From our California Correspondent.
Fort Grizzly, Feb. 22d. 1885.
"Oh, why does the white man follow my path,
Like the hound on the Tiger's track,
Does the flush on my dark cheek, waken his wrath,
Does he covet the bow at my back?
He has rivers, and sees where the billows and breeze,
Bear riches for him alone;
And the sons of the wood, never plunge in the flood
Which the white man calls his own.
Then why should he come to the streams where none
But the red skin dare to swim,
Why, why should he wrong the hunter, one
Who never did harm to him." THE INDIAN HUNTER.
FRIEND ROCK: - The above beautiful lines present to one's mind the picture of the "noble savage," the "Indian hunter," tall, straight, and athletic, with beads, paint, and feathers to match, contemplating with a jealous eye the encroachments of the "paleface." In my school-boy days I have often read of the American Indians, and the Patagonians, of Tecumseh, and the Indian wars on the western frontier, and of Samoset, Massasoit, and others of the noble tribes whom our forefathers found when the Mayflower wafted them to their new home "on the wild New England shore." The tall savage represented in the big picture in "Pilgrim Hall" was a familiar sight to me, and one memorable evening I went to "Leyden Hall" and saw some real "live specimens" of the North American Indians who were on exhibition there - "admittance 12 1-2 cents," -and saw them "smoke the pipe of peace," shoot the blow-gun, go through with the "war dance," "scalping scene" and all, and like most others of limited information and experience, my ideas of Indians and the Indian character were in accordance with what I had read of and seen. But a person accustomed to such delineations of the "red man" as are to be found in some of the works of Cooper and in the history of King Philip, the proud chief of the Narragansetts, I think would be rather disappointed, as I was, by his actual experience of these Indians here in California, the "Digger Indians," as they are called. Personal beauty is certainly not the chief characteristic of the "digger," and for nobility of character and bravery he is not remarkable. He is of a muddy complexion, and, as regards color, certainly couldn't be classed among "red men." A clumsy form, coarse features and a large head surmounted by a heavy mop of long, black, coarse, and matted hair, which generally hangs down about his dirty face or is tied up in a bob behind, are the sum total of his physical attributes. As regards dress, he is in no ways particular, any kind will do. Wearing apparel is considered rather of an innovation as yet, and its use is by no means universally adopted. When, however, a Digger Indian does so far conform with the usages of civilization as to adopt the use of clothing, he generally indulges in it to its fullest possible extent, not often purchasing his wardrobe, but begs or picks it up wherever he can, and never for a moment parts with any portion of it if he can help it, but wears it continuality, so that it is not uncommon to see a Digger with several shirts, coats and pairs of pants all adorning his person at the same time, and then if he can only make a raise of an old "two story plug" as a head-piece to surmount his other personal attractions, he feels as proud as a peacock, or like a darkey in a ruffled shirt. It is almost unnecessary to add that instances often occur where his entire wardrobe consists of a hat and a pair of socks, or nothing but a shirt. Those are an entirely superfluous article with him, and even when in all the glory of a "full suit," he will not endure the idea of confining his feet in a pair of boots or shoes, but always goes barefoot, summer and winter, except when travelling in the snow hunting, when he wears moccasins, although I saw two Indians out hunting a short time ago, barefooted and traveling in snow knee deep. They are great beggars and never visit your camp without begging for shirts, pants , coats, sugar, bread, or whatever they happen to see that they want. Just feed a Digger once and he is sure to come again soon, and if he finds you an uncommonly benevolent individual in the feeding line, he will visit you often, especially about meal times, and perhaps bring his squaws with him. On the road to Volcano the other day, I met a little old dried up, monkey-faced, queer looking specimen of the genus "Digger," strutting along in all the glory of a tall, glazed Mexican hat, with a large piece of red flannel tied about the crown of it, and no other article of dress except a pair of old striped pants. After the usual salutations were passed, he informed me, with a flourish of the aforesaid "sombrero," that he was a "hi-oppo" (chief,) "big captain" "Captain Hal-luk-ky:" I told him I felt assured of his identity, and happy to have the honor of his acquaintance. The double-barrelled gun on my shoulder took his eye at once, and he urgently begged me to present it to him. I told him it was the only one I had, and regretted that I could not well afford to make him a present of it at once. He next endeavored to persuade me that I ought to take off my blue flannel shirt and give it to him, earnestly telling me that he was "big hi-oppo, Capitain Hal-luk-ky," and "no got camisa" (shirt) . I told him that I fully appreciated his shirtless condition, but couldn't well spare mine. He then asked me for money, and tobacco, but not being overstocked with the former and not using the latter, I gave him an old pewter-handled jack-knife, which he received with much gratitude, being firmly impressed with the idea that the pewter handle was solid silver. We then separated, and the last I saw of "Capitain Hal-luk-ky," he was standing in the middle of the road polishing the knife handle with his trowsers' leg, and probably debating in his mind how he should embellish his person with it in the most artistical manner; whether he should hang it about his neck, poke it through his nostrils, or suspend it by a bit of string to one of his ears. But I think we have had enough of Indians at present, so what more I have to write you about them, I'll reserve for a future letter.
The winter thus far has been unusually dry, and the times are much harder throughout the mines than they have been since '49. The winter of '50 was a "dry Winter," but gold is not so easily found now as it was then, and the improved methods of washing out the gold require much more water than formerly, when the cradle or pan was as profitable as the sluice is now, therefore the lack of water is much more severely felt and the miners now see "hard times" indeed. A miner's credit is good at any of the stores when he is making money, but now the traders are obliged to close their books and refuse any more credit, many of them having sold goods so long on credit that they are unable longer to keep up their stock, owing to the lack of cash.
One trader at Volcano a few days ago showed me in his books where he had credited the miners thereabouts for provisions &c to the amount of some four thousand dollars. Said he, "It's all good, and I know the boys will pay me as soon as they can get water to work with; but my bills at San Francisco are pressing me now, and at this rate I shall soon be unable to meet them and consequently must close my business." Many other storekeepers are in the same "fix," and the times are about as hard on them as on the miners. The storm of the first of January did but little good, supplying a few locations with a limited supply of water, and since then there has been no rains of much account. We have always had rains in the spring, but if these too should fail, the farming community also must suffer. But my letter waxeth long, so I'll draw it to a close.
In my former letters to you, I have written under the name of "California," which I adopted as my "nomme de plume," but a friend writing to me says I have no business with any such name - says I "don't belong to California" or "California" to me - that "California is too much hackneyed already," and that I must sign my "real" name; so to please him I suppose I must. Therefore, friend Rock, humbly begging your pardon for having "sailed under false colors," I remain with much esteem, Yours truly, BENBOLT.