The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Stories HTML version
Just where the Sierra Nevada begins to subside in gentler undulations, and the rivers
grow less rapid and yellow, on the side of a great red mountain, stands "Smith's Pocket."
Seen from the red road at sunset, in the red light and the red dust, its white houses look
like the outcroppings of quartz on the mountainside. The red stage topped with red-
shirted passengers is lost to view half a dozen times in the tortuous descent, turning up
unexpectedly in out-of-the-way places, and vanishing altogether within a hundred yards
of the town. It is probably owing to this sudden twist in the road that the advent of a
stranger at Smith's Pocket is usually attended with a peculiar circumstance. Dismounting
from the vehicle at the stage office, the too-confident traveler is apt to walk straight out
of town under the impression that it lies in quite another direction. It is related that one of
the tunnel men, two miles from town, met one of these self-reliant passengers with a
carpetbag, umbrella, Harper's Magazine, and other evidences of "Civilization and
Refinement," plodding along over the road he had just ridden, vainly endeavoring to find
the settlement of Smith's Pocket.
An observant traveler might have found some compensation for his disappointment in the
weird aspect of that vicinity. There were huge fissures on the hillside, and displacements
of the red soil, resembling more the chaos of some primary elemental upheaval than the
work of man; while halfway down, a long flume straddled its narrow body and
disproportionate legs over the chasm, like an enormous fossil of some forgotten
antediluvian. At every step smaller ditches crossed the road, hiding in their sallow depths
unlovely streams that crept away to a clandestine union with the great yellow torrent
below, and here and there were the ruins of some cabin with the chimney alone left intact
and the hearthstone open to the skies.
The settlement of Smith's Pocket owed its origin to the finding of a "pocket" on its site by
a veritable Smith. Five thousand dollars were taken out of it in one half-hour by Smith.
Three thousand dollars were expended by Smith and others in erecting a flume and in
tunneling. And then Smith's Pocket was found to be only a pocket, and subject like other
pockets to depletion. Although Smith pierced the bowels of the great red mountain, that
five thousand dollars was the first and last return of his labor. The mountain grew reticent
of its golden secrets, and the flume steadily ebbed away the remainder of Smith's fortune.
Then Smith went into quartz-mining; then into quartz-milling; then into hydraulics and
ditching, and then by easy degrees into saloonkeeping. Presently it was whispered that
Smith was drinking a great deal; then it was known that Smith was a habitual drunkard,
and then people began to think, as they are apt to, that he had never been anything else.
But the settlement of Smith's Pocket, like that of most discoveries, was happily not
dependent on the fortune of its pioneer, and other parties projected tunnels and found
pockets. So Smith's Pocket became a settlement, with its two fancy stores, its two hotels,
its one express office, and its two first families. Occasionally its one long straggling street
was overawed by the assumption of the latest San Francisco fashions, imported per