Judas Gulch, that’s the name of my town. Course I can’t tell you its really my town, only is, that’s where I been living these last fifteen-sixteen years or so, most of the time. It’s one of them places only got up on its hind feet and going once the Niner miners started comin’. Like some of them I was here, if not first, I’se one of the first and lucky ones.
It sets on the junction of the Consumness River and Big Injun Crick like a little bunch of prairie dog burras. Back when it started up, was not much more than a few little cabins, and then a few Forty Niners came up and started millin’ the waters. Evenchally they needed a laundry and a saloon, cause nobody wanted to hafta ride all the way to Hangtown jes to git a collar pressed. When I came it was about twenty houses with the saloon and jail and no post office (yet). But it did have the store, and that war a good thing itself.
The main street was muddy and warn’t no side walks, ‘cept for some two by fours that the saloon owner Ollarud set down. Warn’t no women, ‘cept the First Hore, Millie—that’ be Millicent Vermouth Tabener, to you. Millie Vermouth was a crack shot for a girl. She could take down the wash off Old Swede Hensen’s line with her one hand tied behind the back, draw a bead on a clothes-pin and shoot off his trousers from the line in a eye blink. I knows because I seed it, twice. Guess old Hensen wasn’t too good on keepin’ up his payments to her— Millie didn’t allow for no credit after her first year in town.
The Saloon, which Ollarud called the Pewter Eye, was a two story affair. Downstairs is where we all came for our water, whisky, and wine, and sometimes if we was lucky Ollarud would have some steamed beer sent up the rivers from Frisco. Boy howdy you shoulda seen the place when the steamed beer was in! Cats lined up down the block for a chance to have a glass of that stuff. Rumor was, Ollarud had big stocks of it stashed underneath the saloon for “speshul occasions” but those were rare, and few, and maybe I’ll tell ya about one or two by the time I gets done.
Them little cabins mainly belonged to some of the other guys what worked the River claims with me. There were Cakey, Jamjob, and Suthrun, and there were MacDavish, Transom, and Nicletto. Nicletto were an Eyetalian and he made some good grub for us when it were winter and nobody had nothin much but a big side of sowbelly we carved bacon offa and coffee we biled in little pots, to each his own. Them was my compnee. I had me a claim of my own— hell we all had one, but we made our compnee up cause after some while minin’ placer alone, a man gets rather worn of one spot, and six men runnin their dirt through a sluice, hell that’s more ‘speedient than one man tryna build his own sluicebox. Everone had his own lil section and it had a sluice screen and all so nobody lost out— whatever come out in dust at the end, why we poured into the compnee kitty. It were a good way t’ make money, and cause we all shared that, weren’t nobody felt too left out.
Anyhow. I was tellin you about their cabins! This was afore most of the tenderfoot crop came through, this woulda been like Fifty to FiftyTwo, when there was still fish in the river and a man could et them If he wanted to too. Cakey, he was the best fisher of us. There were days when Cakey caught enough fish that we could all eat, and then some! What he couldn’t eat, he gived to his dog, Scratch. Scratch were a big yeller feller, all too friendly, if you was a friend of Cakey, and none too much if you weren’t.
Nicletto he had maybe the best lil’ cabin, but that was cause he thunk to bring his pots an pans with him. Half the others had nothin, some of them cooked in their sluice pans, but hell, once a sluice pan been used for fryin fish then all gets gummed up on the sides with awl and grase and ain’t fair good for much.. they learned. Nicletto he had it down though, had all his own pots and pans, and sepert from his mindin’ gear. He had a little frilly brocade thing he hung on his winder to make like a shade, an’ everyone said “Dang that is down right purty, Nicletto!”
He would smile with pride, and then he would invite you in to set a spell, at his little card table what had an awl lamp burnin whale awl all day and night and he had him some books too. I never seen much use in books, m’self, an’ I told him so, but he just laffed at me.
That was Nicletto’s place tho. Transom, he had himself a little bed had a b’arskin rug, gotten when he kilt a grizzly b’ar and skint it alived, he said, anyhow, and I never had no real reason to doubt it. His bed was tucked back in a corner, underneath a shelf had hung all his minin’ gear, like picks, shovels, pans, and then there were his hat, his bandanner, an’ his dungaree jeans. I never took up dungaree jeans, but everone else said they was sure the thing. Me I still wears my woolen cuffed trousers, cause they looks better with my fancy jacket when I goes down to Frisco.
