The very bad Indian, placing
his feet upon the attenuated bridge of doom, makes a few steps
forward, stumbles, falls into the whirling waters below, and is
swept downward with fearful velocity. At last, with desperate
struggles he half swims, and is half washed ashore on the same
side from which he started, to find a dreary land where the sun
never shines, and the cold rains always pour down from the dark
skies, where the water is brackish and foul, where no flowers
ever bloom, where leagues may be traversed without seeing a
deer, and grizzly bears abound. This is the hell of very bad
Indians--and a very had one it is.
The worst Indians of all, at death, are transformed
into grizzly bears.
The Digger has a good appetite, and he is not
particular about his eating. He likes grasshoppers, clover,
acorns, roots, and fish. The flesh of a dead mule, horse, cow,
or hog, does not come amiss to him--I mean the flesh of such as
die natural deaths. He eats what he can get, and all he can get.
In the grasshopper season he is fat and flourishing. In the
suburbs of Sonora I came one day upon a lot of squaws, who were
engaged in catching grasshoppers. Stretched along in line, armed
with thick branches of pine, they threshed the ground in front
of them as they advanced, driving the grasshoppers before them
in constantly increasing numbers, until the air was thick with
the flying insects. Their course was directed to a deep gully,
or gulch, into which they fell exhausted. It was astonishing to
see with what dexterity the squaws would gather them up and
thrust them into a sort of covered basket; made of willow-twigs
or tule-grass, while the insects would be trying to escape; but
would fall back unable to rise above the sides of the gulch in
which they had been entrapped. The grasshoppers are dried, or
cured, for winter use. A white man who had tried them told me
they were pleasant eating, having a flavor very similar to that
of a good shrimp. (I was content to take his word for it.)
When Bishop Soule was in California, in 1853, he paid a
visit to a Digger campoody (or village) in the Calaveras hills.
He was profoundly interested, and expressed an ardent desire to
be instrumental in the conversion of one of these poor kin. It
was yet early in the morning when the Bishop and his party
arrived, and the Diggers were not astir, save here and there a
squaw, in primitive array, who slouched lazily toward a spring
of water hard by. But soon the arrival of the visitors was made
known, and the bucks, squaws, and papooses, swarmed forth. They
cast curious looks upon the whole party, but were specially
struck with the majestic bearing of the Bishop, as were the
passing crowds in London, who stopped in the streets to gaze
with admiration upon the great American preacher. The Digger
chief did not conceal his delight. After looking upon the Bishop
fixedly for some moments, he went up to him, and tapping first
his own chest and then the Bishop's, he said:
"Me big man--you big man!"
It was his opinion that two great men had met, and that
the occasion was a grand one. Moralizers to the contrary
notwithstanding, greatness is not always lacking in
"I would like to go into one of their wigwams, or huts,
and see how they really live," said the Bishop.
"You had better drop that idea," said the guide, a
white man who knew more about Digger Indians than was good for
his reputation and morals, but who was a good-hearted fellow,
always ready to do a friendly turn, and with plenty of time on
his hands to do it. The genius born to live without work will
make his way by his wits, whether it be in the lobby at
Washington City, or as a hanger-on at a Digger camp.
The Bishop insisted on going inside the chief's wigwam, which
was a conical structure of long tule-grass, air-tight and
weather-proof, with an aperture in front just large enough for a
man's body in a crawling attitude. Sacrificing his dignity, the
Bishop went down on all-fours, and then a degree lower, and,
following the chief; crawled in. The air was foul, the smells
were strong, and the light was dim. The chief proceeded to
tender to his distinguished guest the hospitalities of the
establishment, by offering to share his breakfast with him. The
bill of fare was grasshoppers, with acorns as a side-dish. The
Bishop maintained his dignity as he squatted there in the
dirt--his dignity was equal to any test. He declined the
grasshoppers tendered him by the chief, pleading that he had
already breakfasted, but watched with peculiar sensations the
movements of his host, as handful after handful of the crisp and
juicy gryllus vulgaris were crammed into his capacious mouth,
and swallowed. What he saw and smelt, and the absence of fresh
air, began to tell upon the Bishop--he became sick and pale,
while a gentle perspiration, like unto that felt in the
beginning of seasickness, beaded his noble forehead. With slow
dignity, but marked emphasis, he spoke:
"Brother Bristow, I propose that we retire."
