackle anything I would put him at. It seemed that he trusted me not to put him at anything that would hurt him. This was an invaluable trait when an example had to be set to the reluctance of the other horses. He was a great swimmer. Probably the most winning quality of his nature was his extreme friendliness. He was always wandering into camp to be petted, nibbling me over with his lips, begging to have his forehead rubbed, thrusting his nose under an elbow, and otherwise telling how much he thought of us. Whoever broke him did a good job. I never rode a better-reined horse. A mere indication of the bridle-hand turned him to right or left, and a mere raising of the hand without the slightest pressure on the bit stopped him short. And how well he understood cow-work! Turn him loose after the bunch, and he would do the rest. All I had to do was to stick to him. That in itself was no mean task, for he turned like a flash, and was quick as a cat on his feet. At night I always let him go foot free. He would be there in the morning, and I could always walk directly up to him with the bridle in plain sight in my hand. Even at a feedless camp we once made where we had shot a couple of deer, he did not attempt to wander off in search of pasture, as would most horses. He nosed around unsuccessfully until pitch dark, then came into camp, and with great philosophy stood tail to the fire until morning. I could always jump off anywhere for a shot, without even the necessity of "tying him to the ground," by throwing the reins over his head. He would wait for me, although he was never overfond of firearms.
Nevertheless Bullet had his own sense of dignity. He was literally as gentle as a kitten, but he drew a line. I shall never forget how once, being possessed of a desire to find out whether we could swim our outfit across a certain stretch of the Merced River, I climbed him bareback. He bucked me off so quickly that I never even got settled on his back. Then he gazed at me with sorrow, while, laughing irrepressibly at this unusual assertion of independent ideas, I picked myself out of a wild-rose bush. He did not attempt to run away from me, but stood to be saddled, and plunged boldly into the swift water where I told him to. Merely he thought it disrespectful in me to ride him without his proper harness. He was the pet of the camp.
As near as I could make out, he had but one fault. He was altogether too sensitive about his hind quarters, and would jump like a rabbit if anything touched him there.
Wes rode a horse we called Old Slob. Wes, be it premised, was an interesting companion. He had done everything,—seal-hunting, abalone-gathering, boar-hunting, all kinds of shooting, cow-punching in the rough Coast Ranges, and all other queer and outlandish and picturesque vocations by which a man can make a living. He weighed two hundred and twelve pounds and was the best game shot with a rifle I ever saw.
As you may imagine, Old Slob was a stocky individual. He was built from the ground up. His disposition was quiet, slow, honest. Above all, he gave the impression of vast, very vast experience. Never did he hurry his mental processes, although he was quick enough in his movements if need arose. He quite declined to worry about anything. Consequently, in spite of the fact that he carried by far the heaviest man in the company, he stayed always fat and in good condition. There was something almost pathetic in Old Slob's willingness to go on working, even when more work seemed like an imposition. You could not fail to fall in love with his mild inquiring gentle eyes, and his utter trust in the goodness of human nature. His only fault was an excess of caution. Old Slob was very very experienced. He knew all about trails, and he declined to be hurried over what he considered a bad place. Wes used sometimes to disagree with him as to what constituted a bad place. "Some day you're going to take a tumble, you old fool," Wes used to address him, "if you go on fiddling down steep rocks with your little old monkey work. Why don't you step out?" Only Old Slob never did take a tumble. He was willing to do anything for you, even to the assuming of a pack. This is considered by a saddle-animal distinctly as a come-down.
The Tenderfoot, by the irony of fate, drew a tenderfoot horse. Tunemah was a big fool gray that was constitutionally rattle-brained. He meant well enough, but he didn't know anything. When he came to a bad place in the trail, he took one good look—and rushed it. Constantly we expected him to come to grief. It wore on the Tenderfoot's nerves. Tunemah was always trying to wander off the trail, trying fool routes of his own invention. If he were sent ahead to set the pace, he lagged and loitered and constantly looked back, worried lest he get too far in advance and so lose the bunch. If put at the rear, he fretted against the bit, trying to push on at a senseless speed. In spite of his extreme anxiety to stay with the train, he would once in a blue moon get a strange idea of wandering off solitary through the mountains, passing good feed, good water, good shelter. We would find him, after a greater or less period of difficult tracking, perched in a silly fashion on some elevation. Heaven knows what his idea was: it certainly was neither search for feed, escape, return whence he came, nor desire for exercise. When we came up with him, he would gaze mildly at us from a foolish vacant eye and follow us peaceably back to camp. Like most weak and silly people, he had occasional stubborn fits when you could beat him to a pulp without persuading him. He was one of the type already mentioned that knows but two or three kinds of feed. As time went on he became thinner and thinner. The other horses prospered, but Tunemah failed. He actually did not know enough to take care of himself; and could not learn. Finally, when about two months out, we traded him at a cow-camp for a little buckskin called Monache.
So much for the saddle-horses. The pack-animals were four.
