THERE is opportunity for a very entertaining essay by Mr. Owen Wister, if he cared to write it, on The Passing of the Wild and Woolly. For the old West — the West of Buffalo Bill and W. G. Puddefoot, the West of Bret Harte stagecoaches and Remington broncho-busters— is fast vanishing away.
But the new West has not altogether evolved. The inner impulse has already “ rent the veil of the old husk,” but not as yet has the new creature come forth in “clear plates of sapphire mail.” Montana is still the chrysalis, — old and new in one, either, neither, or both, as yon will,— transitional, and, like every healthy chrysalis, very much alive. In just this lies the intellectual fascination of Montana; it is social evolution caught in the act.
As Paris is France, so Sapphira is Montana. Says the Queen City of the Rockies, “ L’état, c’est moi.” The history of Sapphira is the history of the entire commonwealth. First there was gold, — thirty million dollars of it in Humbug Gulch. Then there were pioneers. Immediately there was a camp. Upon the camp settled the vampires. Upon the vampires pounced the Vigilantes. Out of Vigilantism came law. With law came women. With women came civilization. With civilization came the “boom.” The boom “busted,” and you have — Sapphira.
If Sapphira is a chrysalis, what, pray, is a chrysalis ? A worm ? Assuredly. A dragon-fly ? a butterfly ? As truly. So of Sapphira. All the men in Butte and half the men in Sapphira carry “guns,” but who shoots? “Hold-ups” are frequent enough in Montana (I have myself carried my money in my boot), but are highwaymen totally extinct in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania? The bandit is neither Eastern nor Western : he is American, — at least just at present. To be sure, Sapphira has still a saloon called The Bucket of Blood, but “ necktie parties ” and that sort of thing are long since well gone by. Until the present year the gambling-hells were licensed by the state, and as you passed along the street you could look in through the open doors and see the crowds around the green tables playing faro, poker, craps, and fan-tan under the benign sanction of the law. This condition of things, however, owing to the courageous efforts of the Reverend T. V. Moore, of Helena, has been finally done away. Thus, little by little, “ the old order changeth, yielding place to new.”
“ The vices die,” says one; “the virtues never die.” Sapphira has progressed many a moral parasang since the old days, and there has been no appreciable reversion to type. The city is rapidly learning the art of applied decency. It would not now be prudent for an exalted politician to ride down Main Street in the company of a notorious woman. In these days, if a pretty adventuress “ goes over the Great Divide,” she is not buried in state, nor do the merchants of Sapphira shut up their shops to attend her funeral, nor do they vie with one another as of yore in the extravagance of their floral tributes. The arrival of wives and children changed all that. Moreover, it is now some years since fine dames were accustomed to horsewhip objectionable young gentlemen by daylight. Sunday is no longer a carnival of blood. Indeed, so far as I can see, life in Montana is swiftly losing its pink-newspaper flavoring.
And there are yet better things in store. Suicides will become less frequent when the hazards of finance reduce themselves to comparative stability. Some day there will be less fact than fun in the Montana definition of a millionaire, namely, “ a man who owes a million dollars.” The time will come, I even venture to predict, when the social oligarchy of Sapphira will no longer afford an interesting study in criminology. When that time does come, — and I hope it will be soon, — race-track betting will be thought unladylike, to say the least; and in that happy day a man may move in “ good society ” without being exposed to contact with the families of embezzlers, defaulters, and professional gamblers.
My first glimpse of Sapphira, I am free to confess, was by no means pleasant. I loathed it, I hated it, I ridiculed it. I borrowed the pungent phrase of Corporal MacFadden, who, having commanded the awkward squad to “ presint arrums,” cried out impatiently, “ Begorrah, what a presint! Stand off and look at yersilves! ” I have, however, no longer any such feeling. I think I have seen deeper.
For the fast set is already an anachronism. It is a survival of the old days. It is one of many such survivals. The community is rapidly sloughing them off. The emergent new Montana is taking to itself “ clear plates of sapphire mail.” Sturdier character you will nowhere find than in lovely Sapphira. What zest for life ! What freedom from self-consciousness ! What exuberant perennial youthfulness ! They have never caught the disease of our time, those vigorous Montanians, and they never will ! Middle age, disillusionment, the cynical weariness of life, — you cannot, by the wildest stretch of fancy, associate any such thing with the gay, light-hearted folk of Sapphira. Socially, they have grace without affectation, brilliancy without pedantry, cordiality without insincerity. Intellectually, they take you for granted. That a man is traveled, that he is college-bred, that he reads because he loves to read, are things to be expected. Æsthetically, they are sincerely fond of the best the world offers. Little, indeed, have they ready at hand, — save what any man of culture may find in his own luxurious home. But you forget: is not St. Paul but a paltry thousand miles away, or is it more than a five days’ journey to Boston and New York? Morally, your Sapphiran is emphatically himself. He is self-reliant, self-poised, self-sufficient. Nobody conceals his faults. Nobody assumes a virtue if he has it not. Conduct exactly represents character, — what’s in comes out. Montana character is the result of a rigorous process of moral evolution. The fittest survive ; the weak succumb. The Treasure State is still the haven of runaways from everywhere else; it is still the haven and heaven of adventurers ; it is still thought very bad form to ask a man what his name was back East: and yet, in the midst of all this moral Bohemianism, the Montanians are developing a splendid type of rugged American manhood.
