by Sevenstars

At any minute in spring or fall, the clear thin air might become filled with sand, trash, miners' hats, and tin roofs, as the famous "Washoe zephyr" burst furiously upon the city from the west. Winter presented a variety of weather: times of brilliantly clear skies, with comparitively warm days and nights plunging to below freezing; sudden snowtorms; and the pogonip--Paiute for "white death"--when the entire world seemed sheathed in white ice and the wind was strong enough to blow a loaded stagecoach off the road. In 1860 the Paiutes rose briefly in the Pyramid Lake War; after winning the Battle of Pyramid Lake and losing another nearby, they were forced to surrender, but independent bands of Paiute and Shoshoni warriors continued to raid farms and isolated stations sporadically for eighteen years thereafter. The natural water supply was inadequate in quantity and heavily metallic in quality; the miners claimed that it became safe for drinking purposes only when diluted in the proportions of a tablespoonful to a tumbler of whiskey. The local native timber was equally poor but not so readily improveable. Both wood and water were ultimately secured by the notable engineering feat of building flumes down the side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, twenty-five miles away. Water had to be brought under pressure through iron pipes from the base of the Sierra down into an intervening valley and up a mountain on the other side before being released into the city system. Lumber, having been floated down the V-shaped flumes, had to be hauled in from the base of the mountains. Food and supplies came mostly from California, although a few farms developed nearby along the Truckee River and in the verdant valley that lay between the Virginia Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. There were also lush valleys in the west, settled first by Mormons, then by Germans, and on the other side of the Sierra, in a long basin where evergreen forests grow thickly down to the white sand of its shorelines, the blue mirror of Lake Tahoe. Ten miles away was the health resort of Steamboat Springs, where one might take part in a regimen of scalding steam, icy showers, and rubdowns. Baths, board, and lodging were to be had for $25 a week--which was cheaper than Virginia without the baths. The springs here were literally hot enough to boil eggs--soft in two minutes, hard as a rock in four.

Mining-camp life was no respecter of age in its presentation of peril: there were open shafts and prospect holes, some sixty feet deep, waiting for the unwary child to fall into (Vandy Cullin lost a leg in one such tumble at the age of fourteen, and being thereby barred from most blue-collar work, his father managed to finance his legal education, chiefly by selling off some of his mining stock), heavy freight-wagon wheels to get caught under, horses and mules with dangerously kicking hooves, runaway wagons and stray gunshots, and the risk of being run over by ore carts, crushed by rock blasted from the earth, or flung into the air by the twirling crank of a slipped windlass. Drowning was another particular danger, for the hillsides were quickly stripped of trees, greatly increasing the flow of the frigid streams. The camps were also often so littered with blasting caps that kids lost fingers or eyes through holding a match to one on a dare or carelessly tossing it into the stove as rubbish. Bears and panthers prowled around the Cullin cabin by night, and sickness, in those crowded communities, was an ever-present specter.

Prices were high, and the packing business notoriously tied to the weather; so the Cullins found it imperative to pile up money for a snowy (rather than a rainy) day during the season running from late spring into early fall. Darcy and her brothers did their share and more: their first year in Nevada they worked variously at feeding mules, hunting and selling game, hawking newspapers, shovelling snow, delivering milk, waiting tables, washing dishes, and helping in a sawmill and a print shop. They eventually expanded their enterprises to include gathering wild greens to sell for a dollar and a half a bucket, chopping wood, delivering laundry, peddling pies baked by a neighbor woman for a dollar apiece, and raising and selling vegetables; Darcy and Del cleared eight hundred dollars from one summer's sales of butter and bacon.

