CHAPTER XXVII. SPIRITS OF THE DESERT—THE AUTHOR ROBBED...


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SPIRITS OF THE DESERT—THE AUTHOR ROBBED—PENNILESS—THE MEETING OF M'MILLEN AND FLOURNOY—THE PROVERBIAL SYMPATHY OF THE PIONEER.

WE have said the men were there. How they came there in the position we now beheld them we could not tell. Like spirits of the deep springing up from the bowels of the earth by some invisible trapdoor, or dropped down from the heavens. They were simply there and that is all we knew—and enough. A very few moments elapsed between our seeing them and the commencement of the excitement which was to be the terror of our midnight ride. But in this moment a volume of horrible visions ran through my mind, the most terrible of which was that we were now in the hands of the highwaymen positively and securely, and barred out from all the world by a collosal wall of dreary mountains, upon a wide stretch of an arid, fruitless, uninviting desert.

I sat on the left of the driver. To the left of the horses' heads and facing us, stood a goodly specimen


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STAGE COACH ROBBERY.


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of physical man with a large revolver levelled at our heads. It was about the size, I should judge, of those used by the ‘‘Horse Marines.’’ To the left of the stage, on a range with me, was another ‘‘six-footer’’ with a hat, which, had it been mid-day, I would suppose was used to keep the sun off him, spreading out on all sides, and slouched down over his face. He held in his hands, and levelled at my breast a rifle. In the next moment, what a volume, what a life of thought intervened! In the very stillness of the desert there was noise; your very soul talked aloud to you; and as for spirits—why, the whole world seemed to be composed of them. And then, breaking the silence, came the demand for ‘‘your money, or your life!’’ and the voices of these men seemed to echo from mountain to mountain. I was ordered to get down from the coach and stand before them; while the soldier inside was ordered ‘‘to the front’’ to hold the horses' heads. Being a soldier, and one of his essential duties being to ‘‘obey!’’ he was constrained, in his good judgment, to do so. Nobly did he perform his duty in this instance. Now, I had never been a soldier; yet, I obeyed orders in this case quite as well as he did. However, it was perhaps the stern force of ‘‘duty’’ that actuated him to obey, whereas mine was by force of persuasion. A rifle at your head and a six-shooter at your breast are terrible persuaders.


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I was thwarted, however, in my willingness to obey, by the ‘‘tucking in’’ that was done when leaving Desert station; and when I came to unloose myself from under the lap robe, it was obstinate, and I remembered that the buckle of the strap which held the robe to the seat was broken and I had tied the ends together strongly and securely. This called forth execrations from the robbers.

‘‘“Why the d-——l don't you get down off that coach?”’’

‘‘Gentlemen, said I, (which of course cut the grain acutely, but I swallowed it, and repeated)’’ ‘‘“Gentlemen, don't shoot! and if you will allow me I will explain-——”’’

‘‘Hold up your hands!’’ interrupted one, with Which command both Hill and I readily complied. And when once in this position again, I was instructed to explain ‘‘what the d-——l’’ I was doing. And inquired of whether I had ‘‘any arms’’ at my side. Upon answering in the negative, I was allowed to proceed, and after extricating myself was ordered to ‘‘get down off of there.’’

Of course I complied. Once down, the following dialogue ensued:

Highwayman— ‘‘Who are you? What's your name?’’


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Having told him, and after a silence of a moment, he replied:

‘‘“Well! I'll take your money, and be quick about it or I'll blow your brains out.”’’

I complied again; and at this instant, and while turning my possessions over to them, a ‘‘click’’ from the ‘‘Horse-Marine’’ pistol broke the silence of the desert. But fortunately it broke nothing else. It was either ‘‘miss-fire’’ or the thing was done for effect—which, I am unable to say. At each interval the silence seemed to increase.

Our positions were now as follows:—The soldier at the horses' heads to prevent them from running; the driver standing up on the coach, and I on the sandy ground at the left side of the coach. Still further to my left stood one of my molesters with his rifle; and in such a range that by simply elevating or lowering his piece either the driver or myself could be cleared of all responsibility in this life without it costing us one cent. In front of me and up at the side of the horses' heads where stood our soldier, was our other facetious friend, with his six-shooter still pointed at my breast. We had all been ordered to put our hands above our heads; and there we were, as if practising calisthenics, and waiting for further drill. This is the common mode of the highwayman on our frontier, of securing your submission. With hands up, you can of course


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make no resistance; and if you take them down, nine to one, you will at the same instant be pierced with a bullet. No wiping of noses now, nor drying tears.

