Home -> Miscellaneous Books -> Reminiscences of a Pioneer -> Chapter 6 - One Bad Tale From Canyon City History

Previous Page Home
Up One Level
Next Page

Chapter VI.

One Sad Tale From Canyon City History.

After a few days at Bridge Creek we joined a pack train going to Canyon City from The Dalles, and though the road was infested with savages, who mercilessly slaughtered small parties, we arrived at the then flourishing mining camp without mishap or adventure. Canyon City at that time was a typical mining camp. There were congregated every known character, race, profession and creed. Under a rough exterior the lawyer, doctor, minister, the rude western frontiersman and the staid and sober farmer, worked side by side. There was no distinction of dress among that restless, surging, throbbing throng of humanity, drawn thither by the all-absorbing motive - the glittering dust that lay hidden beneath the gravel and sands of the streams and along the ravines. The bond of sympathy, however, among the miners was close, and as warm hearts beat beneath the flannel shirts as ever throbbed in the breast of man.

Here, too, were congregated those human vultures that feed and fatten upon the frailties and follies of their fellowmen. The town proper numbered about six saloons to every legitimate business house. Of evenings the gambling hells were a glare of light, and music, both vocal and instrumental, floated out upon the streets to tempt the miners to enter, while away an hour, and incidentally part with their well-earned dust. Some of these hells had "lady waitresses," poor, faded, blear-eyed creatures, in gaudy finery, and upon whose features was stamped the everlasting brand of God's outlawry. These dens of iniquity were only too frequently the scene of awful tragedies, and the sawdust floors drank up the blood of many a poor unfortunate. If the encounter was between two gamblers the miners paid little attention. But if, as was often the case, some miner, crazed with an overdose of "double-distilled damnation," fell a victim to the revolver or knife of a gambler, there was sure to be "something doing." Among these restless, adventurous men there was a semblance of law, but its administration was too often a mockery and a farce. This, however, only applies to the early days of the camp.

One of the saddest of life's tragedies is associated in my mind with an employee of one of these places. His name was Brown, and he was a musician of some merit. He had with him a young and beautiful wife and infant daughter. He played the violin at night and received $10 for each of the seven nights of the week. He was a man of good morals as far as could be observed, and sober withal. One morning he left the saloon at 2 o'clock, as was his custom. From the moment he passed out of the door he disappeared from the sight of men as effectually as the light of an extinguished candle. He was popular and had not a known enemy in the world. But whether he was murdered and his body concealed, or whether he left the country, remained an unsolved mystery. The latter theory had few or no adherents, as he was tenderly attached to his wife and child. Be that as it may. Soon after the disappearance of the musician, a young physician, who was handsome, accomplished, and talented, made his advent into Canyon City. In due time he became interested in the comely widow, and when sufficient time had elapsed, and no tidings came back of the missing husband and father, legal steps were taken, a divorce secured and the young physician made the widow his wife. As years rolled away and the mines "played out," the Doctor and his wife and little girl moved to a town in the Willamette valley. There he prospered, gaining not only gold but that which is far more precious the love and respect of his fellow-man, and, being a public-spirited man, he took an active interest in political and other public matters. In the campaign of 1874 he received the nomination from his party for State Senator. His election was a foregone conclusion, as his party had not only a majority of votes, but his talents as a speaker and his popularity among all classes were in his favor. About that time, however, the exposures regarding the past life of Senator John H. Mitchell were given to the world by the press of Oregon. To offset the charges, there were dark hints and innuendoes thrown out about the disappearance of Brown and the subsequent marriage of the widow to the young doctor. The talk was easily silenced, as it was shown that the doctor came to Canyon City after Brown's disappearance; but it was enough to sting the proud, sensitive heart of the young man to the quick. The mere fact that a suspicion of dishonor attached to his name was sufficient to cause him to withdraw from public life forever. As an orator he had few equals and no superiors, and only for his innocent connection with the Brown tragedy at Canyon City would have achieved a name the equal of that of his distinguished brother, Senator and Vice-President Hendricks of Indiana.

Dr. Hendricks and his wife have long since passed over the river, to the white walled city of God. And there, let us hope, their rest will be eternal, and that the poison tongue of slander will come not to blast, to blacken and to sting.

I remained at Canyon City and vicinity until September and then returned to the valley. During the summer and fall many depredations were committed by Indians. A party of eight men prospecting in the mountains to the west were surprised and all killed. Every one had died apparently in his bed. The little stream, a tributary of the south John Day river, was ever after known as "Murderers' Creek." The next year, I think it was, Joaquin Miller, then judge of Grant county, led a company of a hundred miners against the Snakes in Harney valley. He was joined by Lieutenant, now Judge Waymire of Oakland, in command of a troop of U. S. volunteers. They were repulsed with some loss and returned without accomplishing anything of importance. The war dragged along until the summer of 1867, when Chief Polina led a band of warriors into the John Day country north of Bridge Creek, where they robbed a settler named Clarno of a number of cattle and horses and started back. Howard Maupin then lived at Antelope valley, 15 miles from the Clarno place. The Indians attempted to capture his horses in the night, but were frustrated by the watchfulness of the dogs that gave the alarm. The horses were corralled, and Maupin and his son and a young German stood guard all night. The next morning Jim Clark and John Attebury arrived at the station, and it was determined to follow and punish the Indians and recover the stolen stock. They followed the trail into the rough brakes of Trout Creek and located the camp. The Indians had halted in a small basin on the mountain side through which ran a small branch, bordered with willows, where they had killed an ox and were enjoying a feast. The five men approached as near as possible and then leaving their horses made their way up the ravine upon which the unsuspecting savages were camped. Howard Maupin was armed with a Henry rifle, a present to the old hero from General George Crook. Silently the men made their way up the rough and rugged ravine until they lay concealed seventy yards away. Taking deadly aim the five men fired, killing four Indians. The Indians fled to the protection of a rugged cliff of rocks, but Maupin's rifle kept following them with deadly effect. One Indian was picked out as the chief and fell at the crack of the rifle. He raised on his hands and halloed to the others until they reached the shelter of the rocks. It required two more shots to finish him, and thus died Polina, or Penina, the leader of the Snakes and scourge of the white man. The shot from Howard Maupin's repeating rifle closed the Snake, or Shoshone war, and peace reigned until their great uprising under Chief Egan in 1877.

For a year or more, or until the spring of 1868, I followed the hum-drum life of a printer. A call of duty compelled me to lay all else aside to care for an invalid brother, Judge J. M. Thompson. He was dying of chronic dyspepsia. Physicians had given him up. He was a mere shadow, and while we had little hope of recovery, we determined to take him into the mountains. As soon, therefore, as spring opened we made our preparations. Our provisions consisted of unbolted flour and salt. Nothing else was taken - no tea, coffee, or indeed anything else save our bedding, guns and ammunition. We journeyed up the McKinzie fork of the Willamette. Game was everywhere abundant and this and bread baked from our flour constituted our only food. It was going back to nature.

A week or so after we arrived at our camp, my younger brother killed a very large bear that had just come out of his hibernating quarters and was as fat as a corn fed Ohio porker. An old hunter endeavored to persuade my brother to eat some of the fat bear meat, assuring him it would not make him sick. Now, grease was his special aversion, and to grease the oven with any kind of fat caused him to spit up his food. Finally, to please the old hunter, he ate a small piece of fat bear meat. Very much to his surprise, it did not make him sick. The next meal he ate more, and after that all he wanted. He gained flesh and strength rapidly, and it was but a short time until he could walk a hundred yards without assistance. After that his recovery was rapid and sure.

Now, high up on the McKinzie we were told of a hot spring, and that vast herds of elk and deer came there daily to lick the salt that was precipitated on the rocks by the hot water. We determined to move there. But when we arrived we found a rushing, roaring, turbulent river, 75 yards wide, between us and the hot spring. The deer and elk were there all right, the great antlered monarchs tossing their heads in play, but safe as if miles away. In vain we sought a narrow place where we could fell a tree. We found, however, a spot where the water was smooth, though swift as a mill-race, and we determined to make a canoe. Accordingly we set to work, and after many tedious days. laboring with one axe and fire our canoe was completed. I was something of an expert in the management of a canoe and when it had been placed in the river, made a trip across. It was a success, and delighted with our achievement, we began ferrying over our effects. One after another, everything but our clothing and cooking utensils were ferried over, provisions, that is, the flour and salt, rifles, ammunition, bedding, in fact all but the above articles. My younger brother was assisting me with the canoe, and the last trip with the last load was being made. Like the pitcher that goes often to the well, immunity had bred carelessness, with the result that the boat was turned over in the middle of the river, and we only saved our lives by swimming. That night we camped beneath the forest giants. A good fire was lighted, bread made on a piece of cedar bark and meat cooked on a stick and eaten out of our fingers. That was indeed getting back to nature, but a more dire misfortune was to befall me the first night. As before stated, we had pitched our camp beneath the shelter of forest giants. Age after age the quills had been falling, forming a mould several inches thick. Before retiring that night I laid my solitary pair of trousers and drawers on the ground before the fire to dry out by morning. They dried. I awoke in the middle of the night to find that my last garments had been consumed, leaving but the waistband of my trousers. The mould slowly dried, the fire had followed, leaving me about the most forlorn individual that ever was blessed with white hide. Now that was going back to nature with a vengeance. In front rushed a roaring, foaming river, and relief was fifty miles away. But what was I to do, but simply do the best I could with a shirt and the waist-band of my trousers.

The next day we constructed a shelter of cedar bark in the event of rain. And now I am going to repeat a story at the risk of being denounced as a "nature fakir." We had with us a band of dogs, trained for hunting. There were seventeen, all told, and of every breed, but with a mixture of bloodhound to give the "staying qualities." We, or rather I, had borrowed them of settlers living on the river fifty miles below. They would chase a bear or cougar all day, and if treed, would remain and bay around the tree until I came. The second night in camp an immense timber wolf came up close to camp and gave a prolonged howl. The dogs all broke away, but they came back faster than they went out. The wolf followed and caught one of them, a large, full-grown dog, and gave him one bite behind the shoulder. The dog gave one yelp and when we reached the spot, ten feet from our bed, he was dead. To make sure that the dog was bitten but once, the next morning I partly skinned him and found that the ribs were crushed and broken. Now if a timber wolf can kill a dog with one bite on the back, why not a young caribou at one bite on the breast? That question I leave to others to solve.

But to return to my forlorn and altogether ridiculous situation. With needle and thread it would have been an easy matter to manufacture a pair of buckskin pantaloons such as I had worn in years gone by and would have welcomed in my present predicament. But needles, thread, scissors, razor and combs had followed the cooking utensils to the bottom of the river. There was nothing to do but simply to "grin and bear it," and I did so with the best possible grace. On an exploring expedition one day I found a tall tree on the bank of the river at a spot where the channel was contracted between narrow banks. I had no axe and therefore set to work to burn it down, but it was a weary task. Day after day I tended that fire, keeping in the shade to avoid the hot rays of the sun, and after six weeks of waiting had the satisfaction of seeing the tree spanning the river, and affording me a means of reaching clothing. But I could not go to the settlements clothed like the Georgia Major, minus the spurs. During the period of waiting for the tree to fall, I had made a needle of bone and taking an empty flour sack proceeded to manufacture a pair of legs which, with infinite pains, I stitched to the waistband of my long lost trousers and added wooden pegs to insure stability and strength to the flimsy ravelings. In order to form a fair idea of my appearance, one must imagine a youth with a six weeks' growth of hair and beard, a shirt that had to be taken off once a week to wash, a black band around his waist, to which was stitched and pegged parts of flour sacks. I say, imagine all this and you can form some idea of a youth who, under ordinary circumstances, was rather proud of his good looks. My brothers called me "Robinson Crusoe," and I imagine the resemblance between the unlucky sailor, marooned on an island, and a wretched young fellow marooned in the depths of the Cascade mountains without clothing enough to hide his nakedness, was not an inapt comparison.

However, I was now happy. A tree spanned the river and parts of flour sacks covered my limbs, and I would go to Mr. Allen's place, sixty miles below and get my clothing. Crossing the river, however, I discovered that our horses, left in a prairie, had "skipped out." I knew they would be caught at Mr. Allen's place, and the next day I started out. All the dogs followed. They seemed to have an antipathy for my brothers, and, try as they would, they could not make friends with them. Indeed, I have observed through life that children and dogs have an affinity for me. I started in the morning and made about 35 miles the first day, camping and sleeping beside a fallen tree against which I kindled a big fire. After a breakfast of cold bread and venison roasted on a stick, I started on the final lap of my journey. About a mile from Mr. Allen's home is a spot known to campers as "Rock House," where the mountains crowd the river bank, leaving a space of not more than thirty feet between the almost precipitous bluff and the roaring, foaming river. From an overhanging rock a spring of ice-cold water, rivaling the Hypocrene in purity, bursts forth and plunges into the river. The space had grown up with young maples, and the underbrush being cleaned out, formed an ideal camping place for hunters and berry pickers. I was congratulating myself on not meeting a solitary individual when I reached "Rock House" and found it blocked with wagons and tents. I cast one look at the foaming river and another at the bluff. I had passed through some scenes of danger, but never before had I been half so frightened. It was too late to retreat, the bluff could not be scaled and the river was out of the question. Nerving myself, I determined to go ahead, come what might. In front of one of the wagons stood a lady with whom I was well acquainted. I asked her how I could get through. She replied without recognizing me that I would have to go through camp. As I passed around the wagon I came face to face with Judge Lemley's wife. Her home had been my home for years and next to my mother and sisters I reverenced her above all women of earth. She looked at me. I bowed and she nodded her head and I passed on. No sooner had I passed out of sight than Mrs. McDaniels, the first lady I met, ran to Mrs. Lemley and said: "Did you see that man?" "O," replied Mrs. Lemley, "it was only some old lousy hunter." I had made my escape and no one had recognized me. I was jubilant, happy. But horror of horrors! At a turn of the road I came full on a whole bevy, flock, troop or herd of young girls, and at their head was my "best girl." I here submit and affirm, that had I foreseen this, rivers, mountains, grizzly bears, Indians, all the dangers of the wild would have had no terrors for me at that moment. My dogs closed round me and the girls at sight of that "old man of the woods," that awful apparition, ceased their laughter. With sobered faces they shied around me as I strode past, and when fairly safe broke into a run for camp. I heard them running, and in imagination could see their scared faces. But I was safe - no one had recognized me and I was again happy.

Arriving at Mr. Allen's, I related to him the story of my misfortunes. He trimmed my hair, gave me a shave and after changing my "clothes," I once more assumed the semblance, as Mrs. Allen expressed it, "of a Christian man."

That evening I saddled a horse and rode back to the camp. I began then to see the full humor of the whole affair, but it required an hour to convince them that I was really the strange apparition that passed through camp that morning.

Previous Page
Up One Level
Next Page