Yet life was neither unending drudgery nor devoid of simple joys. Darcy had little interest in dolls, but she and the boys crafted tiny wagon outfits from pillboxes, bottles, spools, buttons, and twine, harnessed locusts to them and drove them mercilessly. They constructed a miniature farmhouse and barn with a well made from a three-quart can, a spool for a pulley, and a shotgun shell for the bucket; popcorn sheep and pecan cattle inhabited it. Later they created a pair of families of corncob dolls and laid out two entire counties to scale, with dugouts, roads, fences, ditches, and fields. Darcy played with her brothers' toys--marbles, tops, tin trains and wooden swords. She learned to fish, to hunt and trap small game, to run and throw a ball and fire a slingshot; she scrambled fearlessly up every tree she found and over jumbles of rock. In winter she flew down perilous slopes on a homemade sled, manned a snow fort and demonstrated deadly aim with her cold white missiles; in summer she joined the boys in their ball games, her small size and low mass making her a lightning base runner. Though their nomadic lifestyle guaranteed that the young Cullins would be of necessity one another's best friends, there were always other children to play with: the camp population might lean heavily toward the adult male, but most married miners had families or started them quickly, and the well-to-do men almost always brought wives in. The latter's children, especially the girls, were likely to be kept in loving confinement, sitting beside Mother at the piano and sewing machine, doing lessons on bright, airy porches, taking on light household chores, memorizing Bible verses, practising their music, playing croquet and indoor games, putting on skits, going on calls with Mother and on walks with Father; one such went on only one outdoor errand alone (to a bakery) in an entire year. But the poorer families, who generally lived close to the business district rather than high on the slopes above, had no such pretensions, and the Cullins, when mutual obligations allowed, played with the young of Cornish miners, Chinese laborers, American packers, and even prostitutes--the latter might be social outcasts to most "decent" parents, but John Henry believed, and taught his children, that it was unfair to penalize anyone for anything they hadn't had a choice in, like the circumstances of their birth. "That's what this country's about," he would say-- "that everybody has a chance to make something of themselves."

There were always pets: at various times and in various combinations, dogs and cats, fawns, calves, lambs, baby badgers, ground squirrels, owls, pigeons, and even bear cubs and coyote pups. At eleven Darcy was presented with her first horse, a "California pony" of the classic breed, bright sorrel with white feet and a silvery mane and tail, fleet and intelligent, fourteen hands high, eight hundred pounds, with a small head, full lustrous eyes, small ears well apart, wide nostrils, well-set shoulders, a good chest, and clean, flat-boned limbs. Like everyone who learned horsemanship west of the Continental Divide, she rode with a single cinch, a light narrow-cheeked headstall, closed reins of many-plait braided rawhide, romal, mecate, and Spanish spade bit, favored large-rowelled California spurs, double rounded saddle skirts, and very long tapaderos, and used a sixty-five-foot braided-rawhide reata. Comstock mine owners assumed that Mexicans must know everything there was to know about silver, which was linked romantically to Mexico and beyond that to Peru and Cortez; so Mexicans were at a premium in the mines, and the Anglos of Virginia City--and all the country roundabout as well--picked up many Mexican phrases and superstitions, Darcy and her brothers with the rest.

