Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Forest City Pack Mules

Bill Liddle, Kate the Mule and Alcalde John Spruce
In Sierra County are still to be found – though not on the main traveled routes – a few of those terrifying mountain roads on one side of which rises a perpendicular wall of stone while on the other yawns a precipitous, sheer descent of perhaps a thousand feet. On one of these that which leads to Forest City, I believe, the classic episode of Bill Liddle, Kate the Mule and Alcalde John Spruce occurred.

Bill Liddle drove a pack train of eight large American mules, and the leader was Kate, an animal of such extraordinary intelligence that Bill used to talk to her as he did to humans. He believed her to be the reincarnation of that wild and invincible women, Catherine the Great.

In the spring Bill drove his pack train, heavily loaded and led by Kate, up a mountain trail barely broad enough for the animals with their wide overhang. He rode, as usual, at the end. They had proceeded about a quarter of a mile when a loud, warning bray from Kate caused him to look up, and he perceived that the road was disputed by another and larger pack train bound in the opposite direction. Bill shouted to the driver to stop, which he did.

“Ye’ll have to unload and turn ‘round,” yelled the other driver. “It’s two miles back t’other end and ye’ve only a few hundred yards.”
“That’s true.” Said Bill, who recognized the justice of this argument. “But I cain’t do it, stranger. Them animiles o” mine is loaded to heavy to turn and there ain’t no room to unload. I’m downright sorry, stranger, but ye’ll have to unload yer own and turn back.”
“I’ll be damned if I do,” said the second driver. “I’m too infernal tired to unload, and I’m two thirds of the way or more. Look out fer yerself, stranger. I’m a-goin’ through!”
He cracked a whip over his leader. “Giddap, yo’ mule,” he yelled. “An’ keep the inside. It’s your’n. Crowd ‘em off if they won’t give over.”
His leader hesitated, but under a furious cursing and lashing finally advanced. Kate, however, was not to be crowded into the abyss. Leaning close to the wall she fell on her knees, and the other mule, trying to struggle past her, was forced over the edge.

“Stand fast, Kate! That’s the girl!” Bill cried admiringly. The other driver cracked his whip and bellowed, trying to stampede his pack into the kneeling mule, which, with her broad, heavy pack, made an insurmountable obstacle. Four times more he drove his mules against her, and four additional animals from his train went hurtling over the edge. Then he gave in. “all right, I’ll unpack,” he said with an oath. “I’ll go back. But when we get of this damned trail, you and me’ll settle things.”
“I’m willing,” Bill said quietly.

So the lighter packed, smaller mules were unloaded, and the second train faced about, followed by Kate and Bill. At the end of the narrow ledge Bill, who had examined his revolver and bowie knife en route and found them ready for business, announced that he was willing to settle matters in any fashion that suited his opponent. But the latter, after sizing Bill up, suggested that they submit their differences to the nearest Alcalde. Bill agreed, and they rode on, amiably conversing while their mules grazed contentedly in a mountain meadow
Alcalde John Spruce was a rather famous lawgiver in these parts. He had been for some years on the Sacramento River, where legends of his homespun and direct justice still lingered. And at present he was sinking a shaft on his claim near the Meyer’s store. The two men found the shaft after some difficulty and hallooed to the Alcalde.
“Hey, come up, yer ‘onner,” Bill yelled down the shaft. He could just make out the old man working furiously, filling a bucket attached to a windlass which his partner would presently haul to the surface and empty before letting down again.
“I hain’t got time, boys.” Said Alcalde Spruce. “Besides, there ain’t no call to do it. This yere’s just as good as any place. You lay down on yer bellies and I’ll set yere on my bucket while ye state yer case.”
“Joe!” he shouted to his partner. “Go an’ git my Bible and give these fellers the oath.”

So Liddle and the other driver “kissed the book” and lay, face downward, shouting the details of their case to “The Court.” The other man spoke first. He declared that Bill had declined to “give over,” though he (the plaintiff) was “all but a step of the way” and Bill was “jest startin’.” He asked damages of six hundred dollars- a hundred for each mule forced over the cliff and an extra hundred for the five pack saddles.

It looked like a winning argument until Bill explained the situation. The Alcalde nodded and spat. “I know that cussed road,” he said. “I know it well. I find fer the defendant and dismiss the case. You,” he pointed at the plaintiff, “lost yer mules on account of yer own pig-headedness. I fine ye the costs, which is an ounce of gold dust. Ye can weigh it out an’ leave it as ye pass by Meyer’s store.”

He rose and began to fill his bucket, while the two litigant’s proceeded to Meyer’s. There the plaintiff left an ounce of dust for the court; and the defendant, after standing the drinks, bought a bottle of Meyer’s best whiskey for the Alcalde. Then the two drivers rejoined their mules, shook hands, and went their ways

1 comment:

  1. Now, if we can just find the spot where them mules went over! I'll bet there's some real Gold Rush goodies scattered down that hillside!