A study of Dinkey's character and an experience of her characteristics always left me with mingled feelings. At times I was inclined to think her perfection: at other times thirty cents would have been esteemed by me as a liberal offer for her. To enumerate her good points: she was an excellent weight-carrier; took good care of her pack that it never scraped nor bumped; knew all about trails, the possibilities of short cuts, the best way of easing herself downhill; kept fat and healthy in districts where grew next to no feed at all; was past-mistress in the picking of routes through a trailless country. Her endurance was marvelous; her intelligence equally so. In fact too great intelligence perhaps accounted for most of her defects. She thought too much for herself; she made up opinions about people; she speculated on just how far each member of the party, man or beast, would stand imposition, and tried conclusions with each to test the accuracy of her speculations; she obstinately insisted on her own way in going up and down hill,—a way well enough for Dinkey, perhaps, but hazardous to the other less skillful animals who naturally would follow her lead. If she did condescend to do things according to your ideas, it was with a mental reservation. You caught her sardonic eye fixed on you contemptuously. You felt at once that she knew another method, a much better method, with which yours compared most unfavorably. "I'd like to kick you in the stomach," Wes used to say; "you know too much for a horse!"
If one of the horses bucked under the pack, Dinkey deliberately tried to stampede the others—and generally succeeded. She invariably led them off whenever she could escape her picket-rope. In case of trouble of any sort, instead of standing still sensibly, she pretended to be subject to wild-eyed panics. It was all pretense, for when you DID yield to temptation and light into her with the toe of your boot, she subsided into common sense. The spirit of malevolent mischief was hers.
Her performances when she was being packed were ridiculously histrionic. As soon as the saddle was cinched, she spread her legs apart, bracing them firmly as though about to receive the weight of an iron safe. Then as each article of the pack was thrown across her back, she flinched and uttered the most heart-rending groans. We used sometimes to amuse ourselves by adding merely an empty sack, or other article quite without weight. The groans and tremblings of the braced legs were quite as pitiful as though we had piled on a sack of flour. Dinkey, I had forgotten to state, was a white horse, and belonged to Wes.
Jenny also was white and belonged to Wes. Her chief characteristic was her devotion to Dinkey. She worshiped Dinkey, and seconded her enthusiastically. Without near the originality of Dinkey, she was yet a very good and sure pack-horse. The deceiving part about Jenny was her eye. It was baleful with the spirit of evil,—snaky and black, and with green sideways gleams in it. Catching the flash of it, you would forever after avoid getting in range of her heels or teeth. But it was all a delusion. Jenny's disposition was mild and harmless.
The third member of the pack-outfit we bought at an auction sale in rather a peculiar manner. About sixty head of Arizona horses of the C. A. Bar outfit were being sold. Toward the close of the afternoon they brought out a well-built stocky buckskin of first-rate appearance except that his left flank was ornamented with five different brands. The auctioneer called attention to him.
"Here is a first-rate all-round horse," said he. "He is sound; will ride, work, or pack; perfectly broken, mild, and gentle. He would make a first-rate family horse, for he has a kind disposition."
The official rider put a saddle on him to give him a demonstrating turn around the track. Then that mild, gentle, perfectly broken family horse of kind disposition gave about as pretty an exhibition of barbed-wire bucking as you would want to see. Even the auctioneer had to join in the wild shriek of delight that went up from the crowd. He could not get a bid, and I bought the animal in later very cheaply.
As I had suspected, the trouble turned out to be merely exuberance or nervousness before a crowd. He bucked once with me under the saddle; and twice subsequently under a pack,—that was all. Buckshot was the best pack-horse we had. Bar an occasional saunter into the brush when he got tired of the trail, we had no fault to find with him. He carried a heavy pack, was as sure-footed as Bullet, as sagacious on the trail as Dinkey, and he always attended strictly to his own business. Moreover he knew that business thoroughly, knew what should be expected of him, accomplished it well and quietly. His disposition was dignified but lovable. As long as you treated him well, he was as gentle as you could ask. But once let Buckshot get it into his head that he was being imposed on, or once let him see that your temper had betrayed you into striking him when he thought he did not deserve it, and he cut loose vigorously and emphatically with his heels. He declined to be abused.
There remains but Lily. I don't know just how to do justice to Lily—the "Lily maid." We named her that because she looked it. Her color was a pure white, her eye was virginal and silly, her long bang strayed in wanton carelessness across her face and eyes, her expression was foolish, and her legs were long and rangy. She had the general appearance of an overgrown school-girl too big for short dresses and too young for long gowns;—a school-girl named Flossie, or Mamie, or Lily. So we named her that.
At first hers was the attitude of the timid and shrinking tenderfoot. She stood in awe of her companions; she appreciated her lack of experience. Humbly she took the rear; slavishly she copied the other horses; closely she clung to camp. Then in a few weeks, like most tenderfeet, she came to think that her short experience had taught her everything there was to know. She put on airs. She became too cocky and conceited for words.