There was MacDavish— his cabin had a farplace, and he done most of his cookin’ there. Get him a deer or a big old hog or a side of cow, why he would run a big old spike through it and set it on a rack, an’ turn it once in a while till it were good an’ toasted. Might take him half a day or more, but when it was done an’ if he shared it out, you was happy he had.
If anything, food supplies in the mining country were hard to come by, dear to the price, and in many cases, superfluous to the way of life many men took up. Hunting and fishing accounted for a great part of their fare, and minimal stocks of flour, lard, grits, and molasses were the most often procured. Those who were in, or came from, or went into the grocery field did land-office business bringing expensive and overpriced items such as eggs, oysters, tobacco, pork bellies, and steaks to the miners. Often as not a miner would eat in a bar or catch a meal and fry it up in a skillet wherever he was. The Brannans and Sutters and others who made their fortunes in the gold fields did not do so by the sweat of their brows, but by their own abilities to arrange transport and profit off wholesale purchase of commodities. Food was often something on the minds of the miners— and variety was often sought after, but rarely found.
Jamjob came along and took it over oncet they had built their own cabin and Jamjob, he keeps it mighty neat he does. Some of us wonders war he keeps his gear and duds, but I thinks he jest happened to luck out on some farniture and hides everything real good inside o’ them cabinets.
Cakey, he ain’t got much, not even a cabin, even if he been up here mostest of us. All he got is a little she-bang made of tent and some madrone branches. But he says it do him just fine, even in the rain. When the rain and the now come, why, all he do is rough it up some more with more madrone branches outside but these he leaves all the leaves on, see, and piles them all around the place. He ain’t got no cabinets or stove, so I guess that’s why we often finds him askin one of us if he can cook his grub on our fires— but only in the winter.
Most of the year, the golden hills of California’s Sierra foothills burn with the warm sun— spring, summer, and fall. For a few bright weeks immediately after the first rains come, bright green shards of new wild grasses poke up through the humus and tumulus, granting food to the foraging beasts and the cattle, sheep, and horses that the valley ranchers see fit to turn loose under a trusting sky. Then winter falls, and it falls usually with a few sudden, sodden downpours.
Out from the north come the strong arctic-borne winds, and with them, the first rains, ice and sleety hail and snow fall in the mountain passes, blocking all travel east or west for weeks on end. Snow falls in great clumps and drifts well over a man’s head in placs, and in the high regions, it remains most of the year, gradually giving way to melt once the planet’s axis has providentially turned once more at the equinox. For those months of November through March, however, the snow of the hills translates into rain over the valley and coastsides— rain if not to rival that of Oregon to the north, then certainly to laugh at the lack of it shown to the southern half of the state.
Under these rains, the streets of towns like Judas Gulch turn to mud, churned well by the hooves of horses, the wheels of stages, and the boots of men who crawl out from their shanties looking for companionship, of whatever human form so long as it be friendly. Men like Ole Ollarud and Ling Lu the laundryman take days like this in stride, for not soon after, they know they’ll get their fill of men seeking a hot coffee or a cold whiskey, a clean set of ducks or a mud-free slicker.
Mud and dirt come as no strangers to the men of Amador county, the Mother Lode itself one long stream wallow of mine tailings, gravel, mud, slime, brackish sloughs, and twice-combed ore. The Cosumnes travels its way to the brackens and mystically dissolves itself into the Mokelumne, and the Mokelumne into the San Joaquin near the Sacramento delta,where mystically it too vanishes into marshes and tule fields. The Sacramento, river of life, brings news and supplies up from the harbor port of San Francisco, and distributes them like cells in capillaries into the many towns that are the miner’s sole connections to whatever they had left behind. The San Joaquin, however, not being much fo navigation, acts as a huge drain for the miners and their dross—including a fair amount of toxins, which will one day work themselves into the groundwater in places, and coagulate in the sediments of the Carquinez Straits and San Francisco Bay.
That was what I had to say fer our compnee. Now for the rest of the town.
