HUNTING ON LAKE TULARE
Then, I gesset the time come when everone had durn near had their filla each other. Remember I tolje about thet fight Nicletto had wif Jamjob an’ Suthrun? Well that was only about the start of it. Was not long afore they seen fit t’ git all uppity with everone, includin’ me, about that ugly abolishun argument.
Now I tolje, I ain’t no one t’ see thar ain’t no good en a man no matter what color can’t be free. An’ I tolje how them fellers dint consider none of them ferriners, Injuns, an’ all, to be’s people. But dang if then they ain’t turned on me, an’ cusset me fer bein a “nigger lover” jest cause I had me some friends an’ I din’t give a cuss what color they wuz but first thet they were good an’ hones’ t’ me, an’ them were friends!
It were Jamjob, as uzhul, started it.
One day I was messin in my coyote hole on the north bank I figgered out I gots a pocket in thar, but I ain’t gonna mention it, on account, well I guess I gots the gold crazy too after all, an’ eff I mention it, then maybe the compnee will wanna run the Long Tom over thar. But I finds me a nice few nuggets I says maybe five ounces an’ I stasheted them in my dust pouch, an’ made me a mind I wuz gonna seriously start savin’. Maybe even go back east agin eff I finds me enough. So I dint mention my coyote hole pickins.
But it weren’t that. Jamjob he comes over after I’se done with my pickin’ an’ he says to me:
“Sardo Pat, you is a lame lousy sonabitch excuse fer a white man. Yer a nigger lovin’ sonofabitch, too.Ain’t jes’ about slavery you go on. You think thet Injuns an Kanakas an’ Chinks an’ Chillymen is all good enuf t’ call peoples. I say, eff they were real peoples, what irr so menny of um har in Californee, livin’ offa us onnist Mericans? Thar takin’ away are share of the profit har. Thar shippin ‘em back to Canton. Thar hidin’ up in the hills with thar axes an’ arruhs jes’ waitin fer us. Thar startin’ establishmints t’ grab the little dust we sweats are butts off fer. I say, Pat, yer no gennulman but a nigger lovin’ sucktoad hound dog, an’ I orter put yew right outta er misery now!”
Now I was keepin’ a crafty eye about him an’ I notice now he ain’t got no guns on him, so I dint worry me none eff he were about ter shoot me. Fer perteckshun, at least I had my Colt, right thar in my belt, an’ et’s out war he kin sees it.
“Jamjob, it ain’t jes’ me thinks this. MacDavish an’ Transom an’ Nicletto is all on my side in that. Yew an’ Suthrun is outvoted in the compnee on the subjeck. Eff you doesn’t like it none I surgist perhaps you moves on ter some other part of the River with Suthrun an’ make yer own mess. We don’t need this sort o’ botheration when we has a job t’ do.”
Jamjob he sez he’ll go talk to Suthrun about it, an’ I seen fit enough t’ drop the subjeck fer time bein’ with him. MacDavish come over t’ me, an’ asket me wuzzit all about.
“I tell yer what ets all about! Them Slavery Boys is fixin’ ter leave the compnee. I guess this ez jes’ the first part of it. Called me a nigger lover, he did. I told him go stick it, find some other place t’ work on the river.”
“Sharley he knows thet now the river is all worked out by Injuns an’ Chinamen too?”
“Yes, surely he does, perhaps thet’s behind it. But I don’t see what were gonna lose eff we lets ‘em leave. It’s a free country, right?”
“Aye, Pat, its a free country, but we best give our minds to keeping friends, not be a-making enemies.”
“I thinks they don’t care eff they stays friends or not. In fack, I think they had their druthers we’d be plowing up daisies behind their guns, about all they care of it. Nigger lover! Dang me if I ain’t! I’m a human and they got no right to be arguin’ over such things. Lke you said, we got a job to do. Eff they don’t like it they kin stick it!”
And when they got back down from Hangtown they had everone’s cash right pleasant to hand. Et were decidet thet the money leftover fer the common kitty et would git all us a big feest, Californee style. We decidet since Nicletto war the best cook of enny of us, he’d git the major chores. Meanwhiles, everone wrote down the things most wanted to eat an’ maybe somebody could fetch it all in Sackaminnow—another long trip, but if et were a really good feest we wuz gonner have, thet meant we had ta do thangs cirreck.
So everone rote down them thangs especial tasty they looked fer and et made a big old list thet got delivered to Transom on the cupple days before the plan. Et would be on a Sundy, that’s fer shore, cuz on Sundy everone would be tard of minin’ an’ tard of washin’ an’ tard of this an’ that, an’ all of everone ‘a best be inna mood fer a feest ennyway.
For centuries before the coming of the whites, the Sierra Nevada shed its winter waters into the numerous rivers which made of up Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Several of these rivers on the lower San Joaquin (the Kern, the Kings, and the Tule) drained into a common receptacle, the thirteen thousand, seven hundred-ninety square mile Lake Tulare. This was the second largest body of water in the United States, and the largest west of the Mississippi.
Lake Tulare was home to hundreds of species of birds, who found their way southward from the northern regions in migration, or lurked amongst the tule reeds year-round in search of tasty fish, insects, and amphibians. But by 1890, Lake Tulare had ceased to exist.
The diverted waters of the (Kings, Kern, etc) no longer reached into the broad flat marsh which was the bed of Lake Tulare. Diverted both to fuel the monitors of the hydraulic miners, or to irrigate the farms of the many who had settled in the south-central San Joaquin valley, to grow huge crops of wheat and corn and sugar beets. It was in some ways, never missed by the inhabitants, who came to see its yearly rise and fall (and consequentially, the coming and going of fertile lands) as a waste of opportunity itself. Dams on the main inputs took even more of the watershed away. Eventually there was no more input of water and the Lake became a soggy memory in the minds of old timers.