Though John Henry loved them, he often had little time for them, but English bachelors gifted them with orange marmalade and chocolate, lent them books by European masters and discussed them. Other lonely single men told them inflated hunting stories and took them on camping trips and berrying expeditions. One freighter taught Darcy to cook, and others, though hard-drinking and profane, gave the boys unforgettable lessons in responsibility and kindness. Once a "notorious woman" who had both a devoted husband and a principal lover kept Darcy overnight and read aloud to her. As was true throughout the West, you never knew who was educated or a reader, so there were few camps that lacked a bookstore, and within an easy walk of their cabin (no matter what town it was in) the young Cullins could find and browse in sets of Scott, Dickens, Shakespeare, and Hawthorne, Prescott's histories, the essays of Emerson and Macaulay. Darcy's formal schooling was erratic at best, and she never went beyond the Third Reader in class, but outside school she could choose from a literary feast--first dime novels and earlier sensational fiction like the wildly popular but "not for family consumption" George Lippard (Gothic novels full of grotesque scenes, bloodshed, rape, and naked women, dwelling on the sins of the rich and the innocence of the poor) and Joseph Holt Ingraham's early Pirate of the Gulf, Scarlet Feather, The Quadroone, and Burton, or The Sieges, then Don Quixote, Plutarch's Lives, Dumas, Sand, and even the early stories of Zola. She read Aesop, Pilgrim's Progress, Robinson Crusoe, The Sketch-Book, Two Years Before the Mast, The Count of Monte Cristo, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Oregon Trail, The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, Moby Dick, Silas Marner, The Man Without a Country, Madame Bovary, and John Halifax, Gentleman, as well as Lalla Rookh, the English poets from Gray to Byron, the tales and poems of Poe, FitzGerald's Rubáiyát, Leaves of Grass, The Age of Fable, The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, Kane's Arctic Explorations, Longfellow, Whittier, and Pride and Prejudice. And, on a less elevated level, Ik Marvel's Reveries of a Bachelor, Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World, Mary Jane Holmes's Tempest and Sunshine and Lena Rivers, Ingraham's The Prince of the House of David, Mrs. Henry Wood's East Lynne (which she knew at nine), Augusta Jane Evans's St. Elmo, Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth's Ishmael, and Mrs. Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret, which she read at twelve, though her father said it was "trash." She read Horatio Alger, Tanglewood Tales, Tales from Shakespeare, Gulliver's Travels, The Water-Babies, and The Pickwick Papers, and loved Little Women, Little Men, and The Swiss Family Robinson. In the Cerro Gordo camps at twelve she delved deep into the books of a twenty-seven-year-old consumptive who had come to the desert in search of restored health. What treasure she found! Milton and Shakespeare, Isaiah and Job, the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, Thackeray and Scott. She drew a portrait of Lady Macbeth and read Coleridge aloud to her pets and pony. She also began reading Les Misérables in a zest for self-improvement, having heard it called the greatest novel in the world, but soon became deeply engrossed, and found that she agreed. She read Vanity Fair because her friend had thought it was the greatest when he was a boy. He had read everything--Dickens, Thackeray, Hawthorne, Balzac, Washington Irving; Homer, Don Quixote, and The Three Musketeers, all of which he loved. It was he who furnished her with a list of books which he said almost all well-informed persons were presumed to know, and which therefore most frequently furnished apt sayings to quote, and positions to illustrate; these books--Aesop, the Arabian Nights, Robinson Crusoe, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, The Pilgrim's Progress, The Vicar of Wakefield, most of Shakespeare and the Waverley Novels, Gray's "Elegy" and Goldsmith's "Deserted Village," and perhaps as well Rasselas, The Sketch-Book, and Tales of a Traveller--were all so commonly alluded to that not to know them would render Darcy greatly at a loss almost every time she read a newspaper, entered a picture gallery, or conversed with persons of ordinary cultivation and fertility of mind. And besides these, the voyages of Captain Cook and Parry, the Travels of Livingstone and DuChaillu, Southey's Life of Nelson, Gulliver's Travels, Voyages to the North Polar Regions, Scott's Tales of a Grandfather, Irving's Knickerbocker, Boswell's Life of Johnson, Layard's Nineveh and Babylon.

