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From our Log Cabin, INDIAN BAR, October 29, 1851.
WELL, my dear M., our grand Squire, whom I sketched for you in my last letter, has at length had an opportunity to exercise (or rather to try to do so) his judicial power upon a criminal case. His first appearance as justice of the peace took place a week ago, and was caused, I think, by a prosecution for debt. On that momentous occasion, the proceeding having been carried on in the barroom of the Empire, it is said that our young Daniel stopped the court twice in order to treat the jury!
But let me tell you about the trail which has just taken place. On Sunday evening last, Ned Paganini, rushing wildly up to our cabin, and with eyes so enormously dilated that they absolutely looked all white, exclaimed that "Little John" had been arrested for stealing four hundred dollars from the proprietor of the Empire, and that he was at that very moment undergoing an examination before the Squire in the barroom of the Humboldt, where he was apprehended while betting at monte. "And," added Ned, with a most awe-inspiring shake of his corkscrews, "there is no doubt but that he will be hung!"
Of course I was inexpressibly shocked at Ned's news, for Little John, as he is always called (who, by the way, is about the last person, as every one remarked, that would have been suspected), seemed quite like an acquaintance, as he was waiter at the Empire when I boarded there. I hurried F. off as quickly as possible to inquire into the truth of the report. He soon returned with the following particulars.
It seems that Mr. B., who on Sunday morning wished to pay a bill, on taking his purse from between the two mattresses of the bed whereon he was accustomed to sleep, which stood in the common sitting-room of the family, found that four hundred dollars in gold-dust was missing. He did not for one moment suspect Little John, in whom himself and wife had always placed the utmost confidence, until a man, who happened to be in the barroom towards evening, mentioned casually that Little John was then at the Humboldt betting, or, to speak technically, "bucking" away large sums at monte. Mr. B., who knew that he had no money of his own, immediately came over to Indian Bar and had him arrested on suspicion. Although he had lost several ounces, he had still about a hundred dollars remaining. But as it is impossible to identify gold-dust, Mr. B. could not swear that the money was his.
Of course the prisoner loudly protested his innocence, and as he was very drunk, the Squire adjourned all further proceedings until the next day, placing him under keepers for the night.
On the following morning I was awakened very early by a tremendous "Aye," so deep and mighty that it almost seemed to shake the cabin with its thrilling emphasis. I sprang up and ran to the window, but could see nothing, of course, as our house stands behind the Humboldt, but I could easily understand, from the confused murmur of many voices and the rapidly succeeding "ayes" and "noes," that a large crowd had collected in front of the latter. My first apprehension was expressed by my bursting into tears and exclaiming, --
"Oh! F., for God's sake, rise; the mob are going to hang Little John!"
And my fear was not so absurd as you might at first imagine, for men have often been executed in the mines for stealing a much smaller sum than four hundred dollars.
F. went to the Humboldt, and returned in a few minutes to tell me that I might stop weeping, for John was going to have a regular trial. The crowd was merely a miners' meeting, called by Mr. B. for the purpose of having the trial held at the Empire for the convenience of his wife, who could not walk over to Indian Bar to give her evidence in the case. However, as her deposition could easily have been taken, malicious people will say that it was for the convenience of her husband's pockets, as it was well known that at whichever house the trial took place the owner thereof would make a handsome profit from the sale of dinners, drinks, etc., to the large number of people who would congregate to witness the proceedings. Miners are proverbial for their reverence for the sex. Of course everything ought to yield where a lady is concerned, and they all very properly agreed, nem. con., to Mr. B.'s request.
The Squire consented to hold the court at Rich Bar, although many think that thereby he compromised his judicial dignity, as his office is on Indian Bar. I must confess I see not how he could have done otherwise. The miners were only too ready, so much do they object to a justice of the peace, to take the case entirely out of his hands if their wishes were not complied with, which, to confess the truth, they did, even after all his concessions, though they pretended to keep up a sort of mock respect for his office.
Everybody went to Rich Bar. No one remained to protect the calico shanties, the rag huts, and the log cabins, from the much talked of Indian attack--but your humble servant and Paganini Ned.
When the people, the mighty people, had assembled at the Empire, they commenced proceedings by voting in a president and jury of their own, though they kindly consented (how very condescending!) that the Squire might play at judge by sitting at the side of their elected magistrate! This honor the Squire seemed to take as a sort of salve to his wounded dignity, and with unprecedented meekness accepted it. A young Irishman from St. Louis was appointed counsel for John, and a Dr. C. acted for the prosecution. Neither of them, however, was a lawyer.