Mr. Kidd, I suppose, would ask what part religion has played in the social evolution of Sapphira. Apparently, a very little part.
Look down from the rocky crest of Mount Sapphira and ask yourself why the city looks so singularly flat and thick-set. Is it because there are no trees, or, at any rate, none that rise above the secondstory window-sills ? Perhaps. Or is it because the houses are all so much of a size ? Possibly. But there is a better explanation than either : it is because there are no church spires. Churches there are, but you must have sharp eyes to find them. They are little, they are insignificant, they are monuments of a disgraced and unpopular cause. Says Broncho Billy, “ Look at them darned, contemptible churches, — all-sameshacks! I could buy out any three of ’em ! ” Out of ten thousand people, only fifteen hundred Protestant church-goers !
Sapphira is a peculiar town, too, for in Sapphira there are classes and no masses, unless you call the Chinese merchants, mechanics, and laundrymen masses. It is not the old problem of reaching the masses ; it is the entirely new problem of reaching the classes. Cultured, law-abiding, progressive Sapphira has little toleration for religion. The tiny congregations in the tiny churches are made up mainly of women ; a Sapphira church is a “lady chapel.” A Montana business man objects to walking on the same side of the street with a church. There is still more truth than fiction in the old saying that “ west of Bismarck there is no Sunday, and west of Miles City no God.”
For this state of public opinion the church is largely to blame. The denominations have made Montana their ministerial ash-heap and dumping-ground. Upon it they have flung their outcast clergy, — vicious men, disgraced men, renegades of all shades and colors. In Sapphira, at least, nearly every denomination has at some time or other supported an adept in applied scalawagies as its clerical representative, with the result that in that splendid little city Chinamen, Indians, and ministers rank about alike. A minister may win respect in Sapphira, but he wins it in spite of his profession, not by virtue of it.
Some of the blame, too, lies with the home missionary popes (there are popes in all denominations but ours), who have fancied that anything would do for the wild and woolly. There is no wild and woolly now. Instead there is cultured agnosticism. When the warring sects learn to divide the field, and to maintain a dignified representative in the limited section each assumes responsibility for, they will save both souls and dollars.
But if I at all understand the situation, the shifting character of the population as largely accounts for the failure of the churches. When a fellow goes out a-buccaneering, it is not likely that he will “dig up ” to pay pew-rent. The bumblebees never yet lent loyal tribute to Jack - in - the - pulpit. When a whole community regards life as a picnic, the parson can be dispensed with. Nobody expects to stay in Montana, — nobody save a very few. Hardly anybody means to bring up a family in Sapphira. Every one hopes to get rich and get away. Your Montanian is just now an adventurer, just now a holiday-maker; he is taking a moral and spiritual vacation. Some say they have left their religion in North Dakota. Some seem to believe in a stay-at-home Eastern divinity who cannot follow them West. All this will change. Change it must; for Sabatier is right in saying that humanity, as a species, is “incurably religious.” Though in Montana religion has as yet been only a minor factor in social progress, social progress will yet become a potent factor in religious development. Montana needs women. Montana needs homes. Montana needs to acquire the art of stayingput. Given a normal community, and you will have a normal church.
Incongruity, then, is a leading characteristic of life in Montana, — incongruity by reason of transition. The chrysalis is neither worm nor dragon-fly, but both at once and both in one.
