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Ever since men began to dig for silver and gold in Colorado, one of the many hard things they have had to do, has been the journeying into the rich silver regions of the San Juan country. The great Sangre di Cristo range, with its uncounted peaks, all from twelve to fifteen thousand feet high, is a barrier which only seekers after gold or after liberty would have courage to cross. One of the most picturesque sights which the traveller in southern Colorado, during the past two or three years, has seen, has been the groups of white-topped wagons creeping westward toward the passes of this range; sometimes thirty or forty together, each wagon drawn by ten, fifteen, or even twenty mules; the slow-moving processions look like caravan lines in a desert; two, three, four weeks on the road, carrying in people by households; carrying in. food, and bringing out silver by the ton; back and forth, back and forth, patient men and patient beasts have been toiling every summer from June to October.
This sort of thing does not go on for many years before a railroad comes to the rescue. Engineering triumphs where brute force merely evades; the steam-engine has stronger lungs than mules or men; and the journey which was counted by weeks is made in hours. Such a feat as this, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad (narrow gauge) is now performing in Colorado. A little more than a year ago, I saw the ploughshare cut the first furrow for its track through the Cucharas meadows at foot of the Spanish Peaks. One day last week I looked out from car windows as we whirled past the same spot; a little town stood where then was wilderness, and on either side of our road were acres of sunflowers whose brown-centred disks of yellow looked like trembling faces still astonished at the noise. Past the Spanish Peaks; past the new town of Veta; into the Veta Pass; up, up, nine thousand feet up, across a neck of the Sangre di Cristo range itself; down the other side, and out among the foot-hills to the vast San Luis valley, the plucky little railroad has already pushed. It is a notable feat of engineering. As the road winds among the mountains, its curves are so sharp that the inexperienced and timid hold their breath. From one track, running along the edge of a precipice, you look up to another which you are presently to reach; it lies high on the mountain-side, four hundred feet above your head, yet it looks hardly more than a stone’s throw across the ravine between. The curve by which you are to climb up this hill is a thirty-degree curve. To the non-professional mind it will perhaps give a clearer idea of the curve to say that it is shaped like a mule-shoe,— a much narrower shoe than a horse-shoe. The famous horse-shoe curve on the Pennsylvania Railroad is broad and easy in comparison with this. There are three of these thirty-degree curves within a short distance of each other; the road doubles on itself, like the path of a ship tacking in adverse winds. The grade is very steep,—two hundred and eleven feet to the mile; the engines pant and strain, and the wheels make a strange sound, at once sibilant and ringing on the steel rails. You go but six miles an hour; it seems like not more than four, the leisurely pace is so unwonted a one for steam engines. With each mile of ascent, the view backward and downward becomes finer: the Spanish Peaks and the plains in the distance, the dark ravines full of pine-trees in the foreground, and Veta Mountain on the left hand,—a giant bulwark furrowed and bare. There are so many seams on the sides of this mountain that they have given rise to its name, Veta, which in the Spanish tongue means “vein.”
From the mouth of the pass to the summit, is, measured by miles, fourteen miles; measured by hours, three hours; measured by sensations, the length of a dream,—that means a length with which figures and numbers have nothing in common. One dreams sometimes of flying in the air, sometimes of going swiftly down or up endless stairways without resting his feet on the steps; my recollection of being lifted up and through the Veta Pass, by steam, are like the recollections of such dreams.
The summit is over nine thousand feet above the sea-level, —the highest point reached by a railroad on this continent. Two miles beyond, and a hundred or two feet lower down, is the “Summit House,” at which we passed the night. It is a little four-roomed house built of mud and set down in a flower-bed of larkspur, hare-bells, penstemons, gilias, white, yellow, and purple asters and wild strawberries; just above the house a spring of pure water gushes out. The ceaseless running of this water and the wind in the pines are the only sounds which break the solitude of the spot. Once at night and once in the morning, the sudden whistle of the steam-engine and the swift rush of the train going by fall on the silence startlingly, and are gone in a second. The next day we drove eighteen miles westward, following the line of the railroad down the canyon for six or eight miles, then bearing off to the right and climbing the high hills which make the eastern wall of the San Luis Park. On our right rose the majestic Sierra Blanca,—the highest mountain in Colorado,—bare and colorless in the early morning light; but transformed into beauty later in the day when mists veiled it and threw it, solid gray, against a sunny blue sky, while transparent fringes of rain fell between us and it, making a shifting kaleidoscope of bits of rainbow here and there. The meadow intervals skirting the San Luis Park at this point are very beautiful: fields high with many-colored grasses and gay with flowers, with lines of cotton-wood trees zigzagging through wherever they choose to go, and the three grand peaks of the Sierra Blanca towering above ail; to the west and south a vast outlook, bounded and broken only by mountain-tops so far away that they are mistily outlined on the horizon. Leaving these meadow intervals, you come out on great opens where nothing but sage-brush grows.