The first order given to the driver was to ‘‘Pass down Welts, Fargo & Co.'s express box!’’ The driver stooped, picked the box from beneath the seat, and threw it from the coach. It landed with all its treasures, upon the sand directly in front of me with a heavy thump, which made my frame shudder and my veins contract like a headless chicken in its last death struggle. Each hair on my head was a porcupine quill. The next order was for the ‘‘United States mail sacks.’’ These the driver also tossed upon the ground. There were three in number. They then ordered out some pouches of quicksilver, which were in the bottom of the stage; which demand the driver also complied with. This over, and fearing their booty would not reach their desires, they made a slight change of venue, and placing me in front of the treasure heap, demanded to know again who I was, and all about me. Having told them, there was a reign of silence—a terrible reign of about thirty seconds. Imaginations concerning this silence ran through my mind as rapidly as the reflections and thoughts of a drowning man is supposed to crowd themselves upon him; and as rapidly did I come to the conclusion that it must be they were disappointed in their man. They


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had expected some one else on this stage in my place. They then made a second demand, however, for all nay papers, and any other ‘‘matters’’ I had about me, all of which I cheerfully relinquished. Had they known I was but a poor newspaper man, and, as they soon found out, all they were to get for their trouble was fifteen dollars, it seems to me they might have saved a good deal of valuable time and— ‘‘let me alone.’’

It was worth the amount, however, to get an excuse to take down my arms, which all this time had been held above my head in an upright position. This was an uncomfortable one, to say the least; and all the more so, as I stretched them high and straight to evince to these ‘‘spirits of the desert,’’ my disposition to obey orders. Having secured my money, and evidently taking it for granted that the driver and the soldier had none (or being now satisfied with what they had obtained) we were told to resume our places on the coach. Having done so, the fire-arms being kept steadily upon us the while, we were ordered to drive off; and as we did so, the two men cried out alternately, ‘‘Good-night!’’ ‘‘Good-night!’’

I have been aroused by sudden changes; I have enjoyed the ecstatic effect of contrast; but never had any experience so forcibly struck upon such opposite sentiments in my nature as the contrast between these soft salutations ‘‘Good night!’’ ‘‘Good night!’’ and the


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terrible ‘‘halt’’ only a few minutes before. The former transactions were accompanied with sonorous tones of the deepest gutteral effort, and re-echoing as we fancied, in the distant mountains around. The latter tones were uttered in the gentlest simplicity and even savored of mellowness. It had such a pleasing and soothing effect upon us as to almost put us off our guard; and made me feel like turning around and saying: ‘‘Oh! you won't hurt us, will you?’’ I intimated to Hill, that if we should ask them now to give the things back, they would probably do so. I say was the effect their ‘‘good night’’ produced upon me. But a moment's reflecting and a slight remonstrance from Hill, convinced me that I was permitting my better judgment to be swayed by their blandness, and apparent civility. A little consideration brought me to my senses and I was amazed at my own credulity, as the result of their words.

This whole affair was performed so quickly—began and ended so suddenly—was such a succession of surprises, that it was not until after all was over and we had resumed our journey that we thoroughly realized that anything had actually occurred. Now was the ‘‘winter of our discontent.’’ As the horses began to trot off at a faster pace, Hill and I began to shake in our seats. We repeatedly looked around and wondered if they were coming after us. How often did


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we inquire of each other if we saw ‘‘anything of them?’’ We suffered more in the following few miles from an anticipation of a renewal of the attack than we did from the whole genuine affair. There was something so weird in our ride now. Every bush we approached; every cactus we saw, seemed to be possessed with life. When we stopped talking, the stillness increased. It increased until it actually became noisy; for the spiritual man then kept up a clatter with the mortal man, and talked to us of things we never knew (or those that we had once known but wanted to forget), and in some respects annoyed us with its clatter. If one wants to get an idea of what a perfect quiet is, it seems to me he must go to Arizona to do it. These deserts, with nothing inviting, devoid of any noisy insects, or creatures whatever (except the coyote whose occasional distant whine or howl only contrasts with the stillness to make it greater), are suggestive places for intense—for penetrative meditation.

‘‘Well! Now then!’’ said Hill shortly afterward, as he spurred up his horses, ‘‘“now you've had it. Now you've had your robber story better than I could have told you one, and I hope you're satisfied.”’’

I did feel quite satisfied, and I wanted to know of Hill, whether this was the kind of sociable (?) Arizona tendered to strangers.

‘‘Sociable!’’ quoted Hill. ‘‘That's pretty good.’’


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‘‘Yes!’’ rejoined I, ‘‘“They are what I would term midnight sociables of the deserts.”’’

Thus we rode along leaving, these ‘‘spirits of the desert,’’ we hoped, far behind. It was about 7 o'clock in the evening when our robbery took place. It was just before the time for the moon to rise, and the atmosphere wore that peculiar haze suggested by the old proverb ‘‘'Tis darkest just before dawn.’’

