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September 18, 1862: Sacramento River Canyon

September 18, 2012

Camp 101

[Today] we were off early, as we intended to get to the Sacramento ferry that night. During that day, as on others, we saw many Indians. They are “lower” than you have any idea of—sometimes nearly naked—men with merely the “breechcloth,” women with scarcely more, although generally the latter (theoretically) wear a part, at least, of a skirt of civilized style.

Our noon lunch was where we lunched on the way up, and I had an amusing adventure buying some potatoes from a squaw. She could talk no English, while my knowledge of “Digger” was equally poor. Here was a white man, who lived with two squaws—or rather they lived with him—their faces horribly tattooed, but they wore dresses. Near, along the river, was an Indian camp, and as we went by an old woman passed us in “deep mourning.” She wore but very little clothing, her form bent, skin wrinkled, and not only her face but her entire body was painted black, with patches of pitch on it in places to make it still more hideous. She threw her skinny arms about, screeched some, and showed her grief in the Digger style….

We arrived at Dogtown (one house) a little too early to camp, and we thought that with diligence we might reach a house about six miles farther, where hay might be obtained for our animals, so we pushed on.

I have already described the roads, often mere narrow dugways, where two teams cannot pass. On such places we generally ride some distance ahead of the wagons to look out for meeting teams. But in one place the wagon had nearly caught up with us, when we were suddenly face to face with a wagon. Both stopped, and we parleyed and palavered. It was nearly sunset. He was loaded with four thousand pounds of freight. After a careful examination we found that we could not pass; it was impractical to draw either wagon back. The track was perhaps four hundred feet above the river, and, in passing, the outer wagon could not fail starting and finally bringing up in the water below.

At last we unloaded our wagon and set it carefully so far over the edge that his could pass, which it did, clearing ours only three inches. We loaded up, but as we could not reach the desired haven, we tied up in a cheerless place for the night. We had a little barley for the mules, but no hay, so we tied them to the bushes, brought water half a mile, got supper long after dark, provoked, ill humored, and uncomfortable.

But one must be bad off indeed if a joke will not pass, and even here Averill found time to “sell” me most beautifully. There was a cleared field near, and Averill found that it belonged to a man named Campbell. As I was hurrying for a pail of water, he wanted me to “go to the house and see if Mrs. Campbell would consent to allow our mules to be picketed in the field.” “But where is the house?” “Right over there—follow that path.” I did—found only a camp of Indians, half a dozen, some half naked. I inquire for “Mrs. Campbell,” no answer—again inquire—a grunt from a half-naked man. I can’t make myself understood—follow with more questions—a squaw in some blankets jabbers, but I can’t understand a word. I hear Averill laugh, and soon the “sell” appears—“Mrs. Campbell” is one of the squaws of the camp. I afterward learn that “Mrs. Campbell” is in fact two squaws, and in the morning I see several youthful Campbells, of semi-Digger type.

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