“Good to make fires of; makes desperate hot fires,” said our driver.
It looked as if it had been burned at the stake already, every bush of it, and been raised by some miracle, with all its stems left still twisted in agony. There cannot be on earth another so sad-visaged a thing as a sage-bush, unless it be the olive-tree, of which it is a miniature reproduction: the same pallid gray tint to its leaf; the same full and tender curves in its marred outlines; the same indescribable contortions and writhings of stem; those which are short seem to be struck low by pain, to be clasping and clutching at the ground in despair; those which grow two or three feet high seem to be stretching up deformed and in every direction seeking help. It would be easy to fancy that journeying day after day across the sage-brush plains might make a man mad; that he might come at last to feel himself a part of some frightful metempsychosis, in which centuries of sin were being expiated.
Surrounded by stretches of this dreary sage-brush stands Fort Garland, looking southward down the valley. It is not a fort which could resist a siege,—not even an attack from a few mounted Indians; it must have been intended simply for barracks; a few rows of low mud-walled buildings placed in a sort of hollow square with openings on three sides; a little plat of green grass and a few cotton-wood trees in the centre; two brass field-pieces pointing vaguely to the south; a score or so of soldiers’ houses outside; some clothes-lines on which red shirts, and here and there a blue coat, were blowing; a United States flag fluttering on the flag-staff, one soldier and one sergeant; that was all we saw in the way of defences of the San Luis Valley. There are two companies stationed at the post,—one a company of colored cavalry,—but a quieter, more peaceful, less military-looking spot than was Fort Garland during the time we spent there it would he hard to find. Over the door-way, in one of the mud-houses, was the sign “Hotel.” This hotel consisted apparently of three bedrooms and a kitchen. In the left-hand bedroom a travelling dentist was holding professional receptions for the garrison. The shining tools of his trade were spread on the centre-table and on the bed; in this room we waited while dinner was being served for us in the opposite bedroom. It was an odd thing at a dinner served in a small bedroom, to have a man waiter stand behind your chair, politely and incessantly waving a big feather brush to keep the flies away.
Garland City, the present terminus of the San Juan branch of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, is six miles from Fort Garland. The road to it from the fort lies for the last three miles on the top of a sage-grown plateau. It is straight as an arrow, looks in the distance like a brown furrow on the pale gray plain, and seems to pierce the mountains beyond. Up to within an eighth of a mile of Garland City, there is no trace of human habitation. Knowing that the city must be near, you look in all directions for a glimpse of it; the hills ahead of you rise sharply across your way. Where is the city? At your very feet, but you do not suspect it.
The sunset light was fading when we reached the edge of the ravine in which the city lies. It was like looking unawares over the edge of a precipice; the gulch opened beneath us as suddenly as if the earth had that moment parted and made it. With brakes set firm, we drove cautiously down the steep road; the ravine twinkled with lights, and almost seemed to flutter with white tent and wagon-tops. At the farther end it widened, opening out on an inlet of the San Luis Park, and in its centre, near this widening mouth, lay the twelve-days’ old city. A strange din arose from it.
“What is going on?” we exclaimed.
“The building of the city,” was the reply. “Twelve days ago there was not a house here. To-day there are one hundred and five, and in a week more there will be two hundred; each man is building his own home, and working night and day to get it done ahead of his neighbor. There are four saw-mills going constantly, but they can’t turn out lumber half fast enough. Everybody has to be content with a board at a time. If it were not for that, there’d have been twice as many houses done as there are.”