Naturally, the streets of Sapphira abound in curious contrasts of old and new. That sombre row of log shacks, — observe them carefully. They were set down in Humbug Gulch (for so it was called then) away back in the early sixties, while the left wing of Price’s army was first settling Montana. They are relics of the early days : the days Avhen flour sold for one hundred and forty dollars a sack ; the days when a glass of whiskey was worth a pinch of golddust; the days when miners stood (like Wordsworth’s daffodils " in never-ending line ”) waiting their turn to buy Larry Finnigan’s incomparable apple pies, made of dried apples with brown paper upper crust, one dollar each; the days — the dear golden days ! — when the Hangman’s Tree, a little farther up the gulch, bore, on certain memorable mornings, a most extraordinary fruitage. Yet see ! a blank wall vaults skyward eight stories : it is close against the chalet-like cabins ; it is the blank side wall of the gilded palace of the Oro Fino Club; it is part of the magnificent pile for which that exclusive coterie is still inconceivably in debt, and ever will so remain. Or what of the Energy Block ? Yes, it is a twentieth-century sky-scraper, — carved stone, plate glass, tessellated floors, twin elevators : and this in a town of only ten thousand people ! Sidewalks, wooden death-traps that would disgrace an Idaho mining camp, annoy one beyond endurance ; yet in the same thoroughfares with such dilapidated footways are rows of splendid houses that might be set down in the lovely residential districts of any Eastern city, and would there attract attention only by their beauty ! Covered wagons, perambulatory flats of the sort that used to be called prairie schooners, graze the hubs of luxurious traps and barouches. The mounted ranchman yonder, — how ferocious he looks, how Remingtonian, in his ten-dollar sombrero and fringed leather “ chaps,” and how straight he sits in his high-pommeled embossed saddle ! Can he ride a pitching horse? Yes, indeed, “ ride him plenty; ” and he is just now very likely to give you full evidence of his equestrian tenacity, for suddenly round the corner comes a scorching Vassar girl on her chainless Humber ! Street fights between colored coachmen and social dons ; concerts in the Auditorium, by Scalchi, or Yaw, or Juch; masonic funerals in Chinatown; extensive additions to the Public Library, which already numbers fifteen thousand volumes; a more than Austrian “rough house ” in the legislature at Helena (the Montana legislature is probably the funniest governmental body in the world), — these are some of the things you may read about in either of Sapphira’s two daily newspapers. Sometimes you meet an individual who himself embodies the most discordant elements of the Montanian genius. I know a man who has two avocations, — he is now a lawyer, but he used to be a cowboy, and his father was a college president—he has, I say, two avocations: one is broncho-busting ; the other is the writing of society verse. He is equally good at both.
One gradually loses the faculty of astonishment. Sapphira is everything, by turns or all at once. So are the Sapphirans. They are incoherently American, — a national vaudeville, a social kaleidoscope, an incongruous complex of the innumerable, irreconcilable, incompatible elements that make up the nation. Speak any dialect you choose, and nobody will call you peculiar. Dodge your r’s, like a New Yorker; put them on where they do not belong, like a bourgeois New Englander ; say “cain’t,” like a Missourian; ape the Oregonian webfoot, and say “ like I did ; ” or adopt the speech of the native Montanian, and obscure the short i in “ it,” saying, for instance, “I believe ut; ” but no matter what be the turn of your tongue, you will find yourself in the company of your kind.
Nearly everybody has come from somewhere else; and nearly everybody has brought along a title, — colonel, major, commodore, or whatever sort of tinsel caught his fancy. Some of these titles are no doubt authentic. In a state whose population numbers only one hundred and fifty thousand everybody has a chance of sooner or later going on the governor’s staff. I asked a Montanian how Colonel Brinckerhoff got his title. “ Oh,” said he, “ he was jigadierbrindle on somebody’s body-guard.”
The population is cosmopolitan; so are the aspects and incidents of life and its surroundings. From the top of Mount Sapphira you can see the Continental Divide, whose melting snows flow westward into Puget Sound, and eastward into the Gulf of Mexico. The cold wind comes from Hudson’s Bay, the warm Chinook from Oregon and the coast. The grass—what grass there is — bristles with little cacti, “ prickly-pears,” which suggest Southern California. The howling coyote is the same predatory creature that roams the Middle West under the humbler guise and name of prairie wolf. The hot tamale (pronounced tamoɭly) — a molten, pepper-sauced chicken croquette, with a coat of Indian meal and an overcoat of corn - husk, and steamed in a portable boiler, the result being a diabolical combination that tastes like a bonfire— was introduced by cowboys from the Mexican frontier. The Montanians eat oysters from two oceans. The miners have plagiarized the garb of the Michigan lumbermen. A Sapphiran belle goes gowned in a robe from Paris.
So utterly atrophied is your sense of novelty that you even cease to marvel at the climate. You become meteorologically blasé. On the first day of November, nasturtiums (who ever heard of pink ones ?) and gorgeous sweet peas (crimson and purple at their richest and deepest) were still blooming in our gardens. Four weeks later the mercury shrank to twenty-eight below zero. On the 5th of December live dandelions appeared on the lawn. Then the storm-god treated us to thunder and lightning, and after that a snowfall. But with all their capricious ups and downs Montana winters are mild. The mountain tops are white from fall to spring, but there is little snow in the valleys. Who rides in a sleigh ? For weeks at a stretch, last winter, skaters went cycling to the pond with their skates slung over their shoulders. Matching one season with another, the Sapphirans have played tennis every month in the year. Extreme cold comes like a Nansen lecture, and is as soon gone. It is something to be seen rather than felt. For when the mercury drops so amazingly low, and all Sapphira struts forth in buffalo-skins like a community of motor-men, the air is absolutely still. That is why you do not realize the intensity of the cold. From every chimney in town, on such a day, there rises a white column of steam a hundred feet high and as straight as a flag-staff. But when the Chinook wind comes, there is no room for debate, no recourse to the thermometer, no appeal to the eye. The Chinook is unmistakable. It comes roaring and raging over the Rockies ; it catches the snowdrifts on their gleaming summits and swirls them out into long, horizontal, Vedder-like streamers pointing eastward: and the noise of the approaching Chinook is heard in the valley while all below is still calm ; for though the clouds are already racing with the wind, and the topmost mountain pines madly shouting their protest, it will be yet a matter of minutes before the lower atmosphere leaps to join the frolic. The mercury rises fifty degrees. The snow has hardly time to melt and run away. It seems to be picked up magically, smitten with invisibility, and hurriedly whisked skyward. And as for the people, — oh, pity the people ! They feel like ten thousand hard-boiled owls, — enervated, demoralized, “ let down.”
But from July to November is not that climate ideal, idyllic ? Why dread the summer’s heat ? It is invariably cool in the shade, and the nights are always refreshing; people never have sunstrokes, dogs never have hydrophobia ; in fact, Montana is the best place in the world to keep cool in summer and warm in winter. Saving only the brief cold snaps and the rainy month of June, the climate of the Treasure State is incomparable ; and of this fact the homesick exotics are continually reminding one another by way of consolation.
I protest that mortals have no business to live in the high heavens. The Montanians, however, set my protest at defiance. They have found their Babel Tower ready - built. Sapphira is four fifths of a mile above the sea. It has altitude, and of that you are immediately made aware. At first you are sleepy. That wears off. Then you can’t sleep. No wonder, — it’s the altitude.
This is one’s introduction to the fundamental principle of Montana philosophy. The altitude accounts for everything. Knock off forty - two hundred vertical feet of the dense lower atmosphere, and what remains is marvelously thin and clear. Its properties are magical. Breathe it for a year and a day (there ’s champagne in the air), and you will be altogether a new creature, saying to yourself, I doubt not, “ Lawk-a-massy on us, this is none of I! ”
You will get into sympathy with Shelley’s skylark. You will exclaim appreciatively : —
Bird thou never wert,
That from heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart.”
You will know precisely how a skylark feels. You are as high in the air as he. Then why should not the altitude affect your spirits, also ? The altitude affects flowers, so that the blossoms of a single species become more gorgeous the higher up you go. The altitude puts such exuberant life into horses that runaways are twice as common as here at home, and it gives the ordinary roadster such hardihood that the Rocky Mountain “ cayuse ” will travel fifty miles with less fatigue than the New England animal would suffer from a journey of twenty. The altitude inspires cattle with such temperamental viciousness that you will look long and far to find a meek-eyed cow, one that would suggest βoώπις'Αθίνη; for in Montana they have only the glaring, fierce-faced variety, with nervously twitching tails, — provided that those tails have not been frozen off in a “ cold snap.” The altitude has also its effect upon cats. There are parts of Montana where cats cannot live. In Sapphira, a cat with two lungs is, biology aside, a rara avis. Kittens assume a more than Parisian frivolity; half of them die young, of dissipation. Then why, pray, should there be any marvel that human nerves respond to the stimulation that comes with every breath of that exhilarating but most unwholesome mountain air ?
Women feel it first. Montana women look older than they are, and act younger. The settled-down, matronly, family-tree composure that comes to our women at forty-five or fifty is a thing unknown in the Rockies. Yet the outward signs of age are sooner seen: a girl begins to fade at twenty ; faint lines, the beginnings of wrinkles, appear in the faces of mere maids of seventeen. The complexion loses its freshness ; the hair turns gray prematurely and falls out at an unexampled rate, because of the extreme dryness of the air in a country where the sun shines three hundred days in the year. Young woman, stay East!
But que voulez-vous ? If you will have perennial sunshine and live in the upper heavens, why, bless you, you must brave the consequences! Men — they say Montana is “ a good place for men and steers ” — men, if they work out of doors, will sleep like rattlesnakes and eat like grizzlies. However, they will die young. The pace is delightful; one’s heart beats faster and stronger, one’s lungs breathe deeper and fuller, till it is a perfect exultant, bounding joy just to exist: but it is nevertheless the pace that kills. Yet not a red penny cares the Sapphiran for that. (As a matter of solemn fact, there are no pennies in Sapphira ) He has no desire to be old. As he gallops through life, he means to live with a boisterous vengeance all along the hurrying way. No distant day he will be “ shipped East in a box; ” but why worry ? There is little hope of escape. Montana is the land of the lotuseaters. Once a Montanian, always a Montanian. When a man has got himself well acclimated in Sapphira, and then goes home — alive, I mean — to “ the states,” or, as he says, to “ God’s country,” he is disgusted with the heavy air and torpid life of the “ effete East.”So westward again to Butte, or Great Falls, or Helena, or Sapphira, he hies him, sorry that ever he sought to leave that dewless and treeless wonderland of golden sunshine.
