Luck of Roaring Camp
PART I of IV
There seemed to be considerable excitement in Roaring Camp. It could not have been a fight, for in the year 1850 a fight was not important enough to bring together everyone in town. Not only were the claims and places of wok where the men dug for gold deserted, but even "Tuttle's Grocery" was empty of its usual gamblers, who, it will be remembered, calmly continued their game they day that French Pete and Kanaka Joe shot each other to death in the front room. The whole company was gathered before a rough cabin ion the edge of the camp. Conversation was carried on in low voices, but the name of a woman was often mentioned. It was a name familiar enough in the camp--"Cherokee Sal."
Perhaps the less said of her the better. She was a rough and, it is feared, a bad woman. But at this time she was the only woman in Roaring Camp, and she was sadly in need of help--particularly the help of another woman. she was suffering pains which are hard enough to bear under the best circumstances. Alone as she was, however, her situation was even more difficult. The men who had gathered at the cabin showed considerable interest in what was going on, but little sympathy for her. Yet a few of those who watched were, I think, touched by her suffering. Sandy Tipton thought it was "rough on Sal" and, in thinking of her condition, forgot for a moment the fact that he had left the card game with two winning cards hidden up his sleeve.
It will be see, also, that the situation was most unusual. Deaths were nothing to get excited about in Roaring Camp, but the birth of a child was a new thing. People had left the camp in various ways, some being forced to go at the point of a gun, but this was the first time that anyone had arrived in this particular manner. So this was the reason for all of the excitement.
"you go in here, Stumpy," said one of the more important men of the camp, who was known as "Kentuck." He was speaking to one of those who waited outside. "Go in there and see what you can do."
The man to whom he spoke was perhaps the fight one to choose for the particular work to be done. Stumpy was supposed to have been, at some time in the past, the head of a family, and should therefore know something about the bearing of children. The crowd seemed to agree that he was the right man for the situation, and Stumpy simply bowed to the wish of the majority. The door closed on him as he entered the cabin, taking the part of a would-be doctor, to help the suffering Sal. Roaring camp, meanwhile, sat outside, smoked its pipe, and waited for the result.
The whole group numbered about a hundred men. One or two had escaped from prisons, many were criminals of various kinds, and all were reckless. Yet physically, they showed few sings of their past lives or of their characters. The worst criminal of the group had a sweet face and a great deal of yellow hair. Oakhurst, a gambler, had the sad air and intelligent expression of a Hamlet of the theater. The man of the greatest courage and daring among them was hardly over five feet tall with a soft voice and a shy manner. The term "roughs," which might best describe them, was something they were proud of. Many among them had lost fingers, ears, and a hand or an arm. The strongest man in the camp had but three fingers on his right hand; the best shot had but one eyes.
Such was the physical appearance of the men who were spread out around the cabin. The camp itself lay in a valley, near which flowed a river. The only means of leaving this valley was by a narrow trail over the top of a hill which faced the cabin and on which the moon now shone. The suffering woman might have seen this trail from the rough bed on which she lay--seen it winding like a river cord until it was lost in the star above.
A fire of dry pine branches made the gathering seem more friendly. Little by little the lighter spirits which were more natural to the men of Roaring Camp returned. Bets were freely offered and accepted concerning the result: Three to five that "Sal would live through it"; even money that the child would live, side bets as to whether it would be a boy or a girl, what color hair it would have, etc. In the middle of this excited conversation, those near the door suddenly became silent and the camp stopped to listen.
Above the moaning of the trees, the rush of the river, and the crack of the pine branches burning in the fire, rose a sharp, rather sad cry--a cry not like anything ever heard before in the camp. the trees stopped moaning, the river no longer rushed, the fire became quiet. It seemed as if nature too had stopped to listen.
The camp rose to its feet as one man. It was suggested that a barrel of gunpowder be set off, but remembering the condition of the mother, the men decided against such a course, and only a few guns were shot off into the air. Whether it was because she needed the care of a doctor, or for some other reason, Cherokee Sal was sinking fast. Within an hour, as it were, she had died and climbed that rough trail that led to the stars, and so passed out of the life of Roaring Camp completely.