We drove on down the ravine. The hills on either side were sparsely grown with grass, and thinly covered with piñon and cedar trees; a little creek on our right was half hid in willow thickets. Hundreds of white tents gleamed out among them; tents with poles; tents made by spreading sail-cloth over the tops of bushes; round tents; square tents; big tents; little tents; and for every tent a camp-fire; hundreds of white-topped wagons also, at rest for the night, their great poles propped up by sticks, and their mules and drivers lying and standing in picturesque groups around them. It was a scene not to be forgotten. Louder and louder sounded the chorus of the hammers as we drew near the centre of the “city;” more and more the bustle thickened; great ox-teams, swaying unwieldily about, drawing logs and planks; backing up steep places; all sorts of vehicles driving at reckless speed up and down; men carrying doors; men walking along inside of window-sashes, —the easiest way to carry them; men shovelling; men wheeling wheelbarrows; not a man standing still; not a man with empty hands; every man picking up something, and running to put it clown somewhere else, as in a play, and all the while, “clink! clink! clink!” ringing above the other sounds, the strokes of hundreds of hammers, like the anvil chorus.
“Where is Perry’s Hotel?” we asked.
One of the least busy of the throng spared time to point to it with his thumb as he passed us. In some bewilderment we drew up in front of a large unfinished house, through the many uncased apertures of which we could see only scaffoldings, rough boards, carpenter’s benches, and heaps of shavings. Streams of men were passing in and out through these openings, which might be either doors or windows; no steps led to any of them.
“Oh, yes! Oh, yes! can accommodate you all!” was the landlord’s reply to our hesitating inquiries. He stood in the door-way of his dining-room; the streams of men we had seen going in and out were the fed and the unfed guests of the house. It was supper-time: we also were hungry. We peered into the dining-room: three tables full of men; a huge pile of beds on the floor, covered with hats and coats; a singular wall, made entirely of doors propped upright; a triangular space walled off by sail-cloth,—this is what we saw. We stood outside waiting among the scaffolding and benches. A black man was lighting the candles in a candelabra, made of two narrow bars of wood nailed across each other at right angles, and perforated with holes. The candles sputtered, and the hot fat fell on the shavings below.
“Dangerous way of lighting a room full of shavings,” some one said.
The landlord looked up at the swinging candelabra and laughed.
“Tried it pretty often,” he said. “Never burned a house down yet.”
I observed one peculiarity in the speech at Garland City. Personal pronouns, as a rule, were omitted; there was no time for a superfluous word. “Took down this house at Wagon Creek,” he continued, “just one week ago; took it down one morning while the people were eating breakfast; took it down over their heads; putting it up again over their heads now.”
This was literally true. The last part of it we ourselves were seeing while he spoke, and a friend at our elbow had seen the Wagon Creek crisis.
“’M waiting for that round table for you,” said the landlord; “’ll bring the chairs out here ’s fast ’s they quit ’em. That’s the only way to get the table.”
So, watching his chances, as fast as a seat was vacated, he sprang into the room, seized the chair and brought it out to us, and we sat there in our “reserved seats” biding the time when there should be room enough vacant at the table for us to take our places.
What an indescribable scene it was! The strange-looking wall of propped doors which we had seen was the impromptu wall separating the bedrooms from the dining-room. Bedrooms? Yes, five of them; that is, five bedsteads in a row, with just space enough between them to hang up a sheet, and with just room enough between them and the propped doors for a moderate-sized person to stand upright if he faced either the doors or the bed. Chairs? Oh, no! What do you want of a chair in a bedroom which has a bed in it? Wash-stands? One tin basin out in the unfinished room. Towels? Uncertain.
The little triangular space walled off by the sail-cloth was a sixth bedroom, quite private and exclusive, and the big pile of beds on the dining-room floor was to he made up into seven bedrooms more between the tables after everybody had finished supper.
Luckily for us we found a friend here,—a man who has been from the beginning one of Colorado’s chief pioneers, and who is never, even in the wildest wilderness, without resources of comfort.
“You can’t sleep here,” he said. “I can do better for you than this.”
He offered us luxury. How movable a thing is one’s standard of comfort! A two-roomed pine shanty, board walls, board floors, board ceilings, board partitions not reaching to the roof, looked to us that night like a palace. To have been entertained at Windsor Castle would not have made us half so grateful.
It was late before the “city” grew quiet, and long after most of the lights were out, and most of the sounds had ceased, I heard one solitary hammer in the distance, clink, clink, clink. I fell asleep listening to it. At daylight the chorus began again, dinning, deafening on all sides; the stir, the bustle, every motion of it began just where it had left off at bed-time. I sat on a door-step and watched the street. It was like a scene in an opera. Every man became dramatic from the unconscious absorption in his every action. Even the animals seemed playing parts in a spectacle. There were three old sows out with their broods in search of early breakfast, and they wore an expression of alertness and despatch such as I never before saw in their kind. There were twenty-three in all, of the little pigs, and very pretty they were too,—just big enough to run alone,—white, and black, and mottled, no two alike, and all with fine, pink, curly tails. How they fought over orange-peels, and sniffed at cigar-stumps, and every other minute ran squealing from under some hurrying foot! After a while, two of the mothers disappeared incontinently, leaving their broods behind them. The remaining sow looked after them with as reproachful an expression as a human mother could have worn, thus compelled to an involuntary baby-farming. She proved very faithful to the unwelcome trust, however, and did her best to keep all the twenty-three youngsters out of harm, and the last I saw of her, she was trying to persuade them all to go to bed in a willow thicket.
