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The Old Stagedriver’s Yosemite Yarns (1962) by Laurence Degnan and Douglass Hubbard


PIKE

Nathan 'Pike' Phillips on horseback
[click to enlarge]

ONE OF THE most popular of the Yosemite guides was Nathan Phillips—everybody called him “Pike”. When he was a youngster back in Tennessee he had diphtheria or somethin’ of the sort which had left his voice so that he couldn’t speak above a hoarse whisper.

“Pike was always polite and respectful but never above puttin’ someone in his place when the situation called for it. One day he was takin’ a tourist party from the old Sentinel Hotel in Yosemite Valley up the Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point. In those days the ladies rode side-saddles even over the roughest trails. One old gal in particular was rather snooty, all dressed up in fancy duds. During a rest stop at Union Point she called out sorta sharply to Pike: ‘Guide, there is something wrong with this stirrup; it hurts my foot.’ Pike sauntered up to her horse, examined the stirrup carefully, then announced in his gutteral whisper, ‘There’s nothing wrong with the stirrup—yer Burned foot’s just too big!

Nathan 'Pike' Phillips
[click to enlarge]

“Seems a lot of jokes used to center around English tourists. Don’t know just why it was this way unless it was because of the funny duds they wore. One day an Englishman tried to get Pike to take him out to hunt grizzly bears. But Pike would have no part of it. The visitor was persistent — so was Pike. Exasperated, the Englishman finally demanded an explanation, so Pike told him:

Seems that Pike once guided a gentleman from London on a grizzly hunt. This gent was armed with the latest in repeatin’ rifles while Pike had an old single shot. ‘Twasn’t long until they saw a grizzly. Pike raised his rifle and fired, but only creased Old Bruin—made him mad as a hornet. The Englishman, instead of shootin’, tossed down his rifle and climbed like a squirrel up the closest tree. As the old bear charged, Pike had just time to throw himself down flat on the ground and play dead. Someone had told him that a grizzly wouldn’t touch a dead man. But his spine froze as the huge bear approached, huffin’ and puffin’. Old Bruin sniffed him from head to foot, then rolled him over with one great paw. Just as he was expectin’ to have his neck snapped by the powerful jaws the old bear put his nose down close and whispered in his ear, ‘Pike, remember this: don’t ever go huntin’ with a bloody Englishman!’

The Court, Palace Hotel, San Francisco
[click to enlarge]
THE COURT, PALACE HOTEL, SAN FRANCISCO

“Ladies in distress were a common occurrence to Pike. He always wore a big hat, and it was useful for more things than carryin’ water to his mule, Brigham. Like I was tellin’ you, the ladies rode sidesaddle back in those days. This meant that the lady had both of her legs on the left side, with her left foot in a single stirrup and her other leg hooked over a horn above it. Her long skirts were draped neatly over all, so for all practical purposes the lady had no legs. On another saddle party Pike was guidin’, the group stopped for a rest and to take in the view. One impatient young lady started to dismount by herself. She reached the ground all right, but her skirts didn’t—they remained hung on the saddle! Turning his bock modestly Pike held up his big hat to hide the young lady while she reorganized herself!

“They buried Pike in the old cemetery at Wawona, just a stone’s throw from the Pioneer History Center. Folks say that this same lady came back years later and put up his headstone, for the ‘only true gentleman’ she had ever met!”

Nathan 'Pike' Phillips at the Palace Hotel
[click to enlarge]

“Sam Miller once took Pike to see San Francisco. Put him up at the old Palace Hotel, which was one of the world’s swankiest before the Great Fire. Pike wasn’t used to such fancy campin’ but he didn’t say much as the bellman took him up the elevator to his room. As he left he told Pike to ring if he needed anything. In about two minutes Pike rang. When the bellman returned Pike said, ‘Can you get me an axe?’ ‘I think so, but why do you need an axe?’ Pike replied, ‘I want to blaze a trail so’s I can find my way outa this durned place!’”



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