Everything she did was exaggerated, overdone. She assumed her pack with an air that plainly said, "Just see what a good horse am I!" She started out three seconds before the others in a manner intended to shame their procrastinating ways. Invariably she was the last to rest, and the first to start on again. She climbed over-vigorously, with the manner of conscious rectitude. "Acts like she was trying to get her wages raised," said Wes.
In this manner she wore herself down. If permitted she would have climbed until winded, and then would probably have fallen off somewhere for lack of strength. Where the other horses watched the movements of those ahead, in order that when a halt for rest was called they might stop at an easy place on the trail, Lily would climb on until jammed against the animal immediately preceding her. Thus often she found herself forced to cling desperately to extremely bad footing until the others were ready to proceed. Altogether she was a precious nuisance, that acted busily but without thinking.
Two virtues she did possess. She was a glutton for work; and she could fall far and hard without injuring herself. This was lucky, for she was always falling. Several times we went down to her fully expecting to find her dead or so crippled that she would have to be shot. The loss of a little skin was her only injury. She got to be quite philosophic about it. On losing her balance she would tumble peaceably, and then would lie back with an air of luxury, her eyes closed, while we worked to free her. When we had loosened the pack, Wes would twist her tail. Thereupon she would open one eye inquiringly as though to say, "Hullo! Done already?" Then leisurely she would arise and shake herself.
ON HOW TO GO ABOUT IT
One truth you must learn to accept, believe as a tenet of your faith, and act upon always. It is that your entire welfare depends on the condition of your horses. They must, as a consequence, receive always your first consideration. As long as they have rest and food, you are sure of getting along; as soon as they fail, you are reduced to difficulties. So absolute is this truth that it has passed into an idiom. When a Westerner wants to tell you that he lacks a thing, he informs you he is "afoot" for it. "Give me a fill for my pipe," he begs; "I'm plumb afoot for tobacco."
Consequently you think last of your own comfort. In casting about for a place to spend the night, you look out for good feed. That assured, all else is of slight importance; you make the best of whatever camping facilities may happen to be attached. If necessary you will sleep on granite or in a marsh, walk a mile for firewood or water, if only your animals are well provided for. And on the trail you often will work twice as hard as they merely to save them a little. In whatever I may tell you regarding practical expedients, keep this always in mind.
As to the little details of your daily routine in the mountains, many are worth setting down, however trivial they may seem. They mark the difference between the greenhorn and the old-timer; but, more important, they mark also the difference between the right and the wrong, the efficient and the inefficient ways of doing things.
In the morning the cook for the day is the first man afoot, usually about half past four. He blows on his fingers, casts malevolent glances at the sleepers, finally builds his fire and starts his meal. Then he takes fiendish delight in kicking out the others. They do not run with glad shouts to plunge into the nearest pool, as most camping fiction would have us believe. Not they. The glad shout and nearest pool can wait until noon when the sun is warm. They, too, blow on their fingers and curse the cook for getting them up so early. All eat breakfast and feel better.
Now the cook smokes in lordly ease. One of the other men washes the dishes, while his companion goes forth to drive in the horses. Washing dishes is bad enough, but fumbling with frozen fingers at stubborn hobble-buckles is worse. At camp the horses are caught, and each is tied near his own saddle and pack.
The saddle-horses are attended to first. Thus they are available for business in case some of the others should make trouble. You will see that your saddle-blankets are perfectly smooth, and so laid that the edges are to the front where they are least likely to roll under or wrinkle. After the saddle is in place, lift it slightly and loosen the blanket along the back bone so it will not draw down tight under the weight of the rider. Next hang your rifle-scabbard under your left leg. It should be slanted along the horse's side at such an angle that neither will the muzzle interfere with the animal's hind leg, nor the butt with your bridle-hand. This angle must be determined by experiment. The loop in front should be attached to the scabbard, so it can be hung over the horn; that behind to the saddle, so the muzzle can be thrust through it. When you come to try this method, you will appreciate its handiness. Besides the rifle, you will carry also your rope, camera, and a sweater or waistcoat for changes in temperature. In your saddle bags are pipe and tobacco, perhaps a chunk of bread, your note-book, and the map—if there is any. Thus your saddle-horse is outfitted. Do not forget your collapsible rubber cup. About your waist you will wear your cartridge-belt with six-shooter and sheath-knife. I use a forty-five caliber belt. By threading a buck skin thong in and out through some of the cartridge loops, their size is sufficiently reduced to hold also the 30-40 rifle cartridges. Thus I carry ammunition for both revolver and rifle in the one belt. The belt should not be buckled tight about your waist, but should hang well down on the hip. This is for two reasons. In the first place, it does not drag so heavily at your anatomy, and falls naturally into position when you are mounted. In the second place, you can jerk your gun out more easily from a loose-hanging holster. Let your knife-sheath be so deep as almost to cover the handle, and the knife of the very best steel procurable. I like a thin blade. If you are a student of animal anatomy, you can skin and quarter a deer with nothing heavier than a pocket-knife.