Then came a dash of mules and horses down the street, thirty or forty of them, driven at full gallop, by a man riding a calico horse and flourishing a big braided leather whip with gay tassels on it. They, too, were going out to meals. They were being driven down to a corral to be fed. Then came a Mexican wagon, drawn by two gray and white oxen, of almost as fine a tint as the Italian oxen, which are so like in color to, a Maltese kitten. They could not, would not hurry, nor, if they could help it, turn to the right or left for anybody. Smiling brown faces of Mexican men shone from the front seat, and laughing brown faces of Mexican babies peeped out behind, from under the limp and wrinkled old wagon cover, which looked like a huge, broken-down sun-bonnet. There are squashes and string-beans and potatoes in the back of the wagon to sell; and, while they were measuring them out, the Mexicans chattered and laughed and showed white teeth, like men of the Campagna. They took me for a householder, as I sat on my door-step, and turned the gray oxen my way, laughing. and calling out:—
“Madame, potatoes, beans, buy?” And when I shook my head, they still laughed. Everything seemed a joke to them that morning.
Next came a great water-wagon, with a spigot in its side. Good water is very scarce in Garland City, as it is, alas, in so many places in Colorado; and an enterprising Irishman is fast lining his pockets by bringing down water from a spring in the hill, north of the town, and selling it for twenty-five cents a barrel. After he had filled the barrel which stood by my friend’s door, he brought a large lump of ice, washed it, and put it into a tin water-pail of water on the table.
“Where did that ice come from?” I exclaimed, wondering if there were any other place in the world except America, where ice could be delivered to families in a town twelve days old.
“Oh, just back here from Veta. The people there, they laid in a big stock last winter, and when the town moved on, they hadn’t any use for the ice, ’n’ so they pack it down here on the cars every day.”
“The town moved on! What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“Why, most all these people that’s puttin’ up houses here, lived in Veta three months ago. They’re jest followin’ the railroad.”
“Oh,” said I, “I thought most of them had come from Wagon Creek” (the station between Veta and Garland City).
“Well, they did stop at Wagon Creek for a spell; nothin’ more than to check up, though; not enough to count. Some of these houses was set up to Wagon Creek a few days.
“Where iver did ye git that dog?” he exclaimed suddenly, catching sight of Douglas, a superb, pure-blooded stag-hound, who had come with us from the Summit House. Mebbe ye’re English?”
“No, we are not. Are you?”
“No. I’m Irish born; but I know an ould counthry dog when I see him. Ah, but he’s a foine craythur.”
“Do you like this country better than the old country? “I asked.
“Yes. I can make more money here; that’s the main thing,” said the thoroughly naturalized Pat; and he sprang up to the top of his water-cart and drove off, whistling.
Next came a big, black, leather-topped wagon, with a black bear chained on a rack behind. The wagon rattled along very fast, and the bear raced back and forth on his shelf and shook his chain. Nobody seemed to take any notice of the strange sight; not a man turned his head. One would not have thought wagons with black bears dancing on platforms behind them could have been common sights, even in Garland City.
These are only a few of the shifting street-scenes I watched that morning. After a time I left my door-step and strolled about in the suburbs of this baby “city.” The suburbs were, as suburbs always are, more interesting than the thoroughfares; pathetic, too, with their make-shifts of shelter. Here were huts, mere huts, literally made of loose boards thrown together; women and children looked out from shapeless doorways, and their ragged beds and bedding and clothes were piled in heaps outside, or flung on the bushes. Here were fenced corrals in open spaces among the willows, with ill-spelt signs saying that horses and mules would be fed there cheaply. Here were rows of new Kansas wagons, with green and white bodies and scarlet wheels; here were top-buggies and carts, and a huge black ambulance, bound for Fort Garland. Here were stacks of every conceivable merchandise, which had been hastily huddled out of the freight cars, and were waiting their turn to be loaded on the San Juan wagons. Here stood the San Juan coach,—the great, swinging, red-bodied, covered coach we know so well in New England. A day and a night and half a day, without stopping, he must ride who will go from Garland City to Lake City in this stage. The next morning I saw it set off at six o’clock. A brisk, black-eyed little Frenchwoman, trig and natty, with her basket on her arm, was settling herself in the back seat. She had lived in Lake City a year, and she liked it better than Denver.