At fourteen she was reading Ivanhoe, The Three Musketeeers, Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Iliad, and Tennyson. She learned about feuds from books like Lorna Doone and Romeo and Juliet and in stories about the Ozark mountaineers and Scottish clans, about castles from Sir Walter Scott and the Colonial frontier from Cooper. Shakespeare's Falstaff was not a character in a book; he was alive, as much alive as Darcy herself. It must be wonderful, she thought, to make people live like that, long after you were dead yourself--people like Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, Don Quixote, the Vicar of Wakefield, and all the characters of Dickens. She gleaned indelible impressions of Abbott's Life of Napoleon, which left her with a romantic interest in all that concerned the French Revolution and the Emperor's life; an illustrated two-volume edition of Layard's Nineveh and Its Remains, and two volumes showing pictures of ancient Egyptians, which enthralled her completely and filled her with a thirst for antiquities. The Bible illustrated by Doré, Lane's Arabian Nights, Wilkinson's Ancient Egypt and George Kennan's Tent Life in Siberia fed her taste for the exotic. She devoured Bayard Taylor's capital books of travel and everything she could find by George Borrow, whose prose was robust, warm, and alive; his The Zincali, or Gypsies in Spain and The Bible in Spain afforded more thrilling interest than any other kind of reading. Perhaps more than any other genre she loved the historical novels written for adults but equally delightful to young people--all of Scott, Bulwer's The Last Days of Pompeii, Rienzi, and The Last of the Barons, Kingsley's Westward Ho!, Hypatia, and Hereward the Wake, J. V. Von Scheffel's Ekkehard, Charles O'Malley, Les Misérables, A Tale of Two Cities; Lockhart's Valerius, James's Richelieu, George Eliot's Romola, Kingsley's Hypatia, Ware's Julian and Zenobia, the Schonberg-Cotta and Erckman-Chatrain series and some of Mrs. Muhlbach's, and Reade's The Cloister and the Hearth, pulsing with the energy of fifteenth-century Europe, which recreated the life of the time, ranging from princes to vagabonds. These--especially The Three Musketeers and its sequels, Twenty Years After and Vicomte de Bragelonne, Shakespeare's Henry V and Richard III, Scott's romances and Thackeray's Henry Esmond, Kingsley and The Cloister and the Hearth--were also among the prime lure-books to history in the world. The Three Musketeers, for example, was all action. Papa Dumas had no time to waste, nor did he waste hers. His business was to get on. Like Touchstone, he was swift and sententious. When she took it up she had, without realizing it, three busy years before her, 1625 to 1628; but Dumas was so tireless and compelling a narrator--a driver, rather--that she bustled and rode and fought through those years in a matter of a few days. He reconstructed the French musketeer as Scott reconstructed the life of various eras of history, as Thackeray in Esmond reconstructed the age of Anne, as Kingsley in Westward Ho! reconstructed the Elizabethan sailor. She read the Musketeers and Twenty Years After almost without stopping for breath, and then made the glad discovery of a long line of sequels, which she went on gulping down until she was brought to a sudden stop: there were no more sequels, and the fate of a fascinating gentleman was hanging in the balance--would he be executed or go free? The suspense was unbearable. Then it dawned on her that since all the characters in these books were historical, there might be something about her man in a history of France. She opened one, almost at random, and there he was, and she found out just what became of him. So she looked up everyone in the novels in the same way. Then she had to read back to see what went before, and ahead to see what came after, and by that time she was in sight of the French Revolution, and she defied anyone to stop who began on that. And having joyously gotten the lay of the land, the background, the color, the spirit of long periods of French history, she was easily lured into Moliere's plays, and Carlyle and Thiers on the Revolution, and more recently Lady Jackson's delightful volumes of French annals grouped under such titles as Old Paris, The Old Regime, The Court of France in the Sixteenth Century, The Last of the Valois, The First of the Bourbons, The French Court and Society.

Henry Esmond was another of the same kind. Darcy read it for the campaigns, the duels, the conspiracies, for the hero's childhood at Castlewood, in the mysterious atmosphere of the plotting Papists, and his youth in the London of Queen Anne; for his participation in the wonderful victories of Marlborough and in the daring game the Pretender played for his crown; for the projected flight of Beatrix and the Pretender, and for that exquisite scene at the dinner table of Prince Eugene in Lillé, when after the Battle of Wynendael the outraged General Webb, piercing the false Gazette with the point of his sword, passes it across the table to falser Marlborough and says, "Permit me to hand it to Your Grace!" There was romance in it--in the grand chivalrousness of Esmond himself, in the death of old Lord Castlewood and the character of young Frank Castlewood, in the episode of the Old Pretender; and the two principal female characters were among the best the author ever drew--Lady Castlewood, liable though she was to a mad passion of jealousy and capable of gross injustice under its influence, yet a noble woman, and Beatrix, the cleverest of all Thackeray's women next to Becky Sharp, and with a fascination that Becky lacked. Yet among all these alarums and excursions appeared Addison, Steele, Swift, Lord Bolingbroke; the book was full of the spirit of Queen Anne's time, which Darcy found, on having finished it, had taught her more about the England in which she and they and Marlborough lived than any textbook could. It lured her on and on and back and back--on to Thackeray's The Virginians to see what happened to Colonel Esmond's first love, Beatrix, and his daughter, Rachel, and his grandsons; on to Scott's Waverley to see what happened to the Old Pretender's son, the Young Pretender, and still on to Pendennis to meet the George Warrington who was Colonel Esmond's great-great-grandson, and back to the Spectator to get further pleasant pictures of the Colonel's times, and into Macaulay for glowing studies of Marlborough, and into Defoe and Sterne and Swift and Smollett and Fielding for more stories and studies of the opulent, active, colorful England of Anne and the Augustans of her day--Pope, Addison, Bolingbroke, Gay, Arbuthnot, Steele, Defoe; Fielding the novelist, Swift the satirist, Newton the scientist; Dr. Johnson, critic and essayist; Hogarth, painter and engraver--and the first two Georges.