They retired, and there is no record that Bishop Soule
ever expressed the least desire to repeat his visit to the
interior of a Digger Indian's abode.
The whites had many difficulties with the Diggers in
the early days. In most cases I think the whites were chiefly to
blame. It is very hard for the strong to be just to the weak.
The weakest creature, pressed hard, will strike back. White
women and children were massacred in retaliation for outrages
committed upon the ignorant Indians by white outlaws. Then there
would be a sweeping destruction of Indians by the excited
whites, who in those days made rather light of Indian shooting.
The shooting of a "buck" was about the same thing, whether it
was a male Digger or a deer.
"There is not much fight in a Digger unless he's got
the dead-wood on you, and then he'll make it rough for you. But
these Injuns are of no use, and I'd about as soon shoot one of
them as a coyote" (ki-o-te).
The speaker was a very red-faced, sandy-haired
man, with blood-shot blue eyes, whom I met on his return to the
Humboldt country after a visit to San Francisco.
"Did you ever shoot an Indian?" I asked.
" I first went up into the Eel River
country in '46," he answered. "They give us a lot of trouble in
them days. They would steal cattle, and our boys would shoot.
But we've never had much difficulty with them since the big
fight we had with them in 1849. A good deal of devilment had
been goin' on all roun', and some had been killed on both sides.
The Injuns killed two women on a ranch in the valley, and then
we set in just to wipe 'em out. Their camp was in a bend of the
river, near the head of the valley, with a deep slough on the
right flank. There was about sixty of us, and Dave was our
captain. He was a hard rider, a dead shot, and not very
tender-hearted. The boys sorter liked him, but kep' a sharp eye
on him, knowin' he was so quick and handy with a pistol. Our
plan was to git to their camp and fall on em at daybreak, but
the sun was risin' just as we come in sight of it. A dog barked,
and Dave sung out:
"'Out with your pistols! pitch in, and give 'em the hot
"In we galloped at full speed, and as the Injuns come
out to see what was up, we let 'em have it. We shot forty
bucks--about a dozen got away by swimmin' the river."
"Were any of the women killed?"
"A few were knocked over. You can't be particular when
you are in a hurry; and a squaw, when her blood is up, will
fight equal to a buck."
The fellow spoke with evident pride, feeling that he was
detailing a heroic affair, having no idea that he had done any
thing wrong in merely killing "bucks." I noticed that this sane
man was very kind to an old lady who took the stage for
Bloomfield--helping her into the vehicle, and looking after her
baggage. When we parted, I did not care to take the hand that
had held a pistol that morning when the Digger camp was "wiped
The scattered remnants of the Digger tribes were
gathered into a reservation in Round Valley, Mendocino county,
north of the Bay of San Francisco, and were there taught a mild
form of agricultural life, and put under the care of Government
agents, contractors, and soldiers, with about the usual results.
One agent, who was also a preacher, took several hundred of them
into the Christian Church. They seemed to have mastered the
leading facts of the gospel, and attained considerable
proficiency in the singing of hymns. Altogether, the result of
this effort at their conversion showed that they were human
beings, and as such could be made recipients of the truth and
grace of God, who is the Father of all the families of the
earth. Their spiritual guide told me he had to make one
compromise with them--they would dance. Extremes meet--the
fashionable white Christians of our gay capitals and the tawny
Digger exhibit the same weakness for the fascinating exercise
that cost John the Baptist his head.
There is one thing a Digger cannot bear, and that is
the comforts and luxuries of civilized life. A number of my
friends, who had taken Digger children to raise, found that as
they approached maturity they fell into a decline and died, in
most cases of some pulmonary affection. The only way to save
them was to let them rough it, avoiding warm bed-rooms and too
much clothing. A Digger girl belonged to my church at Santa
Rosa, and was a gentle, kind-hearted, grateful creature. She was
a domestic in the family of Colonel H--. In that pleasant
Christian household she developed into a pretty fair specimen of
brunette young womanhood, but to the last she had an aversion to
The Digger seems to be doomed. Civilization kills him;
and if he sticks to his savagery, he will go down before the
bullets, whisky, and vices of his white fellow-sinners.
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Native American Nations