“Mooch nicer; mooch nicer: so cool as it is in summer! Nevare hot.”
“But is it not very cold in winter?”
A true French shrug of her shoulders was her first reply, followed by,—
“But no; with snug house, and big fire, it is nevare cold; and in winter we have so many of meetings, what you call sosharbles, it is a good time.” Then she called out sharply in French, to her husband, who was disposing of their parcels in a way which did not please her; and then, seeing me wave a good-by to one on top of the coach, she leaned out of the window, and called with the light-hearted laugh of her race:—
“Ah, then, why does not Madame come too? My husband is better; he takes me along.” At which the collective stage-coach laughed loud, the driver swung his long whip around the leaders’ ears, and the coach plunged off at a rattling pace.
In the edge of a willow copse, on the northern outskirts of the city, I found a small shanty, the smallest I had seen. It was so low, one could not enter without stooping, nor stand quite upright inside. The boards of which it was built were full of knot-holes; those making the roof were laid loosely across the top, and could not have been much protection against rain. The boards of a wagon-top were set up close by the doorway, and on these were hanging beds, bedding, and a variety of nondescript garments. A fire was burning on the ground a few steps off; on this was a big iron kettle full of clothes boiling; there were two or three old pans and iron utensils standing near the fire; an old flag-bottomed chair, its wood worn smooth and shining by long use; and a wooden bench, on which was a wash-tub full of clothes soaking in water. I paused to look at the picture, and a woman, passing, said:—
“That’s Grandma’s house.”
“Your grandmother?” I said.
“Oh, no!” she replied. “She ain’t nobody’s grandmother; but we all call her Grandma. She’s here with her son; he was weakly, and she brought him out here. There ain’t many like her. I wonder where she’s gone, leavin’ her washin’ this way.”
Then we fell into talk about the new city, and what the woman’s husband was doing, and how hard it was for them ‘to get along; and presently we heard foot-steps.
“Oh, there’s Grandma, now,” she said.
I looked up, and saw a tall, thin woman, in a short, scant, calico gown, with an old woollen shawl crossed at her neck, and pinned tight at the belt, after the fashion of the Quaker women. Her sleeves were rolled up above her elbows, and her arms were brown and muscular as an Indian’s. Her thin gray hair blew about her temples under an old limp brown sun-bonnet, which hid the outline of her face, but did not hide the brightness of her keen, light-gray eyes. Her face was actually seamed with wrinkles; her mouth had fallen in from want of teeth; and yet she did not look wholly like an old woman.
“Grandma, this lady’s from Colorado Springs,” said my companion, by way of introduction.
Grandma was carrying an armful of cedar-boughs. She threw them on the ground, and, turning to me, said with a smile which lighted up her whole face:—
“How d’ye do, marm? That’s a place I’ve always wanted to see. I’ve always thought I should like to live to the Springs, ever since I’ve been in this country.”
“Yes,” I said. “It’s a pleasant town; but do you not like it here?”
She glanced at her shanty and its surroundings, and I felt guilty at having asked my question; but she replied:—
“Oh, yes! I like it very well here. When we get our house built, we’ll be comfortable. It’s only for Tommy I’m here. If it wan’t for him I shouldn’t stay in this country. He’s all I’ve got. We’re all alone here, that is, so far as connections goes; but we’ve got plenty o’ friends, and God’s here just the same’s everywhere.”
She spoke this last sentence in as natural and easy a tone as all the rest; there was no more trace of cant or affectation in her mention of the name of God than in her mention of Tommy’s. They seemed equally familiar and equally dear. Then she went to the fire, and turned the clothes over in the water with a long stick, and prepared to resume her work.
“How long have you been here?” I asked.
“Only about a week,” she said. “Tommy he’s working ’s hard ’s ever he can, to get me a house built. It worries him to see me living this way; he’s got it three logs high already,” proudly pointing to it, only a few rods farther up the hill; “but Tommy’s only a boy yet; he ain’t sixteen; but he’s learning, he’s learning to do for hisself; he’s a real good boy, an’ he’s getting strong every day; he’s getting his health real firm, ’n’ that’s all I want. ’Tain’t any matter what becomes of me, if I can only get Tommy started all right.”