When you come to saddle the pack-horses, you must exercise even greater care in getting the saddle-blankets smooth and the saddle in place. There is some give and take to a rider; but a pack carries "dead," and gives the poor animal the full handicap of its weight at all times. A rider dismounts in bad or steep places; a pack stays on until the morning's journey is ended. See to it, then, that it is on right.
Each horse should have assigned him a definite and, as nearly as possible, unvarying pack. Thus you will not have to search everywhere for the things you need.
For example, in our own case, Lily was known as the cook-horse. She carried all the kitchen utensils, the fire-irons, the axe, and matches. In addition her alforjas contained a number of little bags in which were small quantities for immediate use of all the different sorts of provisions we had with us. When we made camp we unpacked her near the best place for a fire, and everything was ready for the cook. Jenny was a sort of supply store, for she transported the main stock of the provisions of which Lily's little bags contained samples. Dinkey helped out Jenny, and in addition—since she took such good care of her pack—was intrusted with the fishing-rods, the shot-gun, the medicine-bag, small miscellaneous duffle, and whatever deer or bear meat we happened to have. Buckshot's pack consisted of things not often used, such as all the ammunition, the horse-shoeing outfit, repair-kit, and the like. It was rarely disturbed at all.
These various things were all stowed away in the kyacks or alforjas which hung on either side. They had to be very accurately balanced. The least difference in weight caused one side to sag, and that in turn chafed the saddle-tree against the animal's withers.
So far, so good. Next comes the affair of the top packs. Lay your duffle-bags across the middle of the saddle. Spread the blankets and quilts as evenly as possible. Cover all with the canvas tarpaulin suitably folded. Everything is now ready for the pack-rope.
The first thing anybody asks you when it is discovered that you know a little something of pack-trains is, "Do you throw the Diamond Hitch?" Now the Diamond is a pretty hitch and a firm one, but it is by no means the fetish some people make of it. They would have you believe that it represents the height of the packer's art; and once having mastered it, they use it religiously for every weight, shape, and size of pack. The truth of the matter is that the style of hitch should be varied according to the use to which it is to be put.
The Diamond is good because it holds firmly, is a great flattener, and is especially adapted to the securing of square boxes. It is celebrated because it is pretty and rather difficult to learn. Also it possesses the advantage for single-handed packing that it can be thrown slack throughout and then tightened, and that the last pull tightens the whole hitch. However, for ordinary purposes, with a quiet horse and a comparatively soft pack, the common Square Hitch holds well enough and is quickly made. For a load of small articles and heavy alforjas there is nothing like the Lone Packer. It too is a bit hard to learn. Chiefly is it valuable because the last pulls draw the alforjas away from the horse's sides, thus preventing their chafing him. Of the many hitches that remain, you need learn, to complete your list for all practical purposes, only the Bucking Hitch. It is complicated, and takes time and patience to throw, but it is warranted to hold your deck-load through the most violent storms bronco ingenuity can stir up.
These four will be enough. Learn to throw them, and take pains always to throw them good and tight. A loose pack is the best expedient the enemy of your soul could possibly devise. It always turns or comes to pieces on the edge of things; and then you will spend the rest of the morning trailing a wildly bucking horse by the burst and scattered articles of camp duffle. It is furthermore your exhilarating task, after you have caught him, to take stock, and spend most of the afternoon looking for what your first search passed by. Wes and I once hunted two hours for as large an object as a Dutch oven. After which you can repack. This time you will snug things down. You should have done so in the beginning.
Next, the lead-ropes are made fast to the top of the packs. There is here to be learned a certain knot. In case of trouble you can reach from your saddle and jerk the whole thing free by a single pull on a loose end.
All is now ready. You take a last look around to see that nothing has been left. One of the horsemen starts on ahead. The pack-horses swing in behind. We soon accustomed ours to recognize the whistling of "Boots and Saddles" as a signal for the advance. Another horseman brings up the rear. The day's journey has begun.
To one used to pleasure-riding the affair seems almost too deliberate. The leader plods steadily, stopping from time to time to rest on the steep slopes. The others string out in a leisurely procession. It does no good to hurry. The horses will of their own accord stay in sight of one another, and constant nagging to keep the rear closed up only worries them without accomplishing any valuable result. In going uphill especially, let the train take its time. Each animal is likely to have his own ideas about when and where to rest. If he does, respect them. See to it merely that there is no prolonged yielding to the temptation of meadow feed, and no careless or malicious straying off the trail. A minute's difference in the time of arrival does not count. Remember that the horses are doing hard and continuous work on a grass diet.
The day's distance will not seem to amount to much in actual miles, especially if, like most Californians, you are accustomed on a fresh horse to make an occasional sixty or seventy between suns; but it ought to suffice. There is a lot to be seen and enjoyed in a mountain mile. Through the high country two miles an hour is a fair average rate of speed, so you can readily calculate that fifteen make a pretty long day. You will be afoot a good share of the time. If you were out from home for only a few hours' jaunt, undoubtedly you would ride your horse over places where in an extended trip you will prefer to lead him. It is always a question of saving your animals.