The evidence against the prisoner was, that he had no money previously, that he had slept at the Empire a night or two before, and that he knew where Mr. B. was in the habit of keeping his golddust, with a few other circumstances equally unimportant. His only defense was, of course, to account for the money, which he tried to do by the following ingenious story.
He said that his father, who resides at Stockholm, --he is a Swede, --had sent him, two months previously, five hundred dollars through the express, which had been brought to him from San Francisco by a young man whose name is Miller; that he told no one of the circumstance, but buried the money (a common habit with the miner) on the summit of a hill about half a mile from Indian Bar; that, being intoxicated on Sunday morning, he had dug it up for the purpose of gambling with it; and that Mr. M., who had gone to Marysville a week before, and would return in a fortnight, could confirm his story. When asked if he had received a letter with the money, he replied that he did, but, having placed it between the lining and the top of his cap, he had unfortunately lost it. He earnestly affirmed his innocence, and, through his counsel, entreated the court, should he be condemned, to defer the execution of his sentence until the arrival of Miller, by whom he could prove all that he had stated. Notwithstanding the florid eloquence of W., the jury brought in a verdict of guilty, and condemned him to receive thirty-nine lashes at nine o'clock the following morning, and to leave the river, never to return to it, within twenty-four hours; a claim, of which he owned a part, to be made over to Mr. B. to indemnify him for his loss. His punishment was very light, on account of his previous popularity and inoffensive conduct. In spite of his really ingenious defense, no one has the least doubt of his guilt but his lawyer and the Squire. They as firmly believe him an innocent and much-injured man.
Yesterday morning I made my visit to Smith's Bar. In order to reach it, it was necessary to cross the river, on a bridge formed of two logs, to Missouri Bar. This flat, which has been worked but very little, has a path leading across it, a quarter of a mile in length. It contains but two or three huts, no very extensive diggings having as yet been discovered upon it. About in the middle of it, and close to the side of the trail, is situated a burial-spot, where not only its dead repose, but those who die on Indian Bar are also brought for interment. On arriving at the termination of the level, another log bridge leads to Smith's Bar, which, although it lies upon the same side of the river as our settlement, is seldom approached, as I before observed, except by crossing to Missouri Bar and back again from that to Smith's. The hills rise so perpendicularly between this latter and Indian Bar that it is utterly impossible for a woman to follow on the trail along their side, and it is no child's-play for even the most hardy mountaineer to do it.
This level (Smith's Bar) is large and quite thickly settled. More gold has been taken from it than from any other settlement on the river. Although the scenery here is not so strikingly picturesque as that surrounding my new home, it is perhaps infinitely more lovely, and certainly more desirable as a place of residence, than the latter, because the sun shines upon it all winter, and we can take long walks about it in many directions. Now, Indian Bar is so completely covered with excavations and tenements that it is utterly impossible to promenade upon it at all. Whenever I wish for exercise, I am compelled to cross the river, which, of course, I cannot do without company, and as the latter is not always procurable (F.'s profession calling him much from home), I am obliged to stay indoors more than I like, or is conducive to my health.
A short but steep ascent from Smith's Bar leads you to another bench, as miners call it, almost as large as itself, which is covered with trees and grass, and is a most lovely place. From here one has a charming view of a tiny bar called Frenchman's. It is a most sunny little spot, covered with the freshest greensward, and nestling lovingly, like a petted darling, in the embracing curve of a crescent-shaped hill opposite. It looks more like some sheltered nook amid the blue mountains of New England than anything I have ever yet seen in California. Formerly there was a deer-lick upon it, and I am told that on every dewy morning or starlit evening you might see a herd of pretty creatures gathering in antlered beauty about its margin. Now, however, they are seldom met with, the advent of gold-hunting humanity having driven them far up into the hills.
