Read CHAPTER XXIX - A NATURAL DEATH of First Fam'lies of the Sierras, free online book, by Joaquin Miller, on

Early one frosty morning in the Fall following, Old Baboon sat by the door of the only saloon. He held an old bull-dog by a tow-string, and both man and dog were pictures of distress as they shivered from the keen cold wind that came pitching down from the snow-peaks. As a man approached, the man shivered till his teeth chattered, and clutching at the string, looked helplessly over his shoulder at the uncompromising bar-keeper, who had just arisen and opened the door to let out the bad odors of his den.

The dog shivered too, and came up and sat down close enough to receive the sympathetic hand of Old Baboon on his broad bowed head. This man was a relic and a wreck. More than twenty years of miner’s life and labor in the mountains, interrupted of late only by periodical sprees governed in their duration solely by the results of his last “clean up,” had made him one of a type of men known only to the Pacific.

True, he had failed to negotiate with the savage cinnamon-headed vendor of poison; but he was no beggar. It was simply a failure to obtain a Wall Street accommodation in a small way. I doubt if the bristled-haired bar-keeper himself questioned the honesty of Baboon. It was merely a question of ability to pay, and the decision of the autocrat had been promptly and firmly given against the applicant.

Perhaps, in strict justice to the red-haired wretch that washed his tumblers and watched for victims that frosty morning, I should state that appearances were certainly against Baboon.

You can with tolerable certainty, in the placer mines, tell how a miner’s claim is paying by the condition and quality of his top-boots. Baboon had no boots, only a pair of slippers improvised from old rubbers, and between the top of these and the legs of his pantaloons there was no compromise across the naked, cold-blue ankles.

These signs, together with a buttonless blue shirt that showed his hairy bosom, a frightful beard and hair beneath a hat that drooped like a wilted palm-leaf, were the circumstantial evidences from which Judge Barkeep made his decision.

It would perhaps be more pleasant for us all if we could know that such men were a race to themselves; that they never saw civilization; that there never was a time when they were petted by pretty sisters, and sat, pure and strong, the central figures of Christian households; or at least we would like to think that they grew upon the border, and belonged there. But the truth is, very often, they came of the gentlest blood and life. The border man, born and bred in storms, never gets discouraged: it is the man of culture, refinement, and sensitive nature who falls from the front in the hard-fought battles of the West.

This man’s brow was broad and full; had his beard and hair been combed and cared for, his head had looked a very picture. But after all, there was one weak point in his face. He had a small, hesitating nose.

As a rule, in any great struggle involving any degree of strategy and strength, the small nose must go to the wall. It may have pluck, spirit, refinement, sensitiveness, and, in fact, to the casual observer, every quality requisite to success; but somehow invariably at the very crisis it gives way.

Small noses are a failure. This is the verdict of history. Give me a man, or woman either, with a big nose not a nose of flesh, not a loose flabby nose like a camel’s lips, nor a thin, starved nose that the eyes have crowded out and forced into prominence, but a full, strong, substantial nose, that is willing and able to take the lead; one that asserts itself boldly between the eyes, and reaches up towards the brows, and has room enough to sit down there and be at home.

Give me a man, or woman either, with a nose like that, and I will have a nose that will accomplish something. I grant you that such a nose may be a knave; but it is never a coward nor a fool never!

In the strong stream of miners’ life as it was, no man could stand still. He either went up or down. The strong and not always the best went up. The weak which often embraced the gentlest and sweetest natures were borne down and stranded here and there all along the river.

I have noticed that those who stop, stand, and look longest at the tempting display of viands in cook-shop windows, are those that have not a penny to purchase with. Perhaps there was something of this nature in Old Baboon that impelled him to look again and again over his shoulder as he clutched tighter to the tow-string at the cinnamon-headed bottle-washer behind the bar.

A stranger stood before this man. He turned his eyes from the bar-keeper and lifted them helplessly to his.

“Charlie is dead.”

“Charlie who? Who is ’Charlie’?”

“Charlie Godfrey, The Gopher, and here is his dog;” and as he spoke, the dog, as if knowing his master’s name and feeling his loss, crouched close to the old man’s legs.

A new commotion in camp.

Say what you will of gold, whenever any one shuts his eyes and turns for ever from it, as if in contempt, his name, for a day at least, assumes a majesty proportionate with the amount he has left behind and seems to despise.