“Was he ill when you brought him here?” I asked.
“Oh, dear! yes. He was jest low; he had to lie on the bottom of the wagon all the way. I traded off my house for a wagon and two horses, an’ one on ’em was a colt,—hadn’t been in harness but a few times; jest that wagon and horses was all we had when I started to bring him to Colorado. I’d heard how the air here ’d cure consumption, ’n’ I jest took him ’n’ started; ’n’ it’s saved his life, ’n’ that’s all I care for. He’s all I’ve got.”
“Where was your home?” I said. “Was it a long journey?”
“Way down in Missouri; down in Sullivan county,” she replied. “That’s where I was raised. ’Taint healthy there. There wan’t none o’ my children healthy. Tommy’s all I’ve got left,—at least I expect so. I oughter have a daughter living; but the last letter I had from her, she said she didn’t suppose she’d live many weeks; she’s had the consumption too; she’s married. I don’t know whether she’s ’live or dead now. Tommy’s all I’ve got.”
“Were these two your only children?” I ventured to say.
“Oh, no; I’ve had six. Two o’ my sons was grown men; they was both killed in the war. Then there was one died when he was nine months old, and another when he was jest growd,—jest fourteen; and then there’s the daughter I told ye on, an’ Tommy. He’s the youngest. He’s all I’ve got. He’s a good boy, Tommy is; real steady. He’s always been raised to go to Sunday school. He’s all I’ve got.”
The abject poverty of this woman’s surroundings, the constant refrain of, “he’s all I’ve got,” and the calm cheerfulness of her face, began to bring tears into my eyes.
“Grandma,” said I, “you have had a great deal of trouble in your life; yet you look happier than most people do.”
“Oh, no! I ain’t never suffered,” she said. “I’ve always had plenty. I’ve always been took care of. God’s always taken care of me.”
“That must be a great comfort to you, to think that,” I said.
“Think it!” exclaimed the grand old woman, with fire in her eye. “Think it! I don’t think any thing about it; I jest know it. Why, Tommy ’n’ me, we was snowed up last April in a canyon here,—us and old man Molan, ’n’ Miss Molan, ’n’ Miss Smith, ’n’ Miss Smith’s two children: snowed up in thet canyon two weeks lacking two days; ’n’ I’d like to know of any thing but God ’d ha’ kep’ us alive then! No, I hain’t never suffered. I’ve always had plenty. God’s always took care of me.” And always serene smile spread over her face.
“Oh, will you not tell me about that time?” I exclaimed. “If it will not hinder you too much, I would be very glad to hear all about it.”
“Well. you jest set right down in that chair, she said, pointing to the flag-bottomed chair, “’n’ I’ll tell you. ’Twas in that very chair Miss Molan she sat all the first night. Them two chairs (pointing to another in the shanty) I brought all the way from Missouri with me. We had them ’n the wagon. Miss Molan she sat in one, ’n’ held the baby; ’n’ Miss Smith she sat in the other, ’n’ held the little boy; ’n’ Tommy ’n’ me we turned over the two water-buckets ’n’ sat on them; ’n’ there we sat all night long, jest ’s close to each other ’s we could get; ’n’ old man Molan he tended the fire: ’n’ it snowed, snowed, all night, ’s tight as it could snow; ’n’ towards morning the old man says, says he. ‘Well, I don’t know ’s I can hold out till morning, but I’ll try;’ ’n’ when morning come, there we was with snow-drifts piled up all round us higher ’n our heads, ’n’ them children never so much ’s cried. It seems ’s if the snow kep’ us warm. ’Twan’t real winter, ye see; if it had been, we’d ha’ died there, all in a heap,—froze to death, sure. Well, there we had to stay, down in that canyon, two weeks. a lacking two days, before we could get out. It wan’t deep with snow all the time, but when the snow went, there was such mud-holes, there couldn’t nobody travel; but the first week it snowed pretty much all the time. The wagons was up on the top o’ the canyon, ’n’ we kep’ a path trod so we could go back an forth to them; ’n’ there was a kind o’ shelving place o’ rock in the canyon, ’n’ we got the horses down in there and kep’ them there, ’n’ we had plenty for them to eat. Old man Molan, he had four sacks o’ corn, ’n we had three; ’n’ we had tea, ’n’ coffee, ’n’ flour, ’n’ sugar, ’n’ beans, ’n’ dried apples. The dried apples was a heap o’ help. We didn’t suffer. I hain’t never suffered; I’ve always had plenty. There was one night, though, we did like to got lost. We got ketched in an awful storm a-goin’ up to the wagons; ‘twas jest near night-time; it hed been real clear, ’n’ we all of us went up to the wagons to get things. All but Miss Molan,— she stayed in the canyon, with the children; ’n’ there came up the awfulest snow-squall I ever see. It took your breath out o’ your body, ’n’ you couldn’t see no more ’n you could in the dead o’ night. First I got into one wagon, ’n’ Tommy with me; ’n’ the rest they came on, ’n’ we was all calling out to each other, ‘Be you there?’, ‘Be you there?’ ’N’ at last we was all in the wagons, ’n’ there we jest sat till morning; an’ if you’ll believe it, along in the night, if we didn’t hear Miss Molar a-calling to us. She’d felt her way out o’ thet canyon, a-carrying that baby ’n’ dragging the boy after her. She was afraid to stay in the canyon all alone; but ‘twas a meracle her getting to the wagons ’s she did. It was dreadful foolish in her, ’n’ I told her so. That morning the snow was up to our middles, and we had a time on’t getting back into the canyon.”