About ten o'clock you must begin to figure on water. No horse will drink in the cool of the morning, and so, when the sun gets well up, he will be thirsty. Arrange it.
As to the method of travel, you can either stop at noon or push straight on through. We usually arose about half past four; got under way by seven; and then rode continuously until ready to make the next camp. In the high country this meant until two or three in the afternoon, by which time both we and the horses were pretty hungry. But when we did make camp, the horses had until the following morning to get rested and to graze, while we had all the remainder of the afternoon to fish, hunt, or loaf. Sometimes, however, it was more expedient to make a lunch-camp at noon. Then we allowed an hour for grazing, and about half an hour to pack and unpack. It meant steady work for ourselves. To unpack, turn out the horses, cook, wash dishes, saddle up seven animals, and repack, kept us very busy. There remained not much leisure to enjoy the scenery. It freshened the horses, however, which was the main point. I should say the first method was the better for ordinary journeys; and the latter for those times when, to reach good feed, a forced march becomes necessary.
On reaching the night's stopping-place, the cook for the day unpacks the cook-horse and at once sets about the preparation of dinner. The other two attend to the animals. And no matter how tired you are, or how hungry you may be, you must take time to bathe their backs with cold water; to stake the picket-animal where it will at once get good feed and not tangle its rope in bushes, roots, or stumps; to hobble the others; and to bell those inclined to wander. After this is done, it is well, for the peace and well-being of the party, to take food.
A smoke establishes you in the final and normal attitude of good humor. Each man spreads his tarpaulin where he has claimed his bed. Said claim is indicated by his hat thrown down where he wishes to sleep. It is a mark of pre-emption which every one is bound to respect. Lay out your saddle-blankets, cover them with your quilt, place the sleeping-blanket on top, and fold over the tarpaulin to cover the whole. At the head deposit your duffle-bag. Thus are you assured of a pleasant night.
About dusk you straggle in with trout or game. The camp-keeper lays aside his mending or his repairing or his note-book, and stirs up the cooking-fire. The smell of broiling and frying and boiling arises in the air. By the dancing flame of the campfire you eat your third dinner for the day—in the mountains all meals are dinners, and formidable ones at that. The curtain of blackness draws down close. Through it shine stars, loom mountains cold and mist-like in the moon. You tell stories. You smoke pipes. After a time the pleasant chill creeps down from the eternal snows. Some one throws another handful of pine-cones on the fire. Sleepily you prepare for bed. The pine-cones flare up, throwing their light in your eyes. You turn over and wrap the soft woolen blanket close about your chin. You wink drowsily and at once you are asleep. Along late in the night you awaken to find your nose as cold as a dog's. You open one eye. A few coals mark where the fire has been. The mist mountains have drawn nearer, they seem to bend over you in silent contemplation. The moon is sailing high in the heavens.
With a sigh you draw the canvas tarpaulin over your head. Instantly it is morning.
THE COAST RANGES
At last, on the day appointed, we, with five horses, climbed the Cold Spring Trail to the ridge; and then, instead of turning to the left, we plunged down the zigzag lacets of the other side. That night we camped at Mono Canon, feeling ourselves strangely an integral part of the relief map we had looked upon so many times that almost we had come to consider its features as in miniature, not capacious for the accommodation of life-sized men. Here we remained a day while we rode the hills in search of Dinkey and Jenny, there pastured.
We found Jenny peaceful and inclined to be corralled. But Dinkey, followed by a slavishly adoring brindle mule, declined to be rounded up. We chased her up hill and down; along creek-beds and through the spiky chaparral. Always she dodged craftily, warily, with forethought. Always the brindled mule, wrapt in admiration at his companion's cleverness, crashed along after. Finally we teased her into a narrow canon. Wes and the Tenderfoot closed the upper end. I attempted to slip by to the lower, but was discovered. Dinkey tore a frantic mile down the side hill. Bullet, his nostrils wide, his ears back, raced parallel in the boulder-strewn stream-bed, wonderful in his avoidance of bad footing, precious in his selection of good, interested in the game, indignant at the wayward Dinkey, profoundly contemptuous of the besotted mule. At a bend in the canon interposed a steep bank. Up this we scrambled, dirt and stones flying. I had just time to bend low along the saddle when, with the ripping and tearing and scratching of thorns, we burst blindly through a thicket. In the open space on the farther side Bullet stopped, panting but triumphant. Dinkey, surrounded at last, turned back toward camp with an air of utmost indifference. The mule dropped his long ears and followed.
At camp we corralled Dinkey, but left her friend to shift for himself. Then was lifted up his voice in mulish lamentations until, cursing, we had to ride out bareback and drive him far into the hills and there stone him into distant fear. Even as we departed up the trail the following day the voice of his sorrow, diminishing like the echo of grief, appealed uselessly to Dinkey's sympathy. For Dinkey, once captured, seemed to have shrugged her shoulders and accepted inevitable toil with a real though cynical philosophy.