Hill, who was an old pioneer in the stage business of our west, had many experiences (either personal or otherwise), to relate of the highways and the red man. I had one myself, having suffered a like engagement once before. Between us both, we consequently listened to many hair-breadth escapes and midnight revelries. We must have been intuitively prepared for this one from the systematic manner in which we went through the drill. At the very instant of the word ‘‘Halt!’’ and before we had been ordered to ‘‘Hold up your hands!’’ which is always the next command, my hands went up high over my head. Misery liking company, I looked to my right with one eye to see how it fared with my brother Hill; while the other I kept on my desert friends. Hill had his hands up too. In short we wanted to get through with the midnight drama as quickly as possible. I remember how anxious I was to get back on my box after I had been robbed. But being commanded to ‘‘Halt!’’ with


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at the same time, a click from the six-shooter, I allayed my impetuosity somewhat, and seemed to feel willing to stand there all night rather than attempt to get back to my seat again until I had been ordered to do so. I was encouraged all the way through by Hill's calm and politic manner in dealing with the case at hand.

This little narrative will give a general idea of the robberies of the overland stage coaches on our western highways. Of course, depredations are governed by no law, and these ‘‘sociables of the desert’’ are governed by no set or established routine. They take you how and where they find you and are governed in their actions accordingly. Many variations there are then, to this system of aggression, although this is the average modus operandi. In a former robbery of a coach upon which I was a passenger, the coach was simply stopped by two men running out from behind a bush; and one grabbing the, horses' heads, while the other stepped to the side of the coach and ordered the driver to ‘‘hand down Wells, Fargo & Co.'s express box.’’ The driver having complied with the request, he was told to drive on, which he did; and the stage and its load drove off, and on to its destination as though nothing had happened—except that when we arrived there the box containing all the treasures was not with us. There is shooting at times, and often


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loss of life, but this is generally the result of disobedience to their commands or wishes; and if ever the reader has an occasion to fall into the hands of these ‘‘spirits of the desert,’’ we would advise him to simply accept the situation with a calm and quiet grace, and obey as you had been taught to do in your youth. In nine times out of ten, you will come out of the battle unscathed; although it is admitted that there are men bloodthirsty enough to love to kill for the glory of it, and without any provocation.

Some, there are, who may not understand why resistence is not the better part of valor, and not oftener resorted to in these instances, on the part of the stage companies or the passengers. We simply say to those, that to attempt to explain, would be a thankless task, as they would only look at you as one trying to excuse your own cowardice, and vaunt their own bravery at you, by asserting what they would do if they were ‘‘caught that way.’’ Many have I had talk with me in this way while attempting to satisfy their curiosity as to the situation in such cases, and the conditions governing it. But when they are ‘‘caught’’ themselves, they are agravated to find, in turn, that a no better portrayal of the situation can be found in them. The safest plan is, never to carry but a mere paltry sum of money—enough to pay your way from point to point, where you can replenish.


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We reached Florence at 4 o'clock in the morning. It was on this occasion that I met the great prospectors, Capt. Chas. McMillen and Josiah Flournoy. As we were about to leave Florence, two men approached the stage and took passage on it for Yuma. Their dress consisted of a pair of overalls, sand shoes, a huge blanket strapped across their back, a pair of large six-shooters—one at each hip; a bowie knife in their belt behind, a rifle strapped across their back, and a big slouched hat ornamented with holes, which covered the whole structure from rain. They greeted me in true frontier style wanting to know if I was the man who had been robbed out on the desert—whether I was hurt any, and whether I had any money left. When I had answered their questions, and informed them that all my money had been taken, each put his hand in his pocket, and passed carelessly over to me a twenty dollar gold piece, telling me they guessed that would see me through to Yuma, and that the twenty dollars would be as good to them at some other time. When I offered to give them ‘‘my note,’’ they looked displeasure that human nature had fallen so low, that a piece of paper was worth more than a man's honor, and said: ‘‘“a man's word is his note in this country, my friend.”’’

I subsequently learned that these two men were McMillen and Flournoy, and were then on their way


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to San Francisco and New York to incorporate the ‘‘Hannibal’’ mine, then recently discovered.

A ride of three days and nights in the overland stage coach brought me back to Yuma. In passing Los Angeles on my way north to San Francisco, I was reminded of the attraction the orange groves of that district had held for me, and of the famous beach at Santa Monica, only fifteen miles to the sea side. I left the main road here and ran down to Santa Monica. Here, after a refreshing sojourn- at the Santa Monica Hotels, and a few invigorating surf baths in the Pacific Ocean in the dead of winter, I diversified my trip by taking one of the magnificent steamers of the coast, for San Francisco.

THE END.

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