I wish I could tell the whole of Grandma’s story in her own words; but it would be impossible. My own words will he much less graphic, but they will serve to convey the main features of her narrative.
Finding me so sympathetic a listener, she told me bit by bit the whole history of her emigration from Missouri to Colorado. Her husband had been a farmer, and, I inferred, an unsuccessful one, in Missouri. He had died thirteen years ago. Her two eldest sons, grown men, had been in the Confederate army, and were both killed in battle. Shortly after this, the jay-hawkers burnt her house. She escaped with only Tommy and his brother, and the clothes they were wearing.
“They jest left me my two little children,” she said, “and that was all. But it wan’t two days before the neighbors they got together ’n’ they gave me ’s much ’s two wagon loads o’ things, all I needed to set up again ’n’ go on. I hain’t never suffered; I’ve always been took care of, ye see.”
By hook and by crook she managed finally to get another house, with a little land, where she and Tommy were living alone together, when his health began to fail. He had chills, and then he raised blood; then she made up her mind, cost what it would, to carry him to Colorado. Her house must have been a small and poor one, because all she got in exchange for it was a little covered wagon and two horses; one, the colt which had been in harness only a few times, “was,” she said, “not much more ‘n skin an’ bone, but ‘twas the best I could do.”
So she packed her household goods and her sick boy into the wagon, and set out to drive to Colorado. When they reached Fort Scott in Kansas, the people at the fort persuaded her to lighten her load by shipping most of her things by rail to Pueblo.
“I got a big box,” she said, “an’ I jest put every thing into it, an’ a man who was shipping a lot o’ things o’ his own, said he’d ship mine with his, ’n’ I come on with Tommy ’n’ left ’em all; but I kind o’ mistrusted I shouldn’t ever see ’em again; but the horses ’d never held out to draw ’em through; so ‘twas best to let ’em go, even if I did lose ’em.”
When they reached Pueblo nothing could be heard of the box; she made up her mind that it was lost, and pushed on with Tommy to Los Animas, where she went to work in a hotel for twenty dollars a month, and Tommy found a place as sheep-herder for fifteen dollars a month. Putting their wages together they soon got a little money ahead, enough to enable them to journey into the San Juan country to Lake City. The higher into the mountains they went, the stronger Tommy grew. He would climb the hills like a goat, and delighted in the wild out-door life; but the altitude at Lake City was too great for Grandma’s lungs, and they were obliged to turn back.
“It seemed as if I jest couldn’t git a mite o’ breath up there,” she said, “’n’ we’d got to be where I could work for Tommy, an’ I wan’t of any account up there to do any thing.”
