List Of Contents | Contents of On Horseback by Charles Dudley Warner
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occasionally thereby a similar log structure, unchinked, laid up like
a cob house, that served for a stable.  Not much cultivation, except
now and then a little patch of poor corn on a steep hillside,
occasionally a few apple-trees, and a peach-tree without fruit.  Here
and there was a house that had been half finished and then abandoned,
or a shanty in which a couple of young married people were just
beginning life.  Generally the cabins (confirming the accuracy of the
census of 1880) swarmed with children, and nearly all the women were
thin and sickly.

In the day's ride we did not see a wheeled vehicle, and only now and
then a horse.  We met on the road small sleds, drawn by a steer,
sometimes by a cow, on which a bag of grist was being hauled to the
mill, and boys mounted on steers gave us good-evening with as much
pride as if they were bestriding fiery horses.

In a house of the better class, which was a post-house, and where the
rider and the woman of the house had a long consultation over a
letter to be registered, we found the rooms decorated with patent-
medicine pictures, which were often framed in strips of mica, an
evidence of culture that was worth noting.  Mica was the rage.  Every
one with whom we talked, except the rider, had more or less the
mineral fever.  The impression was general that the mountain region
of North Carolina was entering upon a career of wonderful mineral
development, and the most extravagant expectations were entertained.
Mica was the shining object of most "prospecting," but gold was also
on the cards.

The country about Burnsville is not only mildly picturesque, but very
pleasing.  Burnsville, the county-seat of Yancey, at an elevation of
2840 feet, is more like a New England village than any hitherto seen.
Most of the houses stand about a square, which contains the shabby
court-house; around it are two small churches, a jail, an inviting
tavern) with a long veranda, and a couple of stores.  On an
overlooking hill is the seminary.  Mica mining is the exciting
industry, but it is agriculturally a good country.  The tavern had
recently been enlarged to meet the new demands for entertainment and
is a roomy structure, fresh with paint and only partially organized.
The travelers were much impressed with the brilliant chambers, the
floors of which were painted in alternate stripes of vivid green and
red.  The proprietor, a very intelligent and enterprising man, who
had traveled often in the North, was full of projects for the
development of his region and foremost in its enterprises, and had
formed a considerable collection of minerals.  Besides, more than any
one else we met, he appreciated the beauty of his country, and took
us to a neighboring hill, where we had a view of Table Mountain to
the east and the nearer giant Blacks.  The elevation of Burnsville
gives it a delightful summer climate, the gentle undulations of the
country are agreeable, the views noble, the air is good, and it is
altogether a "livable" and attractive place.  With facilities of
communication, it would be a favorite summer resort.  Its nearness to
the great mountains (the whole Black range is in Yancey County), its
fine pure air, its opportunity for fishing and hunting, commend it to
those in search of an interesting and restful retreat in summer.

But it should be said that before the country can attract and retain
travelers, its inhabitants must learn something about the preparation
of food.  If, for instance, the landlord's wife at Burnsville had
traveled with her husband, her table would probably have been more on
a level with his knowledge of the world, and it would have contained
something that the wayfaring man, though a Northerner, could eat.  We
have been on the point several times in this journey of making the
observation, but have been restrained by a reluctance to touch upon
politics, that it was no wonder that a people with such a cuisine
should have rebelled.  The travelers were in a rebellious mood most
of the time.

The evidences of enterprise in this region were pleasant to see, but
the observers could not but regret, after all, the intrusion of the
money-making spirit, which is certain to destroy much of the present
simplicity.  It is as yet, to a degree, tempered by a philosophic
spirit.  The other guest of the house was a sedate, long-bearded
traveler for some Philadelphia house, and in the evening he and the
landlord fell into a conversation upon what Socrates calls the
disadvantage of the pursuit of wealth to the exclusion of all noble
objects, and they let their fancy play about Vanderbilt, who was
agreed to be the richest man in the world, or that ever lived.