The man who keeps the store at which we stopped (a log cabin without any floor) goes by the sobriquet of "Yank," and is quite a character in his way. He used to be a peddler in the States, and is remarkable for an intense ambition to be thought what the Yankees call "cute and smart," -- an ambition which his true and good heart will never permit him to achieve. He is a great friend of mine (I am always interested in that bizarre mixture of shrewdness and simplicity of which he is a distinguished specimen), and takes me largely into his confidence as to the various ways he has of doing green miners, --all the merest delusion on his part, you understand, for he is the most honest of God's creatures, and would not, I verily believe, cheat a man out of a grain of golden sand to save his own harmless and inoffensive life. He is popularly supposed to be smitten with the charms of the "Indiana girl," but I confess I doubt it, for Yank himself informed me, confidentially, that, "though a very superior and splendid woman, she had no polish"!
He is an indefatigable "snapper-up of unconsidered trifles," and his store is the most comical olla podrida of heterogeneous merchandise that I ever saw. There is nothing you can ask for but what he has, --from crowbars down to cambricneedles; from velveteen trousers up to broadcloth coats of the jauntiest description. The quality of his goods, it must be confessed, is sometimes rather equivocal. His collection of novels is by far the largest, the greasiest, and the "yellowest-kivered" of any to be found on the river. I will give you an instance of the variety of his possessions.
I wanted some sealing-wax to mend a broken chess-piece, having by some strange carelessness left the box containing mine in Marysville. I inquired everywhere for it, but always got laughed at for supposing that any one would be so absurd as to bring such an article into the mountains. As a forlorn hope, I applied to Yank. Of course he had plenty! The best of it is, that, whenever he produces any of these out-of-the-way things, he always says that he brought them from the States, which proves that he had a remarkable degree of foresight when he left his home three years ago.
While I sat chatting with Yank I heard some one singing loudly, and apparently very gayly, a negro melody, and, the next moment, who should enter but Little John, who had been whipped, according to sentence, three hours previously. As soon as he saw me he burst into tears, and exclaimed, --
"Oh! Mrs. --, a heartless mob has beaten me cruelly, has taken all my money from me, and has decreed that I, who am an innocent man, should leave the mountains without a cent of money to assist me on my way!"
The latter part of his speech, as I afterwards discovered, was certainly a lie, for he knew that a sum amply sufficient to pay his expenses to Marysville had been subscribed by the very people who believed him guilty. Of course his complaints were extremely painful to me. You know how weakly pitiful I always am towards wicked people; for it seems to me that they are so much more to be compassionated than the good.
But what could I say to poor John? I did not for one moment doubt his entire guilt, and so, as people often do on such occasions, I took refuge in a platitude.
"Well, John," I sagely remarked, "I hope that you did not take the money. And only think how much happier you are in that case, than if you had been beaten and abused as you say you have, and at the same time were a criminal!"
I must confess, much as it tells against my eloquence, that John did not receive my well-meant attempt at consolation with that pious gratitude which such an injured innocent ought to have exhibited, but, F. luckily calling me at that moment, I was spared any more of his tearful complaints.
Soon after our return to the cabin, John's lawyer and the Squire called upon us. They declared their perfect conviction of his innocence, and the latter remarked that if any one would accompany him he would walk up to the spot and examine the hole from whence the culprit affirmed that he had taken his money only three days ago, as he very naturally supposed that it would still exhibit signs of having been recently opened. It was finally agreed that the victim, who had never described the place to the Squire, should give a minute description of it, unheard by His Honor, to F., and afterwards should lead the former, accompanied by his counsel, (no one else could be persuaded to make such martyrs of themselves,) to the much-talked-of spot. And, will you believe it, M.? those two obstinate men actually persevered, although it was nearly dark, and a very cold, raw, windy night, in walking half a mile up one of the steepest hills on what the rest though a perfect fool's errand! To be sure, they have triumphed for the moment, for the Squire's description, on their return, tallied exactly with that previously given to F. But, alas! the infidels remained infidels still.
Then W. bet an oyster-supper for the whole party, which F. took up, that Miller, on his return, would confirm his client's statement. For fear of accidents, we had the oysters that night, and very nice they were, I assure you. This morning the hero of the last three days vanished to parts unknown. And thus endeth the Squire's first attempt to sit in judgment in a criminal case. I regret his failure very much, as do many others. Whether any one else could have succeeded better, I cannot say. But I am sure that no person could more sincerely desire and try to act for the best good of the community than the Squire.
I suppose that I should be as firm a believer in John's innocence as any one, had he not said to F. and others that if he had taken the money they could not prove it against him, and many other similar things, which seem to me totally incompatible with innocence.
- Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe