The majority of old-time trappers and scouts always had an inexhaustible fund of anecdote and adventure. Stories were often told at night when the day’s duty of making the round of the traps was done, the beaver skinned, and the pelts hung up to cure. Their simple supper disposed, and being comfortably seated around their fire of blazing logs, each one of them indulged, as a preliminary, in his favourite manner of smoking. Some adhered to the traditional clay pipe, others, more fastidious, used nothing less expensive than a meerschaum. Many, however, were satisfied with a simple cigarette with its covering of corn husk. This was Kit Carson’s usual method of smoking, and he was an inveterate partaker of the weed. Frequently there was no real tobacco to be found in the camp; either its occupants had exhausted their supply, or the traders had failed to bring enough at the last rendezvous to go round. Then they were compelled to resort to the substitutes of the Indians. Among some tribes the bark of the red willow, dried and bruised, was used; others, particularly the mountain savages, smoked the genuine kin-nik-i-nick, a little evergreen vine growing on the tops of the highest elevations, and known as larb.
It was a rare treat to come across one of those solitary camps when out on a prolonged hunt, for the visitor was certain of a cordial welcome, and everything the generous men had was freely at your service. The crowning pleasure came at night, when stories were told under the silvery pines, with troops of stars overhead, around a glowing camp-fire, until the lateness of the hour warned all that it was time to roll up in their robes, if they intended to court sleep.
Let the reader, in fancy, accompany us to some thunder-splintered canyon of the great rock-ribbed Continental Divide, and when the shadows of night come walking along the mountains, seek one of these sequestered camps, take our place in the magic circle, and listen to wondrous tales as they are passed around. There is nothing to disturb the magnificent silence save an occasional soughing of the fitful breeze in the tops of the towering pines, or the gentle babbling of some tiny rivulet as its water soothingly flows over the rounded pebbles in its bed. There is a charm in the environment of such a spot that will photograph its picture on the memory as the gem of all the varied experiences of a checkered life.
One of the best raconteurs was Old Hatcher, as he was known throughout the mountains. He was a famous trapper of the late ’40’s. Hatcher was thoroughly Western in all his gestures, moods, and dialect. He had a fund of stories of an amusing, and often of a marvellous cast. It was never any trouble to persuade him to relate some of the scenes in his wayward, ever-changing life; particularly if you warmed him up with a good-sized bottle of whiskey, of which he was inordinately fond.