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Bunch Grass A Chronicle of Life on a Cattle Ranch   By: (1861-1955)

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The author of Bunch Grass ventures to hope that this book will not be altogether regarded as mere flotsam and jetsam of English and American magazines. The stories, it will be found, have a certain continuity, and may challenge interest as apart from incident because an attempt has been made to reproduce atmosphere, the atmosphere of a country that has changed almost beyond recognition in three decades. The author went to a wild California cow country just thirty years ago, and remained there seventeen years, during which period the land from such pastoral uses as cattle and sheep raising became subdivided into innumerable small holdings. He beheld a new country in the making, and the passing of the pioneer who settled vital differences with a pistol. During those years some noted outlaws ranged at large in the county here spoken of as San Lorenzo. The Dalton gang of train robbers lived and died (some with their boots on) not far from the village entitled Paradise. Stage coaches were robbed frequently. Every large rancher suffered much at the hands of cattle and horse thieves. The writer has talked to Frank James, the most famous of Western desperados; he has enjoyed the acquaintance of Judge Lynch, who hanged two men from a bridge within half a mile of the ranch house; he remembers the Chinese Riots; he has witnessed many a fight between the hungry squatter and the old settler with no title to the leagues over which his herds roamed, and so, in a modest way, he may claim to be a historian, not forgetting that the original signification of the word was a narrator of fables founded upon facts.

Apologies are tendered for the dialect to be found in these pages. There is no Californian dialect. At the time of the discovery of gold, the state was flooded with men from all parts of the world, and dialects became inextricably mixed. Not even Bret Harte was able to reproduce the talk of children whose fathers may have come from Kentucky or Massachusetts, and their mothers from Louisiana.

Re reading these chapters, with a more or less critical detachment, and leaving them good, bad and indifferent as they were originally printed, one is forced to the conclusion that sentiment which would seem to arouse what is most hostile in the cultivated dweller in cities is an all pervading essence in primitive communities, colouring and discolouring every phase of life and thought. One instance among a thousand will suffice. Stage coaches, in the writer's county, used to be held up, single handed, by a highwayman, known as Black Bart. All the foothill folk pleaded in extenuation of the robber that he wrote a copy of verses, embalming his adventure, which he used to pin to the nearest tree. Black Bart would have been shot on sight had he presented his doggerel to any self respecting Western editor; nevertheless the sentiment that inspired a bandit to set forth his misdeeds in execrable rhyme transformed him from a criminal into a popular hero! The virtues that counted in the foothills during the eighties were generosity, courage, and that amazing power of recuperation which enables a man to begin life again and again, undaunted by the bludgeonings of misfortune. Some of the stories in this volume are obviously the work of an apprentice, but they have been included because, however faulty in technique, they do serve to illustrate a past that can never come back, and men and women who were outwardly crude and illiterate but at core kind and chivalrous, and nearly always humorously unconventional. The bunch grass, so beloved by the patriarchal pioneers, has been ploughed up and destroyed; the unwritten law of Judge Lynch will soon become an oral tradition; but the Land of Yesterday blooms afresh as the Golden State of To day and Tomorrow... Continue reading book >>

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