Pity the thinker, pity the writer, pity the speaker, in heaven-high Sapphira! Upon such the ceaseless nervous tension tugs most cruelly. You can think more clearly, talk more directly, and write with greater precision and vivacity ; but whither, meanwhile, has fled your old endurance ? You can do more in an hour, but you cannot work so many hours. Nobody pretends to exert himself. Sapphirans walk slowly, avoid “ rustling,” and never open their shops before nine in the morning. You can wear yourself out without knowing it. To-day you would like to fight dragons, to-morrow you are in bed with nervous prostration, day after to-morrow you are “shipped East in a box.”
The principal plague is insomnia. Not that you cannot go to sleep, — you can ; but you wake at four, or three, or even two o’clock in the morning, and so ends your slumber. Your eyes pop open of a sudden, and you find yourself as wholly refreshed as a newly awakened Rip Van Winkle. There until dawn you lie, hearing at intervals the cry of the hot-tamale man : “ Hot tamales ! Red-hot tamales ! Hot lunch and wiener-wurst! Chickie tamales ! ” The man is a mile away, but through that thin, vibrant, resonant atmosphere yon catch every syllable that he utters. Then there is the sunrise. Montanians are great authorities on sunrises. And very splendid they are, — blue clouds such as you never saw before, dazzling combinations of gorgeous colors, amazing effects of unimaginable beauty.
But suppose Morpheus plays you false after this fashion three or four nights a week; then, beyond a doubt, you are growing old at double the normal rate.
There is just one way to beat the altitude. Sit up. Eleven is not late, neither is twelve. Will Hannah, who lives in Helena,— or did, — says he regularly reads the morning paper before going to bed.
All things considered, it comes naturally about that, jocosely or seriously (or, as Browning would say, jocoseriously), the Montanians expect the altitude to account for everything. When little boys pull up one’s sidewalks, tear down one’s fences, and lodge one’s veranda chairs in the top of one’s favorite sycamore-tree, they are celebrating Allhallowe’en. The altitude explains their methods. When an “old-timer” becomes testy and irritable and altogether uncompanionable, the Sapphirans call him “ cranky.” Crankiness results from the altitude. When a girl eats opium, and sees things and says things, it is because she is suffering from insomnia. Again the altitude. Yes, and when some victim of a “ deal,” or of a “ freeze - out game,” or of the “annual ascension ” of the First National Bank blows out his jaded brains, it is chiefly the altitude that drove him to distraction. The altitude pardons beer - drinking, excuses late hours, and accounts alike for the effervescent, not to say explosive hilarity of Sapphira society, and for the appalling dimensions, out of all proportion to the size of the town, of Sapphira’s vicious and dangerous slums.
The altitude grants plenary indulgence. It is Pontifex Maximus.
Victor Hugo wrote Fourscore Thirteen. That is French for “ NinetyThree.” The Sapphirans have also written Fourscore Thirteen, — they have written it in anguish, they have written it upbn their hearts; for Ninety-Three was the year of the “ crash.”
Just before the crash Sapphira was nearly twice as big as it is now, in population. It was the richest city of its size in the world. It had one thousand dollars per capita, — counting every negro, every Chinaman, and every baby, — one thousand dollars per capita deposited in banks, to say nothing of other investments. It had a millionaire for every thousand of the population. It was growing as if forced by electricity. It juggled lobby politics at Washington till it got Fort Bandersnatch, it stretched out long financial tentacles and seized two railroads, it secured the capacious mosquelike Bayswater Natatorium and made the town a summer resort, it wrote itself up in a leading magazine, it became a supply-station for a ranching and mining district as big as the state of Maine. The people said, “ We shall be a Detroit, a Minneapolis, a Chicago.” The whole Grub Stake Valley was laid out in town lots, — twelve continuous miles of them. Palaces, warehouses, and public buildings rose out of the earth as by enchantment. The entire community lost their heads, — invested insanely, lived like princes, feasted, gamed, squandered.
And then the bubble burst. The wires thrilled with agonizing messages. There was a hasty packing of trunks at the World’s Fair, a mad rush for the scene of the disaster, a wringing of hands and a gnashing of teeth, a sudden and hideous disillusionment. That was the crash. That was Ninety-Three. That was the inciting moment of a financial tragedy, banks breaking, real estate values diving to nowhere, vast fortunes going up in clouds of disappointment, the sheriff and the receiver turned loose in the land. The more property you had, the poorer you were. The city was suddenly filled with ruined millionaires. People went to church who had never been seen there before. A third of the population “vamoosed the ranch ” and went “ back to God’s country.”
As in the sunset a certain moment “ cuts the deed off, calls the glory from the gray,” so in Sapphira a certain moment called a halt in the supernatural progress of the city. The marks remain. The Presbyterians were building a new church edifice ; they are now the proud possessors of a cellar and a Sundayschool. The Kensington School was to have been two hundred feet long. Only one section had been built, and there are not children enough to warrant the continued existence of even that section. The Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute (that is what they call it, though the Sapphira High School does not prepare for college, and pupils who cannot keep themselves intellectually afloat in the High School are sent to the “ Polly ”) was being built on the installment plan. There had been only one installment. With that the work “ stopped short, never to go again,” like grandfather’s clock. The city, laid out as for a vast metropolis, had “staked off a claim ” of such dimensions that it entails enormous expense to light and pave and drain it. The survivors are consequently taxed to death.
Apparently, the hard times ground Sapphira more cruelly than any other town in the country. Its growth had been artificially stimulated, its wealth had been largely fictitious, its enormous enterprises had been based upon borrowed capital, and when the evil days came, and the years drew nigh, when the Sapphirans said, “ We have no pleasure in them,” it was necessary not only to live upon a reduced income, but to float a colossal indebtedness. Matters grew worse and worse. The depression continued, even increased. You “ could n’t raise a hundred dollars on your right eye.”
In the spring of 1897, the city of Sapphira had two wrecked banks and three wrecked churches, commodious stores stood vacant in Main Street, the secondhand shops were filled with abandoned office furniture, the fire department had been reduced to eight men and the police force to four patrolmen, while the city water department was in the hands of a receiver, and the town had given up the collection of garbage. You could rent a white stone mansion out in Kensington, the west end of Sapphira, for eight dollars a month.
Since then matters have begun to improve. But the spell is broken forever. The romance has gone out of Sapphiran enterprise. Investors no longer manipulate the supernatural. The task is now the mere prosaic, brown-colored, matter-of-fact process of recuperation. There is no vision, and the people perish. Enterprise used to mean a sort of actualized epic poetry ; now it means a dull materialism.
Materialistic the Montanians undeniably are. Their patron saint should be Martha, who was troubled about many things. Everybody has a considerable assortment of industrial irons in the fire. Beside the inevitable exactions of his calling, nearly everybody has mining and ranching interests to be troubled about. You are amazed to hear seamstresses, petty drummers, news-venders, and waiter-girls talking of their mining stock, —a hundred shares in the Bald Butte mine, five hundred shares in the Marble Heart, two hundred and fifty shares in the Never Sweat, seven hundred shares in the Wake-Up Jim. But later the wonder ceases. A share can be bought for a song. Its par value is one dollar; it may fall to five cents. Hence even the tawdry poor may enter the lists and tilt for millions. Our cook was grub-staking her husband; that is, paying his expenses while he went out a-prospecting. Occasionally she would send in a little box of “ spressmens ” (specimens) for us to admire. “ Shore,” said Nora, “ Oi‘ll be a foine lady wan av these days, begobs ! And no doubt she will. Gold is a great leveler. It levels up, not down. Colonel Patsy Rafferty, who can write nothing but his own name, can make that name worth five million dollars whenever he chooses to sign a check for that amount. He was once a prospector ; he is now an imperial Cæsar.
Not only do mining interests enlist the attention of the whole community ; they are all-absorbing and all-engrossing in their power over the individual. For mining is a gambling game,— legitimate, to be sure, for a successful miner is an adder to the world’s wealth, but nevertheless a game of hazard played against nature. Montana is Monte Carlo moralized. Your mine may pay “ from the grass-roots ; ” you may, on the other hand, put a superb fortune, if you can borrow it back East, into a mere “ hole in the ground ; ” the richest vein may “peter” to-morrow; and when your mine begins to “play out” and “the grade runs low,” you are afraid to sell, lest the purchaser, running the tunnel a few yards farther into the mountain, locate immense ore-bodies that would have made you a multi-millionaire.
Hence Sapphirans think in terms of quartz and placer. A boarding-house table is a school of mines. Mining terms are absorbed into the vocabulary of common talk. Things “ pan out; ” people “get right down to hard-pan ; ” to beat an opponent at cards is to “ clean him up ; ” and to secure funds is to “ raise the riffles.” The Montanians “ pack ” everything, —they pack water, they pack umbrellas, they pack the baby ; for the word “ pack ” means to carry. In the old days mining outfits were carried on pack-horses. One even finds the grotesque names of mining claims set down in solemn gravity upon the map. The town of Ubet was originally the You Bet mine : Oka was formerly the O. K.
As of mining, so in less degree of ranching. Stock-raising, precarious at best, is exposed to the hazards of a capricious climate. Your huge “bunch of cattle ” and your immense “ band of sheep ” are turned loose on the ranges and are shelterless all the year round. Heavy snows will work a measureless havoc. Sheep know how to huddle together for warmth and to burrow for food, but the poor senseless cattle will stand up in the snow till they die of exhaustion. Several winters ago a great storm wrecked the ranching interests of half the state, and the cattle-kings were reduced to bankruptcy. The banks, however, by the “wild-cat” methods for which they are deservedly famous, set them all on their feet again.
When a Montanian has worried himself into brain-fag over his mining ventures, he may rest his cortex by considering his flocks and herds. So ranching terms, like the talk of the camp, find their way into social parlance. You are invited to a New England “round-up.” You are “ corraled ” by your hostess. You ask a Sappbira girl what she has been doing of late, and perhaps yon get an answer like this, — I did. “ Not very much,” said she, with a toss of her pretty head. “ Father and mother have gone to the National Park, and I’ve had to stay at home and herd the kid.”
Montanians will do anything for money. People of education will go into deliberate exile to “ hold down a claim.” Young men of social training and refined tastes will live in intolerable mining camps like Rimini (pronounced Rimineye), and there are even some forty thousand abandoned wretches who are wasting their days in Butte.
Butte (pronounced Bewt) is the most ridiculous city in the world. It is precisely on a level with Mount Washington, provided it can be said to be on a level at all, for it is built on a steep mountain side. There is no night in Butte. The mines are continually worked, and the smelters never shut down. Moreover, as five tons of sulphur, arsenic, and other poisons are thrown out into the air every twenty-four hours, there is in all that city no tree, nor any shrub, nor so much as a single spear of grass. You wake coughing; you wander about all day in a dense fog of brimstone; you have continually the sensation of lighting a parlor match. It is only in summer that the air is clear. Had Dante seen Butte, he would never have taken the trouble to invent an imaginary Inferno. Morally, the city justifies its suggestive appearance. It has been rightly named the Perch of the Devil. And yet there are people in Butte, — forty thousand of them. They stay there to make money.
I have never yet been able to say whether Montana is more beautiful than every other place, or whether a Sapphiran is merely more intensely alive to its beauty. Perhaps that too is a matter of altitude. But in either case the spell is irresistible.
One views all the grandeur of the world with, a babelike freshness.
The earth and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.”
That is my memory of Montana.
The blinding glare of the sunshine; the depth of the altogether Neapolitan skies; the undimmed lustre of the landscape ; the immeasurable panoramic sweep of mountain masses, swung chain upon chain, sierra upon sierra, across the world; the thrill of exalted masterhood in nature, and the buoyant, joyous sense of out of doors, — it makes my heart leap up even now at the thought of it.
It was not so at first. The landscape troubled me : I could not interpret it; it bore no sort of rationality. Those miniature blue crags, — they defied perspective; they had the shape of immense mountains, but they had the apparent size of mere hillocks. They looked five miles off ; they were in reality thirty-five miles away, and in any lower altitude they would have been so dimmed by the pellucid vapor-masses hung between as to be obviously and legibly remote. But gradually the eye learns a new grammar of aerial perspective, and then — behold the overwhelming Miltonic majesty of those inconceivable piles of living rock.
A glory of primeval romance hangs over the northern Rockies. There are the forests of low-grown pines as yet untouched; there are the Titans’ treasure-hoards as yet unrifled; there are the haunts of elk and grizzly, of mountain lion and antelope, of gray wolf and huge-horned mountain sheep, whose domains are all but uninvaded ; while below those rock-strewn steeps surges the newly violated Missouri. It all meets the eye with a glow of stirring actuality; the horizon is within reach of your hand; nature becomes compendious ; you are in conscious command of totality.
As the day wanes, the mountains appear to be crossing the valley. The slant lights of late afternoon make them seem increasingly near. The mountains come up to be admired, to be loved. They shrink away in the twilight. One by one the glorious stars come out, twice as bright as here in the East, and twice as big. It is, as Stevenson would say, “ a wonderful clear night of stars.” The Milky Way is a radiant mist. Meteors trail fire. And the moon, — oh, if it be but winter ! — the moon fills all that wonderland with an unutterable beauty that starts the same sense of white-robed purity, the same response of sparkling loveliness, that one’s heart throbs with while reading Tennyson’s St. Agnes’ Eve.
And strows her lights below.”
And then the mountains, silvern-blue and snow-capped, are yours once more.
In spring Montana is laden with flowers. Valley, cañon, gulch, and coulee are a many-tinted fairy spectacle. The prickly-pears color all the landscape with their gorgeous blossoms. Purple lupines blaze amongst the Nile-green sage-brush. The sand-rose turns from white to pink. The night-blooming cereus droops in the sunlight. Whole fields are gilded with yellow daisies. A botanist, they tell me, has collected a thousand species of native flora.
And the beauty of Montana is touched with a wistful air of melancholy. Somehow you cannot escape a feeling of regret for the days gone by, and for the aboriginal inhabitants, both man and beast, so recently dispossessed. I am no fond lover of Indians ; Flatheads, Blackfeet, and Nez Percds never charmed me. I saw enough of the Sioux when they took me behind the scenes at Colonel Cody’s Wild West show ; the Crees, who want a dime to pose before your kodak, and who regale themselves with dog soup (I saw them do it), are rather the worst of the lot; but yet I cannot reconcile myself to the Weyler-like warfare that exterminated the bison to keep the Indians in order.
The red man lived on the bison; where the bison roved, nibbling the bunch-grass, there roved the red man. When the soldiers had slaughtered the bison herds, and the Indian began to prey upon the ranches for food, his traveling days were done. He was between the devil and the deep sea. The soldiers hunted him into the camps of the cowboys. The cowboys, in their turn, hunted him into the camps of the soldiers. He has since submitted, though not with the best of grace, and lives upon his reservation in involuntary peace and quiet. But the bison, — there is only one pen in North America sympathetic enough to tell the story of the bison, and that is the pen that wrote the tenderest of all our nature essays, A-Hunting of the Deer.
Even the beauty of life is tinged with a similar pathos. Friendships in Sapphira are mournfully transitory. You no sooner bind a man to you than forth lie betakes him to Livingston, or Billings, or Glendive, or Missoula. The town is like an eddy in the river. The water runs into the eddy, the water runs out of the eddy; the eddy is always changing, yet the eddy remains unchanged. So the streams of newcomers pour into Sapphira, and the streams of disappointed fortune-seekers pour out of Sapphira ; Sapphira is always changing, yet Sapphira remains unchanged. The Sapphiran beauties make eyes at a procession. There is in Montana more opportunity for acquaintances and less opportunity for acquaintance than in any other part of the world. But when all has been said, the social result of that restless shift and change is only an exaggeration of a universal law. For so we go through the world, touching many hands, clasping but few.
And out of this very transitoriness comes, if you would know the truth, the hospitable geniality of Sapphira society. For the Sapphirans are compelled to keep their friendships in constant repair. They welcome you in, like Lewis Carroll’s crocodile, “ with gently smiling jaws.” They welcome the next newcomer with a similar cordiality. People entertain one another at a desperate rate. They have to; for life in Sapphira is like life in a garrison, and all the fun the Sapphirans can get is what they get out of one another. “ Shows ” rarely visit Sapphira; the city itself becomes monotonous after three weeks, and it is a hundred miles to the next town, and there is nothing to see when you get there. Hence the ceaseless round of dances, card parties, musicales, clubs, chafing-dish parties, mountain parties, coasting parties (what would a Bostonian think of a slide five miles long with a descent of twelve hundred feet?), and social dissipations of every imaginable and unimaginable sort.
At last, you, in your turn, move out and away. Perhaps yon are ordered East by your physician as the only possible device for postponing that, which you are naturally somewhat anxious to defer, namely, total extinction ; or perhaps professional reasons forbid you to live any longer in the Treasure State of the Rockies.
Accordingly you lay in a stock of mementos. You must have a ranching scene in water-color by Charlie Russell, the cowboy artist; and to that you will add a group of miners panning out gold by the inimitable Swaim. Then to the taxidermist’s for mounted heads, — an elk, surely, and no doubt an antelope or a mountain sheep. If you can afford it, you buy a fine grizzly rug. And after that you choose a pretty handful of Montana sapphires (the red and the yellow ones are lovely, but the blue are loveliest of all) set in Montana gold by Montana workmanship.
You buy your yard-long railway ticket (five cents a mile to St. Paul) ; you pay a scandalous fee by way of advance charges on your freight; you yield up your last dollar to silence the accusation of “ excess baggage ; ” and you depart amid the cheers of your friends and admirers.
Then you think you have bid adieu to Montana. But in that you are wrong. Montana awaits you in Boston. You meet former Sapphirans upon Commonwealth Avenue. You are presented to the friends of Sapphirans in Beacon Street. You are invited to Montana “ round-ups ” in Brookline and the Back Bay. You drop in at the Touraine for a rare - bit with a Harvard man from Helena. You sit down in the Boston Public Library and peruse the columns of the Sapphira Daily Globule. Indeed, the sun never sets upon Montana. Go where you will, its charmed associations are ever around you. You are a member of a world-wide fraternity.
Rollin Lynde Hartt.