Robinson Crusoe might suggest the reading of the History of the Plague and Scott's life of Defoe; in the latter was quoted Defoe's "Preface to Delincourt," which might suggest reading the life of Chatterton and any available information on the forgeries of Psalmanazar, Ireland, and Lauder; and the credulity of the wisest men might make her curious to read Sketches of Credulity and Imposture, as containing an outline of all notable instances to which she found so many allusions; and also Scott's Demonology, which gave a common-sense explanation of supernatural appearances. From this might arise the question of whether Dr. Johnson was a superstitious man, and so the desire to read more about him. Even the popular Dickens was a lure. Once having met his father and mother as they were sketched in the Micawbers, once having read the pitiful episode of David's life as a bottle washer in the wine establishment, which was but a reflection of Dickens's own experience as a wrapper and paster in a blacking factory, she couldn't wait to turn eagerly to the score of affecting pages in Forster where Dickens told the true story of his hard but uncorrupted boyhood. And having devoured these, to read on and on; and thence to turn, in connection with her reading of Ivanhoe, to John Gibson Lockhart's life of Scott. Then she was safe, and could tackle unafraid Boswell's Life of Johnson. Reading those three books she acquired a knowledge, most intimate and comprehensive, of English letters and thought and custom and problems from the seventh year of the reign of Queen Anne to the thirty-third of Victoria; and of the brilliant history-making, book-writing men who surrounded the heroes of those three great biographies. Biography, which expanded upon the lives and character of the great personages passingly mentioned in the histories she read, seemed almost an offshoot of them, and provided as well many good books of reference: the lives of Wiclif, Luther, Cranmer, Jewel, Knox, and Calvin taught her of the Reformation; Southey's Life of Wesley of the Methodists; The Life of Wilberforce of slavery in the West Indies; the lives of Marlborough, Wellington, Napoleon, Washington, Scott, Grant, of military matters; of Rodney, Nelson, Perry, Decatur, Bainbridge, Farragut, and Porter, of naval affairs. Carlyle's Sterling, Mrs. Gaskell's Charlotte Bronte, the autobiography of John Stuart Mill, Newman's Apologia, Sir George Trevelyan's delightful Life of Macaulay, the works of Forster, the Greville Memoirs, Lewes's Life of Goethe, the autobiography of Haydon, Lockhart's Life of Scott and Life of Burns, Pepys, and John Forster's Lives of Eminent Statesmen and the Life of Goldsmith passed through her hands. Yet novels too had a rich fund of information to offer. Scott imparted a fund of thought on many ages and countries and institutions--the clan system in Scotland, vagabondage, the law's delays, superstition, religious fanaticism, the relations of Saxon and Norman, Christian and Jew, after the Conquest; and from reading not only him, but Wilson, Hogg and Macdonald, she learned to sympathize with Scottish life and manners, and appreciate the Scottish character, as she couldn't possibly have done in any other method. Lever and Lover made it possible for her to understand Ireland and the Irish, in their blunders and their genius, their frugality and improvidence, their wit and folly, their beauty and squalor, better than could any personal observation or reports of fact or history. Bulwer and George Eliot, Mrs. Gaskell and Trollope, Dickens and Thackeray, enabled her to understand somewhat of the secret of English society, with its singular contradictions of conventionality and independence, suspicion and confidence, blandness and gruffness, and even introduced her to the sacred privacy of the English home. To Miss Bremer and Miss Carlin she felt an obligation of gratitude for the fresh and delightful pictures of Swedish life and manners that filled their tales. Freytag, Tautphoeus, Auerbach, and Spielhagen did the same for German life. Manzoni, Ruffini, and T. A. Trollope gave her many delightful pictures of Italy. And Balzac, Paul de Kock, George Sand, Eugene Sue, Alexandre Dumas, and Victor Hugo taught her more of the worst side of life in Paris and France than she had ever thought to know.

