From "A California Mining Camp"
By Mary Halleck Foote
Scribner's Monthly (February 1878)

The Mexican camp has little of that bustling energy which belongs to its neighbor on the floor below. It wakes up slowly in the morning,--especially if the morning be cold,--and lounges abroad on moonlight nights, when guitar-tinklings sound from the shadowy vine-flecked porches. The barest little cabin has its porch, its climbing vines and shelf of carefully tended plants. Dark-eyed women sit on the door-steps in the sun braiding a child's hair, perhaps, or chattering to a neighbor, who leans against the door-post with a baby half hidden in the folds of her shawl. They walk up and down the hilly street, letting their gowns trail in the dust, their heads enveloped in a shawl, one end of which is turned up over the shoulder; the smooth, sliding step corresponds with the accent in speaking. In passing, they look at you with a slow, grave stare like that of a child. All, even to the babies, have an air of repose; crudeness of voice or manner is almost unknown among them.

The first time I went down into the mine one of the men of the party, as is the custom, passed a bottle of whisky among the men in each "labór" we visited. The Cornish men drank in a hearty, unconstrained fashion enough, but each Mexican, before raising the bottle to his lips, turned to the two women of the party with a grave inclination and a Buena salud, Señoras! . . .

My last visit to the Mexican camp was during the yellow hazy July weather; it was after a fire had swept away all the houses lying below and around the rock, which rises like a fortress at the north-west end of camp. The bare sun-baked rock stood out, with all its reddish-yellow lights and purple-brown shadows, in strong relief against the solid blue of the sky. Down its sides were the blackened lines of brick which marked the foundations of the ruined houses. Below, was the little street silent and deserted, with its quiet afternoon shadows stretching across it. It seemed old enough for anything. It might have been a little Pompeiian street lying so still in the broad sunlight, under that intensely blue-bright sky. I sat under the shadow of a Mexican cabin on the high bank overlooking the street. A little girl named Amelia, too slight and small to carry the child she held wrapped in an old shawl, stood beside me and told me the Spanish words for rock, and sky, and picture, and the names of her brothers and sisters. The mother, leaning on the railing of the rough balcony above, smiled down at me and counted them on her fingers--six in all--and then crossed both hands on her breast with a proud and gentle gesture of triumph in the possession of the six. The cheerfulness of the whole family,--brown, ragged, ill-fed, sickly and numerous as they were,--a cheerfulness which implied no hope or even understanding of anything better, was the saddest thing in the whole of that warm, sunny desolation.

Mexicans Homepage