The trail rose gradually by imperceptible gradations and occasional climbs. We journeyed in the great canons. High chaparral flanked the trail, occasional wide gray stretches of "old man" filled the air with its pungent odor and with the calls of its quail. The crannies of the rocks, the stretches of wide loose shale, the crumbling bottom earth offered to the eye the dessicated beauties of creamy yucca, of yerba buena, of the gaudy red paint-brushes, the Spanish bayonet; and to the nostrils the hot dry perfumes of the semi-arid lands. The air was tepid; the sun hot. A sing-song of bees and locusts and strange insects lulled the mind. The ponies plodded on cheerfully. We expanded and basked and slung our legs over the pommels of our saddles and were glad we had come.
At no time did we seem to be climbing mountains. Rather we wound in and out, round and about, through a labyrinth of valleys and canons and ravines, farther and farther into a mysterious shut-in country that seemed to have no end. Once in a while, to be sure, we zigzagged up a trifling ascent; but it was nothing. And then at a certain point the Tenderfoot happened to look back.
"Well!" he gasped; "will you look at that!"
We turned. Through a long straight aisle which chance had placed just there, we saw far in the distance a sheer slate-colored wall; and beyond, still farther in the distance, overtopping the slate-colored wall by a narrow strip, another wall of light azure blue.
"It's our mountains," said Wes, "and that blue ridge is the channel islands. We've got up higher than our range."
We looked about us, and tried to realize that we were actually more than halfway up the formidable ridge we had so often speculated on from the Cold Spring Trail. But it was impossible. In a few moments, however, our broad easy canon narrowed. Huge crags and sheer masses of rock hemmed us in. The chaparral and yucca and yerba buena gave place to pine-trees and mountain oaks, with little close clumps of cottonwoods in the stream bottom. The brook narrowed and leaped, and the white of alkali faded from its banks. We began to climb in good earnest, pausing often for breath. The view opened. We looked back on whence we had come, and saw again, from the reverse, the forty miles of ranges and valleys we had viewed from the Ridge Trail.
At this point we stopped to shoot a rattlesnake. Dinkey and Jenny took the opportunity to push ahead. From time to time we would catch sight of them traveling earnestly on, following the trail accurately, stopping at stated intervals to rest, doing their work, conducting themselves as decorously as though drivers had stood over them with blacksnake whips. We tried a little to catch up.
"Never mind," said Wes, "they've been over this trail before. They'll stop when they get to where we're going to camp."
We halted a moment on the ridge to look back over the lesser mountains and the distant ridge, beyond which the islands now showed plainly. Then we dropped down behind the divide into a cup valley containing a little meadow with running water on two sides of it and big pines above. The meadow was brown, to be sure, as all typical California is at this time of year. But the brown of California and the brown of the East are two different things. Here is no snow or rain to mat down the grass, to suck out of it the vital principles. It grows ripe and sweet and soft, rich with the life that has not drained away, covering the hills and valleys with the effect of beaver fur, so that it seems the great round-backed hills must have in a strange manner the yielding flesh-elasticity of living creatures. The brown of California is the brown of ripeness; not of decay.
Our little meadow was beautifully named Madulce, and was just below the highest point of this section of the Coast Range. The air drank fresh with the cool of elevation. We went out to shoot supper; and so found ourselves on a little knoll fronting the brown-hazed east. As we stood there, enjoying the breeze after our climb, a great wave of hot air swept by us, filling our lungs with heat, scorching our faces as the breath of a furnace. Thus was brought to our minds what, in the excitement of a new country, we had forgotten,—that we were at last on the eastern slope, and that before us waited the Inferno of the desert.
That evening we lay in the sweet ripe grasses of Madulce, and talked of it. Wes had been across it once before and did not possess much optimism with which to comfort us.
"It's hot, just plain hot," said he, "and that's all there is about it. And there's mighty little water, and what there is is sickish and a long ways apart. And the sun is strong enough to roast potatoes in."
"Why not travel at night?" we asked.
"No place to sleep under daytimes," explained Wes. "It's better to keep traveling and then get a chance for a little sleep in the cool of the night."
We saw the reasonableness of that.
"Of course we'll start early, and take a long nooning, and travel late. We won't get such a lot of sleep."
"How long is it going to take us?"
"About eight days," he said soberly.
The next morning we descended from Madulce abruptly by a dirt trail, almost perpendicular until we slid into a canon of sage-brush and quail, of mescale cactus and the fierce dry heat of sun-baked shale.
"Is it any hotter than this on the desert?" we inquired.
Wes looked on us with pity.
"This is plumb arctic," said he.
Near noon we came to a little cattle ranch situated in a flat surrounded by red dikes and buttes after the manner of Arizona. Here we unpacked, early as it was, for through the dry countries one has to apportion his day's journeys by the water to be had. If we went farther to-day, then to-morrow night would find us in a dry camp.
