Mark Twain’s Letter

Mark Twain

San Francisco Daily Call/August 30, 1863

Steamboat Springs Hotel, August 20, 1863

“Mark” Gets Invalided and Goes to Tahoe

EDITORS MORNING CALL: – Some things are inevitable. If you tell a girl she is pretty, she will “let on” that she is offended; if seventeen men travel by stagecoach, they will grumble because they cannot all have outside seats; if you leave your room vacant all the forenoon to give the chambermaid a chance to put it in order, you will find that urbane but inflexible officer ready to begin her labors there at the exact moment of your return. These are patent – but I am able to add another to the list of inevitable things: if you get a week’s leave of absence for a visit to Lake Bigler, or to Steamboat Springs, you will transcend the limits of your furlough. I speak from personal knowledge. I carried over to the lake a heavy cold, and acted so imprudently during a week, that it constantly grew heavier and heavier – until at last it came near outweighing me. Lake Bigler is a paradise to a healthy person, but there is too much sailing, and fishing, and other dissipation of a similar nature going on there to allow a man with a cold time to nurse it properly.

From Thence to Steamboat Springs

I was exceedingly sorry to leave the place, but I knew if I staid there, and nothing interfered with my luck, I should die before my time – wherefore I journeyed back over the mountains last Monday, and have since been an interesting invalid at Steamboat Springs. These are boiling hot, and emit steam enough to run all the mills in the Territory. Learned men say the water is heated by a combination of combustible chemicals – the unlearned say it is done by a combination of combustible devils. However, like Governor Roop, I consider that it is no business of mine to inquire into the means which the Creator has seen fit to make use of in the consummation of his will regarding this or any other portion of his handiwork.

A Rich Decision

And possibly it may be interesting to you to know how Governor Roop came to deliver himself of that burst of inspiration. Two years ago, during the season of avalanches, Tom Rust’s ranch slid down from the mountain side and pretty nearly covered up a ranch belonging to Dick Sides. Some of the boys in Carson thought the circumstance offered a fair opportunity for playing a hoax on our former simple-minded Attorney-General, old Mr. Bunker, and they got Sides to employ him to bring suit in a Referee’s Court for the recovery of his ranch; which Mr. S. did, alleging that Rust now claimed the surface of the ground as his own, although he freely 1 admitted that the ranch underneath it belonged to Sides, who, it grieved him to reflect, would probably never see his property again. Mr. Bunker was naturally stunned at so preposterous a proposition, and bade his client be of good cheer, and count without fear upon the restoration of his rights.

The Courtroom was crowded; Roop, as Judge Referee, presided with a grave dignity in keeping with his lofty position; the Sheriff guarded the sacred precincts of the Court from disturbance and indecorum with exaggerated vigilance. The witnesses were examined, and all the evidence of any value went in favor of General Bunker’s client. The General appeared, with eleven solemn law-books under his arm, and with the light of triumph beaming in his eye, and made a ponderous speech of two hours in length. The opposing counsel replied feebly, by design, and the case went to the judge. All who heard Judge Roop’s inspired decision, and noted the holy serenity of his countenance when he gave it, will cherish the memory of it while they continue to live in a world where meteors of joy flash only at intervals athwart a sky darkened with clouds of sorrow always.

He said: “Gentlemen, I have listened with profound interest to the arguments of counsel in this important case, and while I admit that the reasoning of the distinguished gentleman who appeared for the plaintiff was almost resistless, and that all the law and evidence adduced are in favor of his client, yet considerations of a far more sacred and exalted nature than these compel me to decide for the defendant, and to decree that the property remain in his possession. The Almighty created the earth and all that is in it, and who shall presume to dictate to Him the disposition of His handiwork? If He saw that defendant’s ranch was too high up the hill, and chose, in His infinite wisdom, to move it down to a more eligible location, albeit to the detriment of the plaintiff and his ranch, it is meet that we bow in humble submission to His will, without inquiring into His motives or questioning His authority. My verdict, therefore, is, gentlemen, that the plaintiff, Sides, has lost his ranch by the dispensation of God!”

The monstrous verdict paralyzed Mr. Bunker where he stood. The crowd of spectators, defying the Sheriffs, shook the house with laughter. But after the Court adjourned, poor Bunker, oblivious of the joke, hunted up Governor Roop, and asked to appeal the case. The great judge frowned upon him, with severe dignity, for a moment, and then replied solemnly, that there was no appeal from the decision of the Lord! Cursing Roop’s imbecility, the General told me afterwards that the only recourse ever offered his client was the privilege, if the defendant would give his consent, of either removing Rust’s ranch, or digging his own out from under it! That hoax finally drove Mr. Bunker back to New Hampshire, and lost to us the densest intellect the President ever conferred upon the Territory.

The Hotel and Its Occupants

But I digress. Being in the vicinity of Dick Sides’ ranch overcame me with the memories of other days. As I was saying, these Springs are situated in Steamboat Valley, something over twenty miles from Carson, and about half that distance from Gold Hill and Virginia, and are visited daily by stage-coaches from those places. There is a hospital, kept by Dr. Ellis, the proprietor of the Springs, which is neat, roomy and well-ventilated. The Steamboat Springs Hotel, kept by Mr. Stowe and Mr. Holmes, formerly of Sacramento, is capable of accommodating a great many guests, and has constantly a large number within its walls; the table is not as good as that at the Occidental, but the sleeping apartments are unexceptionable. In the 2 bath houses near the hospital, twelve persons may bathe at once, or four times that number if they be individuals who like company.

There are about thirty-five patients, suffering under all kinds and degrees of affliction, in the hospital at present; there are also several at the hotel. Some walk with canes, some with crutches, some limp about without artificial assistance, and some do not pretend to walk at all, and look dejected and baggy; they mope about languidly and slowly; there is no eagerness in their eyes, and in their faces only sad indifference; the features of some are marred by old sores, and – but if it is all the same to you, I will speak of pleasanter things.

The steam baths here restore to health, or at least afford relief, to all classes of patients but consumptives. These must seek assistance elsewhere. Erysipelas, rheumatism, and most other human distempers, have been successfully treated here for three years. Scarcely a case has been lost; the majority are sent home entirely cured, and none go away without having derived some benefit.

The Effect of a Bath

The boiling, steaming Springs send their jets of white vapor up out of fissures in the earth, extending in an irregular semi-circle for more than a mile; the water has a sulphurous smell, and a crust, composed of sulphur and other villainous drugs, is deposited by it in the beds of the little streams that flow from the Springs. The Indians (who don’t mind an offensive smell, you know,) boil their meat, when they have any, poor devils! in this sickening water. When you are shut up in the little dark bath rooms, with a dense cloud of scalding rising up around you and compelling you to schottisch whether you want to or not, you are obliged to keep your mouth open or smother, and this enables you to taste copper, and sulphur, and ipecac, and turpentine, and blood, hair and corruption – not to mention the multitude of other ghastly tastes in the steam which you cannot recollect the names of. And when you come out, and before you get to the cold shower-bath, you notice that you smell like a buzzard’s breath, and are disgusted with your own company; but after your clothes are on again, you feel as brisk and vigorous as an acrobat and your disrespect for the fragrant bath lingers with you no longer.

Has a Quarrel with “John Halifax”

Hark! methinks that sound – ah, no, it cannot be – and yet, it is! it is! Now, all those exclamations are original with me, but they were superinduced by reading that high-flown batch of contradictions and inconsistencies, “John Halifax, Gentleman.” The “sound” referred to was simply a call to our regular “hash,” and I only wanted to see how such silly language would fit so sensible a subject, under the circumstances; though, I cannot stop now to discuss it.