Teasewater’s generl store, now thet’s been here bout as long as Ollarud’s Pewter Eye. If you want to fine a good way to get a fight started, you just asks the two of them which one got here first, and each will say, “Why sir, I did!”
Teasewater, he’s a nester outa Boston, like so many of us, and maybe I guess so many of the ones comes after me. I might be “a Boston” but then agin I likes to say I’m a New Yorker, there’s a difference, but ain’t so much as peoples pay much attention from that. Teasewater and his little wife—Meana, thas’ what she’s called too, and she likes to joke on you “Thar ain’t nobody Meana!”— they come up here in summer of 48, and decidet that weren’t no better way to bring in the gold, than to sell whatever they could to the miner. That were right smart of them but, still Mr. Teasewater he’s got to head to Stockton to resupply those things. Sometimes (and maybe like once a month, if they are lucky?) the resupplies come to them, on top of a stage, or in a wagon cart. Things like duds, and canned oysters, them is in high demand, and they try and keep them in stock, but ain’t no better than this than a miner has to head to Stockton or Sackaminnow hisself if he wants anything. Prices is cheaper anyhow in Stockton, cause old Brannan has the fort in Sackaminnow purty well cornered and fenced in and marketed, he does. I was lucky I got my pick and shovel in Stockton not Frisco nor Sackaminnow, because Cakey he dun give me the good advice on prices.
All the same I still thinks old Teasewater and Meana is fine peoples, for nesters. That store there is prolly the best sized building on Main Street.
But there store, that’s one thing. What’s more remarkable is the house that Teasewater built. It got built by Chinee an Injuns, so Teasewater did not have to pay them white man wages, and it sorta looks it, too, cause all the had for a white man on that job was the foreman, Old Swede, before he got to be the town drunk. Old Swede probably couldn’t hang a frame plum if you set a compass on his nose, and dang if that house of Teasewater’s don’t tip northwards by about ten degrees from the rear. But if it’s allright for Teasewater and Meana, well, that’s there their problem. It’s got some kewpolas, fancy pants winders, and even a portico-minded porch, but only times I seen either of them on it is in the hottest of summer.
You can’t say much about our Post Office. Letters take a coupla months to even get back east, and maybe who knows how long to get replies. If your carrier weren’t scalpt on the way, or robbed by bandits, and if they had good horses, an’ made the stage stops reggerly, perhaps yer letter had a chance. I know Jamjob he’s had the durnedest bad luck sending his mail all the way to Carolina and back. Suthrun too, they both complains about it a lot.
But I suppose the very best of the buildings there on main street is Ollarud’s Pewter Eye. I’ll have more to say about that in a bits. Guess maybe I orter first tell you bout an insidint took place first week I got har. It were them Teasewater brats and the bizness they got up to around Kanaka Joe an’ Old Swede Hensen.
Now, Swede Hensen, of course I alreddy tolja, he war the man Teasewater contracked to bild his house. An’ Teasewater he did pay a handsome some, fer what he got, many folks said, well, that war way too much for the slipshod job. But warn’t too many other carpentirs up har jes yet, and sorta like, eff Teasewaer wanted it dun, he better take who was on hand. Which war Old Swede, and his accompanist, (in crime?) Kanaka Joe.
Kanaka Joe, he war another Sandwich Islands boy been har as long as Cakey. Like Cakey Said tho- he hadda name was so hard and long I I think the way you cirreckly spell is “Lonolupupuulimonaaeweikanimapalamanapa”. Cakey explained it means “He who fishes with a sharp shark’s tooth in troubled waters” but then agin, I don’t think too many people put a lotta stalk in what Cakey ever sez, even if Cakey offin as not is tellin’ the truth—or “the honest humbug”, like he calls it. Since everone figgers thass all too much of a mouthful, we all jes’ calls ‘im Kanaka Joe.
But ennyhow. Back when the Teasewater manshun wuz ben’ bilt an’ Kanaka Joe war the fust assisstent, he set himself up his own lil’ shack nearby war he could make a shrine to the Shark God— like Cakey sez, all good Kanakas prey to the Shark God. And he sackerfices a part of his food—whatever he’s a gonna set to et that day, to this Shark God, an’ he chants a spell so he kin have more to eat an’ sech. I’ll learn ya that in a minnit.