The horses scampered down the flat to search out alfilaria. We roosted under a slanting shed,—where were stock saddles, silver-mounted bits and spurs, rawhide riatas, branding-irons, and all the lumber of the cattle business,—and hung out our tongues and gasped for breath and earnestly desired the sun to go down or a breeze to come up. The breeze shortly did so. It was a hot breeze, and availed merely to cover us with dust, to swirl the stable-yard into our faces. Great swarms of flies buzzed and lit and stung. Wes, disgusted, went over to where a solitary cowpuncher was engaged in shoeing a horse. Shortly we saw Wes pressed into service to hold the horse's hoof. He raised a pathetic face to us, the big round drops chasing each other down it as fast as rain. We grinned and felt better.
The fierce perpendicular rays of the sun beat down. The air under the shed grew stuffier and more oppressive, but it was the only patch of shade in all that pink and red furnace of a little valley. The Tenderfoot discovered a pair of horse-clippers, and, becoming slightly foolish with the heat, insisted on our barbering his head. We told him it was cooler with hair than without; and that the flies and sun would be offered thus a beautiful opportunity, but without avail. So we clipped him,—leaving, however, a beautiful long scalp-lock in the middle of his crown. He looked like High-low-kickapoo-waterpot, chief of the Wam-wams. After a while he discovered it, and was unhappy.
Shortly the riders began to come in, jingling up to the shed, with a rattle of spurs and bit-chains. There they unsaddled their horses, after which, with great unanimity, they soused their heads in the horse-trough. The chief, a six-footer, wearing beautifully decorated gauntlets and a pair of white buckskin chaps, went so far as to say it was a little warm for the time of year. In the freshness of evening, when frazzled nerves had regained their steadiness, he returned to smoke and yarn with us and tell us of the peculiarities of the cattle business in the Cuyamas. At present he and his men were riding the great mountains, driving the cattle to the lowlands in anticipation of a rodeo the following week. A rodeo under that sun!
We slept in the ranch vehicles, so the air could get under us. While the stars still shone, we crawled out, tired and unrefreshed. The Tenderfoot and I went down the valley after the horses. While we looked, the dull pallid gray of dawn filtered into the darkness, and so we saw our animals, out of proportion, monstrous in the half light of that earliest morning. Before the range riders were even astir we had taken up our journey, filching thus a few hours from the inimical sun.
Until ten o'clock we traveled in the valley of the Cuyamas. The river was merely a broad sand and stone bed, although undoubtedly there was water below the surface. California rivers are said to flow bottom up. To the northward were mountains typical of the arid countries,—boldly defined, clear in the edges of their folds, with sharp shadows and hard, uncompromising surfaces. They looked brittle and hollow, as though made of papier mache and set down in the landscape. A long four hours' noon we spent beneath a live-oak near a tiny spring. I tried to hunt, but had to give it up. After that I lay on my back and shot doves as they came to drink at the spring. It was better than walking about, and quite as effective as regards supper. A band of cattle filed stolidly in, drank, and filed as stolidly away. Some half-wild horses came to the edge of the hill, stamped, snorted, essayed a tentative advance. Them we drove away, lest they decoy our own animals. The flies would not let us sleep. Dozens of valley and mountain quail called with maddening cheerfulness and energy. By a mighty exercise of will we got under way again. In an hour we rode out into what seemed to be a grassy foot-hill country, supplied with a most refreshing breeze.
The little round hills of a few hundred feet rolled gently away to the artificial horizon made by their closing in. The trail meandered white and distinct through the clear fur-like brown of their grasses. Cattle grazed. Here and there grew live-oaks, planted singly as in a park. Beyond we could imagine the great plain, grading insensibly into these little hills.
And then all at once we surmounted a slight elevation, and found that we had been traveling on a plateau, and that these apparent little hills were in reality the peaks of high mountains.
We stood on the brink of a wide smooth velvet-creased range that dipped down and down to miniature canons far below. Not a single little boulder broke the rounded uniformity of the wild grasses. Out from beneath us crept the plain, sluggish and inert with heat.
Threads of trails, dull white patches of alkali, vague brown areas of brush, showed indeterminate for a little distance. But only for a little distance. Almost at once they grew dim, faded in the thickness of atmosphere, lost themselves in the mantle of heat that lay palpable and brown like a shimmering changing veil, hiding the distance in mystery and in dread. It was a land apart; a land to be looked on curiously from the vantage-ground of safety,—as we were looking on it from the shoulder of the mountain,—and then to be turned away from, to be left waiting behind its brown veil for what might come. To abandon the high country, deliberately to cut loose from the known, deliberately to seek the presence that lay in wait,—all at once it seemed the height of grotesque perversity. We wanted to turn on our heels. We wanted to get back to our hills and fresh breezes and clear water, to our beloved cheerful quail, to our trails and the sweet upper air.
For perhaps a quarter of an hour we sat our horses, gazing down. Some unknown disturbance lazily rifted the brown veil by ever so little. We saw, lying inert and languid, obscured by its own rank steam, a great round lake. We knew the water to be bitter, poisonous. The veil drew together again. Wes shook himself and sighed, "There she is,—damn her!" said he.