"All I want," said the long-bearded man, "is enough to be
comfortable.  I would n't have Vanderbilt's wealth if he'd give it to

"Nor I," said the landlord.  "Give me just enough to be comfortable."
[The tourist couldn't but note that his ideas of enough to be
comfortable had changed a good deal since he had left his little farm
and gone into the mica business, and visited New York, and enlarged
and painted his tavern.]  I should like to know what more Vanderbilt
gets out of his money than I get out of mine.  I heard tell of a
young man who went to Vanderbilt to get employment.  Vanderbilt
finally offered to give the young man, if he would work for him, just
what he got himself.  The young man jumped at that--he'd be perfectly
satisfied with that pay.  And Vanderbilt said that all he got was
what he could eat and wear, and offered to give the young man his
board and clothes."

"I declare" said the long-bearded man.  "That's just it.  Did you
ever see Vanderbilt's house?  Neither did I, but I heard he had a
vault built in it five feet thick, solid.  He put in it two hundred
millions of dollars, in gold.  After a year, he opened it and put in
twelve millions more, and called that a poor year.  They say his
house has gold shutters to the windows, so I've heard."

"I shouldn't wonder," said the landlord.  "I heard he had one door in
his house cost forty thousand dollars.  I don't know what it is made
of, unless it's made of gold."

Sunday was a hot and quiet day.  The stores were closed and the two
churches also, this not being the Sunday for the itinerant preacher.
The jail also showed no sign of life, and when we asked about it, we
learned that it was empty, and had been for some time.  No liquor is
sold in the place, nor within at least three miles of it.  It is not
much use to try to run a jail without liquor.

In the course of the morning a couple of stout fellows arrived,
leading between them a young man whom they had arrested,--it didn't
appear on any warrant, but they wanted to get him committed and
locked up.  The offense charged was carrying a pistol; the boy had
not used it against anybody, but he had flourished it about and
threatened, and the neighbors wouldn't stand that; they were bound to
enforce the law against carrying concealed weapons.

The captors were perfectly good-natured and on friendly enough terms
with the young man, who offered no resistance, and seemed not
unwilling to go to jail.  But a practical difficulty arose.  The jail
was locked up, the sheriff had gone away into the country with the
key, and no one could get in.  It did not appear that there was any
provision for boarding the man in jail; no one in fact kept it.  The
sheriff was sent for, but was not to be found, and the prisoner and
his captors loafed about the square all day, sitting on the fence,
rolling on the grass, all of them sustained by a simple trust that
the jail would be open some time.

Late in the afternoon we left them there, trying to get into the
jail.  But we took a personal leaf out of this experience.  Our
Virginia friends, solicitous for our safety in this wild country, had
urged us not to venture into it without arms--take at least, they
insisted, a revolver each.  And now we had to congratulate ourselves
that we had not done so.  If we had, we should doubtless on that
Sunday have been waiting, with the other law-breaker, for admission
into the Yancey County jail.


>From Burnsville the next point in our route was Asheville, the most
considerable city in western North Carolina, a resort of fashion, and
the capital of Buncombe County.  It is distant some forty to forty-
five miles, too long a journey for one day over such roads.  The
easier and common route is by the Ford of Big Ivy, eighteen miles,
the first stopping-place; and that was a long ride for the late
afternoon when we were in condition to move.

The landlord suggested that we take another route, stay that night on
Caney River with Big Tom Wilson, only eight miles from Burnsville,
cross Mount Mitchell, and go down the valley of the Swannanoa to
Asheville.  He represented this route as shorter and infinitely more
picturesque.  There was nothing worth seeing on the Big Ivy way.
With scarcely a moment's reflection and while the horses were
saddling, we decided to ride to Big Tom Wilson's.  I could not at the
time understand, and I cannot now, why the Professor consented.  I
should hardly dare yet confess to my fixed purpose to ascend Mount
Mitchell.  It was equally fixed in the Professor's mind not to do it.
We had not discussed it much.  But it is safe to say that if he had
one well-defined purpose on this trip, it was not to climb Mitchell.
"Not," as he put it,--

    "Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
     Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,"

had suggested the possibility that he could do it.

But at the moment the easiest thing to do seemed to be to ride down
to Wilson's.  When there we could turn across country to the Big Ivy,
although, said the landlord, you can ride over Mitchell just as easy
as anywhere--a lady rode plump over the peak of it last week, and
never got off her horse.  You are not obliged to go; at Big Tom's,
you can go any way you please.

Besides, Big Tom himself weighed in the scale more than Mount
Mitchell, and not to see him was to miss one of the most
characteristic productions of the country, the typical backwoodsman,

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