Them two Teasedale boys Jimmy and Pawl (Jimmy’s the elder an’ the one with the branes, and mebbe he’s the one thinks up these kinda shennanigans) iz about eleven an’ nine, respeckively. Swede he war handlin’ shingles an’ sech, an’ it war lunch time fer Kanaka Joe.
The big one, Jimmy, he sets to creepin’ around an’ lissenin’ in on Joe, and he hears the pagan chantin’ and sees the blood sackerfice an he gits skeered. He tells his brother Pawl thet thar’s something goin on thar not zackly Crischun.
“Kanaka Joe be worshipin the devil an’ idle worshippin too!” he declairs. “Pawl we gotta think up sumpin, quick!”
So they set down an’ began a figgerin’ stuff.
Now neither one of these boys will admit to it these days ,but I still thinks et were Jimmy the eldest, got this consumption in his mind, he is gonna show Kanaka Joe what the rewards fer idle worship rilly is. And so he gits a jar, like the kind thet his momma uses fer makin preserves, and he heads over to a big ol far ant pie, an he starts a scoopin up the dirt an the far ants an makes thet jar all fulla far ants. When the lunch time is over, see, Kanaka Joe goes back ta work on helpin with the shingles, and so, Jimmy an Pawl they creep ever so sneaky inta the shack an’ war the sackerfishel food is, an’ lays about thet dirt and the far ants, so thet the far ants gits the idear, and soon they is all over the food, and maybe even diggin a new nest out unner it.
When Kanaka Joe gits back, a coarse, why them far ants is everwar an iz ettin his sackerfishel food. He scoops some of it up tryin’ ta wipe em off but thar is too many far ants! They is now crawlin’ all over Kanaka Joe, an’ on his arms, an’ gittin inta his face too, an’ soon he’s yelpin’ an’ a hollerin’ thet these far ants is makin his life hell, an’ puts a Shark God curse on whoever dun did this to his Shark God Shrine.
Them two kids though, they was plenty funned by all this. They heard the hollerin an’ come a runnin, but keep theirselfs hid, a coarse, an’ had ta see how Kanaka Joe was farin with the far ants.
Lemme tell you a little sumpin bout Kanaka Joe. He warnt no stranger ta far ants. Back in the Sandwich Islands thars plenty far ants, an’ they makes there homes in hot red dirt, almos’ as red as a far ant itself. When he was a lil’ cakey (that’s the word in Kanaka fer child) he set on a far ant nest not jes once but two times, jes ta show his brothers how tough he rilly wuz. While Kanaka Joe had a hard time on this particklar day with these particklar far ants, wuz a lot less the cuss it mite have bin fer some other minders, whut never knowed a far ant, and what never had ta pass a test of braviry fer their bruthers.
Kanaka Joe sets to thinkin, who done this? Who in the worl’ might have a beef on him? Wuz it one of the Gospel Sharks that cruises the minds lookin fer minders what needs more of Jesus than Minin? Wuz it Teasewater, Who maybe be did it cuz he wuz a Chrischun an’ not so fond of annythin’ pagan? Er- wuz it... Wait a minit, sez Kanaka Joe- Meybe it war Teasewater’s little cakeys done this to him! Shorely it warn’t no mennihoonys (thet’s a Howeyean elf) an it warn’t no takkamony (thet’s a Injun elf). Yeh, he decidet, it war them Teasewater brats, alright, an’ when he catcheted them, he was gonna pound them like poy!
So, he decides wut he is a gonna do an’ gomes up with a good old plan and sleeps on it. He makes like ta pretend ain’t nothin happened et all.
The next day he gits up, goes ta work fer Old Swede, an’ when cums time fer his lunch, he takes exter speshul care ta look about him. He makes his sackerfice, and he chants this lil Kanaka chanting song:
Kepau A’u Lono, a lau kumu’ia ame pua’a
Hekau ko’u pahi a’me ihe ololu amake nui mea’a’i
Hekau A’u kipona makau nau ko’u hoa kaua
A’me kaunu nau ko’u hoa pili...
[Lead me Lono, to many sharks and many pigs,
make my knives and spears kill much food
Make me feared by my enemies
and loved by my friends.]