 In all Spanish names the final e should be pronounced.
For eight days we did penance, checking off the hours, meeting doggedly one after another the disagreeable things. We were bathed in heat; we inhaled it; it soaked into us until we seemed to radiate it like so many furnaces. A condition of thirst became the normal condition, to be only slightly mitigated by a few mouthfuls from zinc canteens of tepid water. Food had no attractions: even smoking did not taste good. Always the flat country stretched out before us. We could see far ahead a landmark which we would reach only by a morning's travel. Nothing intervened between us and it. After we had looked at it a while, we became possessed of an almost insane necessity to make a run for it. The slow maddening three miles an hour of the pack-train drove us frantic. There were times when it seemed that unless we shifted our gait, unless we stepped outside the slow strain of patience to which the Inferno held us relentlessly, we should lose our minds and run round and round in circles—as people often do, in the desert.
And when the last and most formidable hundred yards had slunk sullenly behind us to insignificance, and we had dared let our minds relax from the insistent need of self-control—then, beyond the cotton-woods, or creek-bed, or group of buildings, whichever it might be, we made out another, remote as paradise, to which we must gain by sunset. So again the wagon-trail, with its white choking dust, its staggering sun, its miles made up of monotonous inches, each clutching for a man's sanity.
We sang everything we knew; we told stories; we rode cross-saddle, sidewise, erect, slouching; we walked and led our horses; we shook the powder of years from old worn jokes, conundrums, and puzzles,—and at the end, in spite of our best efforts, we fell to morose silence and the red-eyed vindictive contemplation of the objective point that would not seem to come nearer.
For now we lost accurate sense of time. At first it had been merely a question of going in at one side of eight days, pressing through them, and coming out on the other side. Then the eight days would be behind us. But once we had entered that enchanted period, we found ourselves more deeply involved. The seemingly limited area spread with startling swiftness to the very horizon. Abruptly it was borne in on us that this was never going to end; just as now for the first time we realized that it had begun infinite ages ago. We were caught in the entanglement of days. The Coast Ranges were the experiences of a past incarnation: the Mountains were a myth.
Nothing was real but this; and this would endure forever. We plodded on because somehow it was part of the great plan that we should do so. Not that it did any good:—we had long since given up such ideas. The illusion was very real; perhaps it was the anodyne mercifully administered to those who pass through the Inferno.
Most of the time we got on well enough. One day, only, the Desert showed her power. That day, at five of the afternoon, it was one hundred and twenty degrees in the shade. And we, through necessity of reaching the next water, journeyed over the alkali at noon. Then the Desert came close on us and looked us fair in the eyes, concealing nothing. She killed poor Deuce, the beautiful setter who had traveled the wild countries so long; she struck Wes and the Tenderfoot from their horses when finally they had reached a long-legged water tank; she even staggered the horses themselves. And I, lying under a bush where I had stayed after the others in the hope of succoring Deuce, began idly shooting at ghostly jack-rabbits that looked real, but through which the revolver bullets passed without resistance.
After this day the Tenderfoot went water-crazy. Watering the horses became almost a mania with him. He could not bear to pass even a mud-hole without offering the astonished Tunemah a chance to fill up, even though that animal had drunk freely not twenty rods back. As for himself, he embraced every opportunity; and journeyed draped in many canteens.
After that it was not so bad. The thermometer stood from a hundred to a hundred and five or six, to be sure, but we were getting used to it. Discomfort, ordinary physical discomfort, we came to accept as the normal environment of man. It is astonishing how soon uniformly uncomfortable conditions, by very lack of contrast, do lose their power to color the habit of mind. I imagine merely physical unhappiness is a matter more of contrasts than of actual circumstances. We swallowed dust; we humped our shoulders philosophically under the beating of the sun, we breathed the debris of high winds; we cooked anyhow, ate anything, spent long idle fly-infested hours waiting for the noon to pass; we slept in horse-corrals, in the trail, in the dust, behind stables, in hay, anywhere. There was little water, less wood for the cooking.
It is now all confused, an impression of events with out sequence, a mass of little prominent purposeless things like rock conglomerate. I remember leaning my elbows on a low window-ledge and watching a poker game going on in the room of a dive. The light came from a sickly suspended lamp. It fell on five players,—two miners in their shirt-sleeves, a Mexican, a tough youth with side-tilted derby hat, and a fat gorgeously dressed Chinaman. The men held their cards close to their bodies, and wagered in silence. Slowly and regularly the great drops of sweat gathered on their faces. As regularly they raised the backs of their hands to wipe them away. Only the Chinaman, broad-faced, calm, impassive as Buddha, save for a little crafty smile in one corner of his eye, seemed utterly unaffected by the heat, cool as autumn. His loose sleeve fell back from his forearm when he moved his hand forward, laying his bets. A jade bracelet slipped back and forth as smoothly as on yellow ivory.