New York Tribune
[George Ripley]
1873: 31 January


Our inveterate American humorist here relates a tissue of vagabond adventures in a mingled yarn of fancy and fact, during a residence at various points on the Pacific coast in the early days of the chase for gold and silver. His book, he assures us, contains "quite a good deal of information," which he very much regrets, but it could not be helped, as "information appears to stew out of him naturally, like the precious ottar of roses out of the otter." He not only deals in his off-hand way with all kinds of information, whether true or otherwise, but favors his readers with frequent expressions of his personal opinions, which are usually novel, if nothing else. His excuse, for polygamy, for instance, is decidedly original, and leaves little more to be said on the subject.

Our stay in Salt Lake City amounted to only two days, and therefore we had no time to make the customary inquisition into the workings of polygamy and get up the usual statistics and deductions preparatory to calling the attention of the nation at large once more to the matter. I had the will to do it. With the gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform here--until I saw the Mormon women. Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically "homely" creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, "No--the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure--and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence."

His facetious sketches of Nevada life are shaded by an occasional touch of grim humor.

The ways of silver mining Boards are exceedingly dark and sinuous.
We took up various claims, and commenced shafts and tunnels on them, but never finished any of them. We had to do a certain amount of work on each to "hold" it, else other parties could seize our property after the expiration of ten days. We were always hunting up new claims and doing a little work on them and then waiting for a buyer--who never came. We never found any ore that would yield more than fifty dollars a ton; and as the mills charged fifty dollars a ton for working ore and extracting the silver, our pocket-money melted steadily away and none returned to take its place. We lived in a little cabin and cooked for ourselves; and altogether it was a hard life, though a hopeful one--for we never ceased to expect fortune and a customer to burst upon us some day.
At last, when flour reached a dollar a pound, and money could not be borrowed on the best security at less than eight per cent a month (I being without the security, too), I abandoned mining and went to milling. That is to say, I went to work as a common laborer in a quartz mill, at ten dollars a week and board.

The wild barbaric life of the primitive California miner is embalmed in the author's undiluted descriptions:

But they were rough in those times! They fairly reveled in gold, whisky, fights, and fandangoes, and were unspeakably happy. The honest miner raked from a hundred to a thousand dollars out of his claim a day, and what with the gambling dens and the other entertainments, he hadn't a cent the next morning, if he had any sort of luck. They cooked their own bacon and beans, sewed on their own buttons, washed their own shirts--blue woollen ones; and if a man wanted a fight on his hands without any annoying delay, all he had to do was to appear in public in a white shirt or a stove-pipe hat, and he would be accommodated. For those people hated aristocrats. They had a particular and malignant animosity toward what they called a "biled shirt."

One particular feature of that grotesque society was the absence of women and children.

In those days miners would flock in crowds to catch a glimpse of that rare and blessed spectacle, a woman! Old inhabitants tell how, in a certain camp, the news went abroad early in the morning that a woman was come! They had seen a calico dress hanging out of a wagon down at the camping-ground--sign of emigrants from over the great plains. Everybody went down there, and a shout went up when an actual, bona fide dress was discovered fluttering in the wind! The male emigrant was visible. The miners said:
"Fetch her out!"
He said: "It is my wife, gentlemen--she is sick--we have been robbed of money, provisions, everything, by the Indians--we want to rest."
"Fetch her out! We've got to see her!"
"But, gentlemen, the poor thing, she--"
He "fetched her out," and they swung their hats and sent up three rousing cheers and a tiger; and they crowded around and gazed at her, and touched her dress, and listened to her voice with the look of men who listened to a memory rather than a present reality--and then they collected twenty-five hundred dollars in gold and gave it to the man, and swung their hats again and gave three more cheers, and went home satisfied.
Once I dined in San Francisco with the family of a pioneer, and talked with his daughter, a young lady whose first experience in San Francisco was an adventure, though she herself did not remember it, as she was only two or three years old at the time. Her father said that, after landing from the ship, they were walking up the street, a servant leading the party with the little girl in her arms. And presently a huge miner, bearded, belted, spurred, and bristling with deadly weapons--just down from a long campaign in the mountains, evidently-barred the way, stopped the servant, and stood gazing, with a face all alive with gratification and astonishment. Then he said, reverently:
"Well, if it ain't a child!" And then he snatched a little leather sack out of his pocket and said to the servant:
"There's a hundred and fifty dollars in dust, there, and I'll give it to you to let me kiss the child!"
That anecdote is true.
But see how things change. Sitting at that dinner-table, listening to that anecdote, if I had offered double the money for the privilege of kissing the same child, I would have been refused. Seventeen added years have far more than doubled the price.

The present volume may be regarded as one of the most racy specimens of Mark Twain's savory pleasantries, and their effect is aggravated by the pictoral illustrations which swarm on every page, many of which are no less comical than the letter-press.