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Tenderfoot Days

By George Robert Bird

A Lively Mining Camp

IF Alta City, as its name suggests, is a lofty camp, Bingham City, in the opposite range of the Oquirreh Mountains, was a lively camp.

I had often wished to see a typical mining camp, to decide if the customary "gunfire" stories were true, or exaggerated. Well! I found them about true, as I will now relate.

This shanty city was along a narrow canyon, which began in the low foothills, covered with sagebrush, and then extended upward with a sinuous course to what was known as Upper Bingham where in winter the snow lies deep and slides are common.

This is rather a treeless range, and there is little that is picturesque in this canyon town by way of view. What it lacked in nature, it made up in human nature. All sorts of people were there. To use the common phrase, "We are all here, Jews, Gentiles, and Mormons." The business was almost entirely Hebraic, the mining almost to a man, Gentile, but not by any means gentle, and the teaming and toiling by "Jack" Mormons, meaning thereby such Mormons as had left their piety in the valley, and were up in these hills, like the rest of the human tide, "For what there was in it." All these people meant to make money, and then go home-"To behave and be respectable." This canyon was well occupied by this industrious town. Against the rocky sides the houses pressed their backs, while their fronts, of most varied designs of ugliness, looked boldly on "The Street." This street was a narrow affair, without pretense of road work, and was simply a wagon trail up which loads of supplies and men were carried. People thronged it because there was no other place to walk. A sidewalk was an un-thought-of thing. Little suggestions of such a possibility were seen in several platforms, built before the larger edifices, such as the saloons and the hotels. These were nice things to land on, in stepping from the stage on a muddy day, and in good weather excellent places for pedestrians to clean their huge boots, or take a "free rest." When the weather was good and warm, these suggestions of coming sidewalks were occupied by the idle and the tired to make swaps, tell stories, take siestas, originate rows and quarrels, and anything else to make life interesting in the camp.

The street was a sight at all times for a street sweeper. The litter was terrific, for it was the custom of the housekeepers to sweep the surplus contents of their houses, with a dash of the broom, into the street, and then to bang their doors with an air of having got rid of a lot, and having done a good day's work.

In this town there was no garbage brigade, with shovels and brooms, to deposit this litter carefully in those bins labelled "For clean streets."

The grand climax to this was on Monday morning, after the strenuous work of Sunday was over, the Camp's rest day but not religious day. Packs of cards, used and cast away by those in bad luck, were swept out by the barkeep, and the roadway looked like an outdoor gambler's paradise.

The "hells" were all indoors, and you had to go within to see them, and to smell them. I do not deny that the odors of these places came out, but the sniff you got when mixed with oxygen and the ozone of the Bingham hills, was nothing in its strength, to the full blast of the interiors.

The rest of this canyon was taken up by the river or "Crik," that was always trying to pass down and squeeze its way, with considerable noise, over boulders, through riffles and sluices set in its way by the industrious placer miner, and get out into the open to find its peace in the bosom of the river Jordan. I need not name the other occupants of this narrow vent in these hills, since they were only tarantulas, rattle snakes, and mammoth spiders.

I came into the camp with a rush, for I was a passenger on the four-horse stage. I had missed the train, and took the chance to make the camp that night by going through on Rory McDonald's stage. He was a Scotch tough. I suppose that he had been a good little boy in his early days, and his "Scotch Mither" had made him toe the crack to recite the shorter catechism. That may be, but he had left it far behind and like many a boy brought up to be "varra gude," he had swung to the opposite extreme. Going west, and doing as the West did in the '70's, Rory McDonald became a tough, and carried a gun. He also carried a charming brogue with a big Scotch "burr" on his tongue's end, a tantalizing smile, an ogling eye that disturbed the girls, and a most ingratiating manner, which made him many friends, and popular with the travelling public.

There were several bloody affairs, gunfights and homicides while I was there; but Rory McDonaid was the man who was responsible for the worst of these affairs. His glib tongue, and indifferent morals beguiled to his side as companion the wife of a lame shoemaker. The husband was industrious in his way, but not a lucky man. He did not climb, but remained financially below par and his wife got tired of economy and poverty.

Rory McDonald was lavish with his money. His stage line was paying, and he spent his profits freely on this woman. Taylor, the shoemaker, was chaffed coarsely by the men of the town, about his wife. He was a pale-faced fellow, but his courage was not lacking. Since he could not manage his side-stepping wife, he walked up to McDonald, and told him to "git heeled," as the next time they met he would begin shooting. He nearly began then, but since the sheriff was within sight, several mutual friends parted the angry pair. Everybody looked for trouble; but several days slipped by. Men began to twit Taylor for his easy sufferance of this blot on his honor. Then it happened like a thunder clap.

Miss Minor, a young woman the niece of the only resident physician, was standing on the porch of her uncle's office, looking for the mail. As she glanced down the street she saw a man coming up on the opposite side, with a creeping, bending step, and trailing a shot-gun. She recognized the red face of Rory McDonald. It all happened in a flash. A shout, as McDonald stopped in front of the shoemaker's door, which was wide open. It was a long narrow room, with the work bench, and seat at the far end. There tapping heels, Taylor was bending over his work. Following the shout "look out" from McDonald, came the crash of his shot gun, as it poured a charge into the fated man. As an echo came the revolver shot that struck McDonald's thigh high up. The second barrel followed, and Taylor fell riddled, yet in falling fired a second time. The bullet flew high, through the open door, and across the street. It struck the post of the porch, against which Miss Minor's hand rested. Slivers of wood fell on her head, and the bullet buried itself in the building.

I was up a gulch opening on the main street, when I heard these reports. They sounded like the falling of a lot of lumber from a wagon. Until I saw men running I did not think the noise was gunfire. When I reached the spot the crowd held McDonald, who was white of face and bleeding fast. Others were in the shop, viewing the riddled yet breathing body of Taylor. 'He died as they lifted him up.

Some were for lynching McDonald right away, saying it was cowardly murder, to shoot a man down in his store with no more warning than a shout. Others swept McDonald off to the local jail, and had him out of sight in a few minutes. A divided camp discussed the horror, and it soon appeared that Taylor's friends were in sufficient numbers to carry out their threat of a lynching bee. The sheriff was persuaded to avoid a fight by taking McDonald to Salt Lake City for safekeeping. During the early hours of the night, he was smuggled into a wagon, under some baled hay, and passed out of the camp without notice. When the posse came to the jail later, the sheriff let them look into all the cells, and then told them they would have to go to Salt Lake City for their man.

This was one of many coarse blood-horrors common to these camps. Some months later McDonald's money and friends carried him safely through a trial in court, and he came out free, due to the jury's sentence, "done in self defense." Taylor's threat "heel yourself," was deemed the legal reason for the sentence.

McDonald met me in the canyon near the depot, and came up with his usual ingratiating smile, with extended hand. "I can't take your hand," I said, "I think you did a cowardly thing. You killed a man in an unfair fight."

"But he would have shot me, in the same way, jf he could."

"Maybe, but he did not. If you had been the man we thought you were, you would have called him out, into the open, on even terms."

McDonald looked his surprise, then scowled a moment, and turned on his heel with a growl.

He was always morose after that. It is often so. A man who is a killer soon loses his kindliness of temperament.

Most of the camp ores went out by the narrow-gauge railroad. They went to the smelters at Sandy, at the junction of the broad-gauge railroad, from whence, in the form of lead, silver, and gold ingots, they were transported to the East. The passengers for the Camp came in on the mixed train. Returning the engine remained to bring out the loaded ore cars, but the baggage and passenger cars made the trip by gravity, under brake control; for the grade was sharp most of the way to the valley. I remember a wild ride, by this gravity method, with a party of young men of the assay and mining offices. We occupied a number of seats together, and were in a merry mood, since it was a vacation party.

In a neighboring seat was a middle-aged aggressive Agnostic. At least he was loud in his profession of the philosophy of "Know-Nothing" as to religion, although he was at the same time a Spiritualist as to his superstition. I never knew a man of that stamp, who did not take up something more credulous than the religion he rejected. Moreover he was roughly Anti-Church and Anti-Christ, and thus popular with a certain crowd in the Camp. Now, none of us were of his way of thinking. Most of the young men were not specially religious, although all of them had a little of it somewhere in their make-up. I was openly and avowedly religious, and tried my best to advance morality and sane religion in the Camp. I had some influence too, and made public addresses on Sunday, and conducted, the only day-school in the Camp, on week-days. Mr. Agnostic sneered at me, therefore, as an Eastern "Goody-Goody," and took great delight, every Monday night, in the Social Hall in ridiculing my addresses of Sunday.