While they were living in Lake City, the lost box was recovered. A lady for whom Grandma had done some work interested herself in the matter sufficiently to speak of it to an express agent, and finding that there seemed still to be some possibility of tracing the box, sent for Grandma to come and tell her own story. “I told her I didn’t want to bother no Mr. Jones about it,’[”] said Grandma; “the box was gone, I knew it was gone, ’n’ I’d made up my mind to ’t. But there wouldn’t nothing do, but I must go up to her house an’ see this Mr. Jones, an’ tell him all about it, jest who I shipped it with an’ all. I had the man’s name on a piece o’ paper. I always kep’ that. Well, Mr. Jones he asked me a heap o’ questions, an’ wrote it all down in a little book; and if you’ll believe me, it wan’t two weeks before a letter come a-saying that my box was all safe. They had been going to sell it in Pueblo, but that man that shipped it, he wouldn’t let ’em. He had it shipped back to him to Kansas City; he said he thought I’d turn up some day. Ye see when I was in Pueblo looking for it, it hadn’t got there. There was nine dollars ’n’ fifty-five cents to pay on the box before we could get it. Tommy and I together hadn’t got so much ’s that; but they took off the fifty-five cents, and some folks helped me to make it up; and when that box come, there was every thing in it exactly ’s I’d put ’em in most a year before, only one o’ the flat-irons had slipped on to the looking-glass an’ broke it; but the old clock it went right along jest ’s good ’s ever; an’ all my bedquilts was dry ’s could be. It was a comfort to me, getting that box. It seemed ’s if we had something then. I’ve sold most o’ my bed-quilts now,—I had some real handsome ones; but they was dreadful heavy to lug round; and we’ve wanted money pretty bad sometimes. I’ve sold some o’ my best clothes, too. I hain’t ever suffered; we’ve always been took care of.”
From Lake City Grandma and Tommy went back to Los Animas, where they made a comfortable living,— Tommy by “hauling” with his wagon and horses, and Grandma by taking in washing.
“We was doing first rate,” she said with an expression of something as near regret as her face was capable of, “an’ I wish we’d never come away; but Tommy he got in with old man Molan; old man Molan’s an old miner; he’s a first-rate miner they say, too, of he wan’t so old—he’s going on seventy now; he’s mined all over California ’n’ made a heap of money in his turn; but he’s always fooled it away. He was full o’ coming up into the mines, an’ Tommy he got so full on’t, too, I didn’t try to keep him. He’s all I’ve got; so we come on. But it seemed like home down in Los Animas, the farmers’ wagons coming into town every Saturday with vegetables and all sorts of green stuff; I’d like to go back there, but I hear they’re moving away from there terrible.”
“Oh yes, Grandma,” I said, “there isn’t much of a town left there now. That was one of the towns built up for a few months by the railroad. I dare say there will not be a house to be seen there a year from now.”
She sighed and shook her head, saying,—
“Well, it does beat all; I liked Los Animas. I wish we’d stayed there.” It was on the journey from Los Animas to Veta that they had had the terrible experience of being snowed up in the canyon. In Veta they had stayed for a month or two; then they had followed the advancing railroad to Wagon Creek, and now to its present terminus, Garland City.
“They do say there won’t be any town here, for more’n a year or so,” she said, looking anxiously at me; “that they’re going on way down to the Rio Grande River. But some seems to think there’ll always be enough to keep a town going here. I suppose we shall go wherever old man Molan goes, though. Tommy’s so took up with him; an’ I don’t know ’s I care; he’s a good old man, if he wan’t so crazy about mining; he’s to work building now; he’s a good hand to work, old ’s he is. If we only had a church here, I wouldn’t mind about any thing; they say there isn’t any Sunday in Colorado, but I tell them God’s here the same ’s every-where; and folks that wants to keep Sunday ’ll keep Sunday wherever they be; but churches is a help. Hev ye got good churches to the Springs?”
“Oh yes, Grandma,” I said, “more than we know what to do with. There are nine different churches there; each man can go to the kind he likes best.”
A look of yearning came over her face.
“That’s the place I’d like to go to,” she said. “I’ve always thought I’d like to live there. But Tommy he wants to go where old man Molan goes; and I shan’t keep him; he’s all I’ve got, an’ he’s got his health first rate now; that’s all I care for.”
In the afternoon I carried to Grandma a piece of raspberry short-cake from a workmen’s picnic dinner, to which I had the good fortune to he invited. “Oh, that does look good,” she said with childlike pleasure. “Thank you for bringing it to me,” and as I was slowly walking away, she called after me,—
“Didn’t I tell you I was always took care of?” Late in the day we drove back to the lonely Summit House for the night, and the next morning we went again over the wonderful curving railroad down the pass. Going down seemed even more marvellous than going up, and the views were all finer seen from above, than from below. But far more lasting and vivid than my memory of the beauty and grandeur and triumph of the road through the pass, will be my memory of the beauty and grandeur and triumph which I saw in the face, and heard in the words, of “Grandma.”
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