James Richmond's
California Story

Entertainment California Style

Morning came again and morning light found me again on the trail. I had just cut a fresh stick of spice bark and was about to start chewing on it when I smelled something in the air. The breeze was coming fro the west. It was a good hard wind and certainly brought me good tidings, as a war horse smells a battle, I scented baked beans and bacon. No perfume was ever so delicious. I was just five miles away when I first smelled the. The smell of those beans fed me as I went along over the last slope, there in the valley was a sight that made my heart rejoice. A row of ten or twelve iron kettles set in a big stove arch, a good fire under the cooking bacon and beans. The aroma had been raising up the Sierras for miles.

There were about one hundred and forty men just gathering for their noon day meal. They stared at me as I threw my luggage on the ground, grabbed a tin plate holding six quarts. I went to the kettle and filled the pan. A loaf of bread and a big cucumber pickle finished the menu. No one spoke a word until I was nearly finished and the boss said, "My friend, I would let up on that pan of beans if I were you. Beans may be beans where you come from but if you keep on Iím afraid we will have to quit grading and plant you." I told him I intended to leave the pan. I laid down and went to sleep.

The next day when I woke they told me they had covered me with my blankets and I had slept undisturbed. It may have been that spice bark had prepared my stomach but I had no serious ill effects. The boss asked me to stay in camp for a few days to rest up. I was quit lame.

I stayed three days and was most kindly entertained in true California style. Whatís California style? Welcome, food, shelter and the best entertainment the camp could afford. How did I pass the time? Sleeping, resting, watching the men at their work and at their play after their work was done.

They were a rough set. After their work was done they did not care much for games that called for exercise of limb and muscle. Most of them gambled. Those that did not play bet on those that did. Some lost as much as five or twenty five dollars. I always noticed that for every one winning there was one losing. I did not join in as I did not care to take anyoneís money or lose my own. Those who didnít play for money, played for beans at poker freeze out. Poker was an exciting game with them and fun to watch them play.

There I saw a louse fight for the first time. The boys laughed and said they had heard of people who had no more spunk than a louse but never heard of a louse with spunk enough to fight. Their father said " Had you been in California in the days of which I speak, you would know more of the habits of that interesting little insect." They were in those days our bosom companions. We. could not buy even new clothes from the store but they already had possession of them. They showed their likes and dislikes very plainly. Some people suited their taste better than others. I once bunked with a comrade who declared that they nearly ate him alive while I scarcely had one on me! He said he would like to send his to me to pasture as my flesh seemed to be poison to them. The surest death to them that I knew was an ant hill. In the morning I threw my blankets over an ant hill and by night my blankets were swept clean, not a louse to be seen. It was amusing to see the ants go for them. The brave little workers would tackle them and drag them into holes without ceremony.

But I was to tell you of the louse fight. Just imagine a hundred men watching a louse fight. Some betting as much as twenty five and fifty dollars a head. Two fellows would get into a bantering dispute about their livestock as they called them. They bet as to who had the smartest louse, with the most grit. They got a new tin plate and each produced a louse to put on the plate. Usually a gray back, the other a lined back. How the little beasts would fight. Each man must watch his own louse. They never let up but would fight until one was killed. That decided the winner of the battle. It was more amusing to watch grown men get so excited over such insignificant foes than to watch the battle itself. It was amusing but not very elevating, but remember the men were far from any civilization. Books, paper and the like were very scarce so they made the most of what they had plenty of.