. . . The level ranks of flame were relieved at intervals by the [standard-bearers ], as we called the tall dead trees, wrapped in fire, and waving their blazing banners a hundred feet in the air. Then we could turn from this scene to the Lake, and see every branch, and leaf, and cataract of flame upon its bank perfectly reflected as in a gleaming, fiery mirror. The mighty roaring of the conflagration, together with our solitary and somewhat unsafe position (for there was no one within six miles of us,) rendered the scene very impressive. Occasionally, one of us would remove his pipe from his mouth and say,—“Superb! magnificent! Beautiful!—but—by the Lord God Almighty, if we attempt to sleep in this little patch [to-night ], we’ll never live till morning!—for if we don’t burn up, we’ll certainly suffocate.” But [he was ]persuaded to sit up until we felt pretty safe as far as the fire was concerned, and then we turned in, with many misgivings. When we got up in the morning, we found that the fire had burned small pieces of drift wood within six feet of our boat, and had made its way to within 4 or 5 steps of us on the South side. We looked like lava men, covered as we were with ashes, and begrimed with smoke. We were very black in the face, but we soon washed ourselves white again.1
John D. Kinney, a Cincinnati boy, and a first-rate fellow, too, who came out with Judge Turner, was my comrade.2 We staid at the Lake four days3—I had plenty of fun, for John constantly reminded me of Sam Bowen when we were on our campaign in Missouri. But first and foremost, for Annie’s, Mollie’s, and Pamela’s comfort, be it known that I have never been guilty of profane language since I have been in this Territory, and Kinney hardly ever [swears. ] 4 But sometimes human nature gets the better of him. On the second day we started to go by land to the lower camp, a distance of three miles, over the mountains, each carrying an axe.5 I don’t think we got lost exactly, but we wandered four hours over the steepest, rockiest and most dangerous piece of country in the world. I couldn’t keep from laughing at Kinney’s distress, so I kept behind, so that he could not see me. After he would get over a dangerous place, with infinite labor and constant apprehension, he would stop, lean on his axe, and look around, then behind, then ahead, and then drop his head and ruminate awhile. Then he would draw a long sigh, and say: “Well—could any Billygoat have scaled that place without breaking his —— neck?” And I would reply, “No,—I don’t think he could.” “No—you don’t think he could—” (mimicking me,) “Why don’t you curse the infernal place? You know you want [ to. I ] do, and will curse [the———thieving] country as long as I live.” Then we would toil on in silence for awhile. Finally I told him—“Well, John, what if we don’t find our way out of this today—we’ll know all about the country when we do get out.” “Oh stuff—I know enough—and too much about the d—d villainous locality already.” Finally, we reached the camp. But as we brought no provisions with us, the first subject that presented itself to us was, how to get back. John swore he wouldn’t walk back, so we rolled a drift log apiece into the Lake, and set about making paddles, intending to straddle the logs and paddle ourselves back home sometime or other. But the Lake objected—got stormy, and we had to give it up. So we set out for the only house on this side of the Lake—three miles from there, down the shore. We found the way without any trouble, reached there before [sundown], played three games of cribbage, borrowed a dug-out and pulled back six miles to the upper camp. As we had eaten nothing since sunrise, we did not waste time in cooking our supper or in eating it, either. After supper we got out our pipes—built a rousing camp fire in the open air—established a faro bank (an institution of this country,) on our huge flat granite dining table, and bet white beans till one o’clock, when John went to bed. We were up before the sun the next morning, went out on the Lake and caught a fine trout for breakfast. But unfortunately, I spoilt part of the breakfast. We had coffee and tea boiling on the fire, in coffee-pots and fearing they might not be strong enough, I added more ground coffee, and more tea, but—you know mistakes will [happen. I] put the tea in the coffee-pot, and the coffee in the [tea-pot]—and if you imagine that they were not villainous mixtures, just try the effect once.
And so [Belle] is to be married on the 1st of Oct.6 Well, I send her and her husband my very best wishes, and—I may not be here—but wherever I am on that night, we’ll have a rousing camp-fire and a jollification in honor of the event.
In a day or two we shall probably go to the Lake and build another cabin and fence, and get everything into satisfactory trim before our trip to Esmeralda about the first of November.7
What has become of Sam Bowen? I would give my last shirt to have him out here. I will make no promises, but I believe if John would give him a thousand dollars and send him out here he would not regret it. He might possibly do very well here, but he could do little without capital.8
Remember me to all my St. Louis and Keokuk friends, and tell Challie and Hallie [Benson ] that I heard a military band play “What are the Wild Waves Saying?” the other night, and it reminded me very forcibly of them.9 It brought Ella Creel and Belle across the Desert too in an instant, for they sang the song in Orion’s yard the first time I ever heard it. It was like meeting an old friend. I tell you I could have swallowed that whole band, trombone and all, if such a compliment would have been any gratification to them.
Love to the young folks,10
Provenance:As early as 1917, Paine reported that the beginning of the letter was missing
Emendations and textual notes:
standard‐ǀbearers • standard‐bearers
to-night • tonight
he was • [sic]
swears. But • swears.—But
to. I • to.—I
the ———— thieving • the————thieving
sundown • sun-ǀdown
happen. I • happen.—I
tea-pot • tea-ǀpot
Belle • Bella
Benson • Renson
Sam • Sam