Well; on this train he went for me about the "fables" of the Bible. Especially he haw-hawed over the Jonah incident, getting off the ancient joke that "it was an awful fishy story, so fishy that it smelled disgustingly of falsehood." I let him go on for a time to see the kind of ammunition he had to use against me, and a crowd gathered around to listen, grin, and make "eye-brows" at me. I was just beginning a reply to some of his "points," as he termed them, when the car, which had been slipping along very fast, gave a vicious jolt which sat us sharply down in our car-seats.

Then the front door banged open, and the brakeman looked in. Above the roar of the car we heard his voice. "Hold tight all. We're on the run. Brake's broke!"

We were just out of the canyon proper, with its many sharp curves, and were on the long straight track for Sandy in the bottom of the valley. This was fortunate, for the road was better ballasted than in the canyon. We fairly leaped along, the heavy baggage car behind the coach acting as an accelerator. Mr. Agnostic was silent and sat still. Soon signs of scare appeared, his red face visibly whitened and he tapped his fingers nervously on the seat. All of us were much stirred and took no notice of him. We held our breath as the little train swept, like a flash, past the telegraph-posts. Some women aboard uttered suppressed shrieks, bravely struggling with their oozing courage. We expected a smash. I was anxious, but I had a mind to note how differently the young men faced this unexpected peril. Some had their heads high, and nostrils wide, like a racer ready for the jump. Others cringed in their seat sand stared unseeingly out of the window. A few fellows laughed. One man swore. I did not hear a single outcry from any man. It showed what a self-contained set the . Westerners are. In Eastern waters, when confronted with the probability of speedy death, I had been among men of a more emotional sort. I recalled a six-day gale in mid Atlantic, on a liner, so poorly ballasted, and so narrow of beam that she rolled to the extreme limit of gravity. Occurring every few minutes, these desperate ship swings broke everything that could come loose. These violent rolls broke the nerve of both passengers and crew, so that I heard the fool, the infidel, and the coarse liver, alike pray, spurred thereto by fear. But after the storm was over, and their fright passed, these men were the same as before. "The dog returned to its vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire."

The other occasion was on the Canadian Lakes. It was on a sort of "penny-whistle" steamer, her engine and boiler were so small. She had an ambitious load of cordwood aboard, and was top heavy. Crossing Georgian Bay from Parry Sound we faced a furious storm. For five hours we just barely kept our stem to the choppy sea, and had the tiller ropes broke, or the helmsman lost his nerve and hold, the little craft would have broached-to, and gone down with all hands. During these wild hours, humanity was the same, on this little boat of a freshwater lake, as it was on the big Atlantic liner.

So, here, on this runaway train, it proved the stamina of both women and men, the women showing almost equal coolness with the men. Suddenly we rushed and rocked past buildings which bordered the Jordan River. Next we roared across the bridge, and toward the rising grade leading to the smelters at Sandy. We were safe from a smash. The upgrade acted as a brake, and the cars soon slowed down sufficiently for many to drop off the platform, one after another, like ripe pears from a shaken tree. The yardsmen slipped a few spare ties behind the wheels, and the train was at rest after a wild ride. It left us sobered. Mr. Agnostic came out limp and tame, with his aggression all gone for the time. He met some cold, sarcastic grins from the fellows who had noted his complete scare.

"Say! Old Man, you looked as though you really did believe in a Hell!"

This was the salutation he got from a passing miner, but he received no response from Mr. Agnostic. He had lost his sand. We reached Sandy Junction, to gather about a poor fellow who was brought down from Alta City "leaded." Long labor in lead ores brings on a painful disease. The blood is devitalized, the flesh takes on the hue of death, and the pain is both neuralgic and rheumatic. No one can say that the miner is paid too much for his labor and risks.

It was in Sandy that I met with some old-time courtesy from a modern young man. Perhaps Mr. Terhune would not now be considered modern, but he was then very much up to the times in his knowledge of minerals, and the roasting and smelting of ores. The immense smelters at Sandy, whose pungent smoke was wafted south, so you could sniff the odor twenty miles distant, were under his charge. Both capital and skill were invested in the giant plant. Mr. Terhune showed me the process, and the products, and the great stacks of silver-lead bars corded up in the open shed.

"Do you not fear robbery where so much bullion lies about?"

"Just lift one of those bars and you will see if a thief takes anything without noise. We have our watchman."

An effort was needed on my part to move a bar, and I saw how safe weight made wealth. These, with other plants, helped to make silver another cheap commodity, and give rise to the Silver Question of a later day. Mr. Terhune was a product of the old Dutch stock of Knickerbocker days, and the amiable brother of a most gifted sister whose name, as a writer, is well known far and wide in the United States.



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