She knew all the favorite authors of the century, Scott, Moore, Bulwer-Lytton, Carlyle, G. P. R. James, Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, Mrs. Browning, Tennyson with his struggling faith in goodness and in God, Irving, Harriet Beecher Stowe and her brother Henry Ward Beecher, Hawthorne, Emerson, and Lowell; the "passionate and Satanic" Byron, who was nonetheless a favorite too; Coleridge and Wordsworth, Southey and Keble, who were considered unpoetic and incomprehensible when first published (though the first three at least later joined him); the "lecherous priest of Venus" Swinburne, who began with the plays The Queen Mother and Rosamond in 1860 and followed them with Atalanta in Calydon in 1865 and Poems and Ballads, First Series the following year; the "blasphemous and atheistic" Shelley; Poe with his strange ringing language, so splendid when read aloud, and Browning, whom Victorian readers were not at all sure was quite respectable. Like everyone who read at all, she read poetry: Shakespeare above all, Milton (though he was by no means easy reading), Dryden with his comprehensive common sense and ready wit, Goldsmith, Gray, Cowper with his religious tenderness and his domestic sympathies and habits, and Campbell, Burns and Scott; Mary Howitt, Jean Ingelow, Matthew Arnold, Milman, and Praed; Longfellow, Bryant, Whittier with his love of simple men (like her father) and manners and his fiery enthusiasm for the right, Lowell, Dana, Drake, Percival, Halleck, Sprague, and Holmes. She read Maculay's Lays of Ancient Rome, which filled her with the spirit of that empire, and led her on to Plutarch's sixty short Lives, to Xenophon, Aristotle, and Plato, to Livy on the Punic Wars, Sallust on the Catiline Conspiracy, to Tacitus, and to Cicero's letters. She read Froissart's Chronicles, which gave vivid impressions of the stir and romance of chivalry, and Carlyle's French Revolution, full of wonderful, poetical pictures of Mirabeau and Danton and Robespierre, of the taking of the Bastille, the flight to Varennes, the death of Louis XV, the carnage of the Swiss, as well as his massive Frederick the Great, a gallery of portraits--Frederick himself and his father, Voltaire, Belleisle, Pitt, George II, Maria Theresa, Catherine II, Wilhelmina--men and women, high and low, depicted sometimes at length, sometimes in a sentence or two, but always admirably. She read plays--Sheridan and Goldsmith and Royall Tyler's The Contrast, lively and witty and real even generations after their writing; Congreve, Beaumont and Fletcher, Dryden, Farquhar. Despite her boyish lifestyle she also dipped into the feverish, sentimental novels of Mary J. Holmes and Mrs. Southworth's eighty-five titles. To this day she was never without a book or two, however cheaply bound, in her saddlebags.

By the time she was thirteen her brothers were gone, Vandy in law school, Dutch and Del earning their living independently, and her father began taking her with him on his packing trips, first as a chore boy, later gradually working her way up the hierarchy of mule handlers. She had been throwing diamond hitches at the age of eight, though she'd had to stand on a box to do it, and she learned rapidly. She'd been a good hand with a rifle at age ten; from the first trip she took, she carried a handgun--a Colt Navy Model 1851 .36, converted from percussion, at first, later a full-size Peacemaker as her hand got big enough to use it. Father and daughter worked Nevada first, then Sonora and Durango, then South Pass in '68, the Wasatch Front, Oquirrh Mountains, and Rush Valley of Utah in '69, the Park City District in '71, Idaho and Montana, Colorado. Where toll roads were built, wagons were used, and beginning in the '70's certain mining districts began to get narrow-gauge "feeder" lines built by some of the better capitalized interests; but many parts of any given region never saw a wheeled vehicle, perhaps because, as prospectors said, Nature always put gold and silver in her toughest precincts, somewhere between a rock and a hard place, and in addition, speculators were often reluctant to go to the risk and expense of blasting out a road until it became evident that there was a lode big enough to sustain the traffic long enough for it to make its costs back. So mule strings like the Cullins' remained a vital feature of the mountain landscape, particularly since every successful camp quickly inspired satellites, usually higher up or deeper in the canyons.


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