Now I gesset you already gesseted this but a coarse them two Teasewater boys wuz hidden in the bushes agin, watchin’ an’ a hopin’ thet Kanaka Joe mighta been all skeered outta shape an’ maybe he’ll give up his witchcraft sumtime soon.
Only thet were not about ta happen, as you will soon see.
Late in the day the day before, Kanaka Joe went a creepin around the Teasewater place tryin ta find the far ant nest. When he found it, he did a real sneaky thing, Only it were as sneaky as wut them boys did ta him. He got hisself a jar like they dun and he filled it up with far ants— so many far ants, in fact, they way out numbered the dirt in the jar, this time.
And he goes an does his sacekrfice to the Shark God, an’ he knows, see, them two boys is sumplace closeby. He hears a russlin’ in the bushes an’ he knows it’s them. So he pops his head out, and he takes thet jar, and sprinkles far ants all over them boys! Yep yessir- both of em!
Lord alive you never heered sech screechin’ an’ hollerin, cuz little boys screeches and hollers lots louder than growned mens, and they commence ta run off — direckly to thar Mom and Pop!
Now, see, Mr and Missus Teasewater, bein’ polite an’ civil type of Bostons, they don’t cotton to much nonsense outta there boys, no sir, they don’t. So when they come inta the kichun all yellin screamin’ an hollerin’, do you think they git much simpathy from ol Meana Teasewater! No sir!
But she sets down and lissens, once they is all finished with the skwallerin’.
“An thet Sandwich Island man, Kanaka Joe— he did this ta us! He pored the far ants outta us! He’s pracksing witchcraft in thet lil shack et lunchtimes, Ma!”
“Now lemme git this straight!” sez mean ole Meana Teasewater.
“You boys gotcherselves inta some troubles, on account a Kanaka Joe? Why, he might be a pagan, boys, but he’s a bildin’ us this fine house we’re all goin’ ta be livin’ in, an’ as sech wut he deserves is yer respeck, not your deeveeayshuns!”
“But we wuz not bein deveeayshuns! We wuz jes watchin in on him.”
Meana Teasewater tho new her two boys a bit better than thet tho. She hed heard this kinds lies outta Jimmy before, an’ so much sass. She had a speshul bar of sope jes fer Jimmy, who liked to talk tuff and uncivil a lot anyways.
She sez, “I’m a gonna go have a talk with that savage Sandwich Islands man, and git ta the bottom of this. Now you boys ain’t gonna git no supper til I do, ya hear”
And thet makes them cringe and cry , cuz they is two growin’ boys an settin’ them fer the day with no supper wuz gonna be hard and mean. Wuz not but fer this sorter justice she wuz called Meana. But I is digressin.
Miz Teasewater knocked at the winder (wuz no winder, wuz rilly more like a hole) of Kanaka Joe’s shack.
“I hear there’s some trubble with muh boys, Kanaka Joe... You wanna tell me wut this all here is?”
“Ah, yes, Miz Teasewater. Dem boys of yours make big wreck of my Shark God shrine. Cover all sackerfishel food with dirt, and far ants too! I come in an’ try make all shrine clean and new, an’ far ants is everwhere. I could not think who might done this but not you, an’ not Mister Teasewater, You fine kind wahine, he good strong hones’ kane. Even if you Crischuns you respeck my right to have shrine, I thank you for dat. And so I find boys and give taste own medicine. Shake far ants all ova dem. Dem all holla “murder, Momma!” cuz I know all dey knew about dem. Dass all what happen’. I tell honest humbug.”
“Sounds like you have done thet, true, Kanaka Joe. I knows what a lar and sneak an’ trubbelmaker my Jimmy kin be. And so I am gonna say thank ya fer helpin. In yer own way. Because theMister and me we gots enough trubbels har in Judas Gulch tryin ta git stablished and all. I’ll git them boys some proper dissaplin, you don’t worry no more.”
“Dats fine and da kine good, Missus Teasewater. I like work for you and Mista an Old Swede. Makes less trouble than hafta work on river! Bless you.”
An’ Kanaka Joe took a shark tooth offa his necklace and give it ta Miz Teasewater an’ thet war the start of a fine friendship rat thar.