But something happened in the early mid-20th century. Lake Tulare, or the land which it had once occupied, resurged in the winter of 1938. For the better part of the year the lake reappeared, flooding countless farms ruining the crops which had planted n the “reclaimed” land, and creating what was termed “an agricultural disaster of epic proportion.”
The myriad species of birds which had long migrated to Lake Tulare and the South-central San Joaquin valley now took refuge where they could in the only place which could now welcome them— the bay of San Francisco and its tidal marshes. Even these were well-threatened however by the middle of the 20th century, many were diked off and converted to suburban tract-lands, and it came to pass that the only thing that actually prevented more of this was the action of a number of concerned local residents, who decided growth was growth enough. The homes built on bay fill were actually seriously vulnerable to subduction in large earthquakes— a better case for not “building one’s castle on sand” could hardly be more aptly illustrated.
In Sardo Pat’s time, however, Lake Tulare was still relatively virgin and unexploited and still full and receiving its full complement of mountain waters. It became, for a number of decades, something of a sportsman’s playground, and notables such as Leland Stanford and James Fremont would take their fill of goose, duck, and widgeon there.
A little more might be said then for the wildlife that abounded yet in the woods and meadows of California’s gold-laden Sierra foothills. There were shrews and bats and rabbits and beavers. Local antelope and deer as well as grizzly bear, badger, fisher and California red fox. There were wolves, bears, opossums, raccoons, skunks, pumas, and mink. Bighorn sheep, mule deer, tule elk, and wild boar. Voles, pica, squirrels, chipmunks, and seventeen varieties of rat and mouse.
Anything which could be caught and cooked, of course, was fair game for food for the hungry and half-starved and ravenous miners working the western rivers.
MacDavish an’ Transom hed about enuf of layin’ around the camp as it come time to be Thanksgivin’... So they organize a little trip fer us. Them two Southern boys stayed thar back en Judas Gulch. Reckon they’d rather eat skwirl or quayle or sumpin’ than be any kinder help t’ us righteous an’ onnist Union mens.
Nicletto an m’self came along, each of us armed with five pounds of buckshot, fishing line an’ rods, an’ a net er two. While MacDavish an’ Transom focused on shootin’ down the tastiest goose an’ ducks, Nicletto he wrangled fer fish, an’ I done the same fer turtles. I cetched us about four o’ these critters, figgerin’ one fer each of us wuz durn good enuf, an’ Nicletto caught hisself a rack of fish, which we set out to cleanin’ an parshully smokin’ afore we headed back up t’ Judas Gulch.
MacDavish an’ Transom musta shot over twenny of them birds, but, seein’ as nobody had a retriever dog (an’ Cakey Kowakowa hed taken his dog off t’ Sackaminnow an’ sold it, the week he left town) thar were no way all them birds would get put inta the oven on our return.
I looked out over the big lake with some surprise, the first time I seened it. We come down from the north, an’ the sunlight on the lake in the middle o’ the day were sparkly an’ speshul indeed. Sometimes, I thought, when thar weren’t no gun goin’ off, er nothin’, that we wuz highly gifted with this oppertunity t’ see this great sight. But we wuz hongry, an’ that thought flashed past purty quick jes’ as soon as it come up.
On the ride back t’ Judas Gulch Nicletto tole me jes’ how “wonnerful” it were gonna be t’ cook all them turtles inta terripan soup.
“I looks forward to it, Salpietro! What are ya gonna put inta it?”
“I wuzza thinkin I put some-a onions, potatoes, some-a leeks, an’-a that sorta thing, Pat.”
“You fellers be sure an’ save some of this good old goose graise when we baikes these fine burds,” MacDavish says, from the buggy’s front seat.
He’s drivin the team and Transome rides shotgun with him as me an Nicletto rides on the seat boards, an’ a huge pile of game piled up tween the two of us about as tall as us both. Thar wuz enuf geese an’ ducks an all ta make severl Thanksgiving suppers, an’ MacDavish sed he wuz gonna store most of em in the snow if he could. He bilt him a little cold frame so thar wuz no way no coyotes could git inside o’ it, a’ now with all this haul, he wuz gonna put it t’ good use.
So we decidet t’ have are Thanksgivin feest jes’ in time when we got back. Most o’ the burds, they got stowed away jes like MacDavish sed he wuz gonna, but we hed three o’ them big honkers trussed up an’ a coarse we panned a lotta goose grease offa each one as et suckulently baked away in are ovens. When all three wuz done, we gathered together at the table thet was at Nicletto’s an’ sed Grace.
Nicletto had stewed up all them turtles right fine en a huge kettle, an’ wut we could not eat, he stored it out in the outdoors with a big rock on the lid. Them fish continyude ‘smoke hanging on the rack above his farplace an’ he moved em later outdoors war he bilt another far an’ let it go fer a cuppla days. We ate fish then after thet were done fer about another weak.
But back t’ Thanksgivin’. When we said Grace it were t’ be thankful fer are comin’ t’ Californee alive, an’ thankin’ thet none of us hed ended up dead dornale like Piney done, an’ thet the rest of us wuz keepin good compnee, an’ not like Suthrun an’ Jamjob, hightailin’ it away once the goin’ got ruff. I sed I wuz thankful fer my meetin’ Miss Esmeralda, an’ that I were prepared fer any eventchooality ennyhow, wether er not our compnee survived it all another year er not. I were pleased quite to have made all the pile I had, which if it were not a lot, were still more then I wooda made eff I staied back in frickin’ New York. What a lifetime away all thet wuz fer me now— My Poppa, my Momma, kid brother, and all else, they wuz all friendly faces maybe come t’ me agin in dreams, but I were never t’ see a one of em agin, I wuz afeared.