Bunch Grass: A Chronicle of Life on a Cattle Ranch

       Horace Annesley Vachell / Western
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Bunch Grass: A Chronicle of Life on a Cattle Ranch
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The author of _Bunch Grass_ ventures to hope that this book willnot be altogether regarded as mere flotsam and jetsam of English andAmerican magazines. The stories, it will be found, have a certaincontinuity, and may challenge interest as apart from incident becausean attempt has been made to reproduce atmosphere, the atmosphere of acountry that has changed almost beyond recognition in three decades.The author went to a wild California cow-country just thirty yearsago, and remained there seventeen years, during which period the landfrom such pastoral uses as cattle and sheep-raising became subdividedinto innumerable small holdings. He beheld a new country in themaking, and the passing of the pioneer who settled vital differenceswith a pistol. During those years some noted outlaws ranged at largein the county here spoken of as San Lorenzo. The Dalton gang of trainrobbers lived and died (some with their boots on) not far from thevillage entitled Paradise. Stage coaches were robbed frequently. Everylarge rancher suffered much at the hands of cattle and horse thieves.The writer has talked to Frank James, the most famous of Westerndesperados; he has enjoyed the acquaintance of Judge Lynch, who hangedtwo men from a bridge within half-a-mile of the ranch-house; heremembers the Chinese Riots; he has witnessed many a fight between thehungry squatter and the old settler with no title to the leagues overwhich his herds roamed, and so, in a modest way, he may claim to be ahistorian, not forgetting that the original signification of the wordwas 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, anddialects became inextricably mixed. Not even Bret Harte was able toreproduce the talk of children whose fathers may have come fromKentucky 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 originallyprinted, one is forced to the conclusion that sentiment--which wouldseem to arouse what is most hostile in the cultivated dweller incities--is an all-pervading essence in primitive communities,colouring and discolouring every phase of life and thought. Oneinstance among a thousand will suffice. Stage coaches, in the writer'scounty, used to be held up, single-handed, by a highwayman, known asBlack Bart. All the foothill folk pleaded in extenuation of the robberthat he wrote a copy of verses, embalming his adventure, which he usedto pin to the nearest tree. Black Bart would have been shot on sighthad he presented his doggerel to any self-respecting Western editor;nevertheless the sentiment that inspired a bandit to set forth hismisdeeds in execrable rhyme transformed him from a criminal into apopular hero! The virtues that counted in the foothills during theeighties were generosity, courage, and that amazing power ofrecuperation which enables a man to begin life again and again,undaunted by the bludgeonings of misfortune. Some of the stories inthis volume are obviously the work of an apprentice, but they havebeen included because, however faulty in technique, they do serve toillustrate a past that can never come back, and men and women who wereoutwardly crude and illiterate but at core kind and chivalrous, andnearly always humorously unconventional. The bunch grass, so belovedby the patriarchal pioneers, has been ploughed up and destroyed; theunwritten law of Judge Lynch will soon become an oral tradition; butthe Land of Yesterday blooms afresh as the Golden State of To-day--andTomorrow.

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