An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge HTML version
The Haunted Valley
1: How Trees Are Felled in China
A half-mile north from Jo. Dunfer's, on the road from Hutton's to Mexican Hill, the
highway dips into a sunless ravine which opens out on either hand in a half-confidential
manner, as if it had a secret to impart at some more convenient season. I never used to
ride through it without looking first to the one side and then to the other, to see if the time
had arrived for the revelation. If I saw nothing -- and I never did see anything -- there was
no feeling of disappointment, for I knew the disclosure was merely withheld temporarily
for some good reason which I had no right to question. That I should one day be taken
into full confidence I no more doubted than I doubted the existence of Jo. Dunfer himself,
through whose premises the ravine ran.
It was said that Jo. had once undertaken to erect a cabin in some remote part of it, but for
some reason had abandoned the enterprise and constructed his present hermaphrodite
habitation, half residence and half groggery, at the roadside, upon an extreme corner of
his estate; as far away as possible, as if on purpose to show how radically he had changed
This Jo. Dunfer -- or, as he was familiarly known in the neighbourhood, Whisky Jo. --
was a very important personage in those parts. He was apparently about forty years of
age, a long, shock-headed fellow, with a corded face, a gnarled arm and a knotty hand
like a bunch of prison-keys. He was a hairy man, with a stoop in his walk, like that of one
who is about to spring upon something and rend it.
Next to the peculiarity to which he owed his local appellation, Mr. Dunfer's most obvious
characteristic was a deep-seated antipathy to the Chinese. I saw him once in a towering
rage because one of his herdsmen had permitted a travel-heated Asian to slake his thirst
at the horse-trough in front of the saloon end of Jo.'s establishment. I ventured faintly to
remonstrate with Jo. for his unchristian spirit, but he merely explained that there was
nothing about Chinamen in the New Testament, and strode away to wreak his displeasure
upon his dog, which also, I suppose, the inspired scribes had overlooked.
Some days afterward, finding him sitting alone in his bar-room, I cautiously approached
the subject, when, greatly to my relief, the habitual austerity of his expression visibly
softened into something that I took for condescension.
'You young Easterners,' he said, 'are a mile-and-a-half too good for this country, and you
don't catch on to our play. People who don't know a Chileno from a Kanaka can afford to
hang out liberal ideas about Chinese immigration, but a fellow that has to fight for his
bone with a lot of mongrel coolies hasn't any time for foolishness.'