Whenever we met tribesmen in Yuen-nan who had not seen white persons they behaved much like all other natives. They were, of course, always greatly astonished to see our caravan descend upon them and were invariably fascinated by our guns, tents, and in fact everything about us, but were generally shy and decidedly less offensive in their curiosity than the Chinese of the larger inland towns to whom foreigners are by no means unknown. As a matter of fact we have found that our white skins, light eyes, and hair are a never failing source of interest and envy to almost all Orientals.
Yvette usually excited the most curiosity, especially among the women, and as she wore knickerbockers and a flannel shirt there were times when the determination of her sex seemed to call forth the liveliest discussion. Her long hair, however, usually settled the matter, and when the women had decided the question of gender satisfactorily they often made timid, and most amusing, advances. One woman said she greatly admired her fair complexion and asked how many baths she took to keep her skin so white. Another wondered whether it was necessary to ever comb her hair and almost everyone wished to feel her clothes and shoes. She always could command more attention than anyone else by her camera operations, and a group would stand in speechless amazement to see her dodge in and out of the portable dark room when she was developing photographs or loading plates.
We made arrangements to go with a number of the Lolos to a spot fifteen miles away on the Chung-tien road to hunt wapiti (probably Cervus macneilli) which the natives call maloo. Our American wapiti, or elk, is a migrant from Asia by way of the Bering Strait and is probably a relative of the wapiti which is found in Central Asia, China, Manchuria and Korea.
At present these deer are abundant in but few places. Throughout the Orient, and especially in China, the growing horns when they are soft, or in the “velvet,” are considered of great medicinal value and, during the summer, the animals are trapped and hunted relentlessly by the natives. In Yuen-nan, when we were there, a pair of horns were worth $100 (Mexican).
Thanksgiving morning dawned gray and raw with occasional flurries of haillike snow, but we did not heed the cold, for the trail led over two high ridges and along the rim of a tremendous gorge. To the south the white summits of the Snow Mountain range towered majestically above the surrounding peaks and, in the gray light, the colors were beautiful beyond description. To the north we could see heavily wooded mountain slopes interspersed with open parklike meadows—splendid wapiti country.
Our tents were pitched two hundred yards from the Chung-tien road just within the edge of a stately, moss-draped forest. That night we celebrated with harmless bombs from the huge fires of bamboo stalks which exploded as they filled with steam and echoed among the trees like pistol shots. Marco Polo speaks of the same phenomenon which he first witnessed in this region over six hundred and thirty years ago.