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Digger Indians

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    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 self-consciousness.
     "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 lead!'
     "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 out."
     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 wearing shoes.
     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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