A Prophet and a Piute
by Edgar Wilson Nye
I have bought some more real estate. It occurred in Oakland, California.
In making the purchase I had the assistance of a prophet, and I hope the
prophet will not be overbalanced by the loss. It came about in this way:
A prophet on a bicycle came to Oakland suddenly very hard up a few weeks
ago, and began to ride up and down on his two-wheeler, warning the
people to flee to the high ground, and thus escape the wrath to come,
for, he said, the waters of the great deep would arise at about the
middle of the month and smite the people of Oakland and slay them, and
float the pork barrels out of their cellars, and fill their cisterns
with people who had sneered at his prophecy.
This gentleman was an industrious prophet and did a good business in his
line. He attracted much notice, and had all he could do at his trade
for several weeks. Many Oakland people were frightened, especially as
Wiggins, the great intellectual Sahara of the prophet industry, also
prophesied a high wave which would rise at least above the bills at the
Palace Hotel in San Francisco. With the aid of these two gifted
middle-weight prophets, I was enabled to secure some good bargains in
corner lots and improved property in Oakland at ten per cent. of the
estimated value. In other words, I put my limited powers as a prophet
against those of Professor Wiggins, the painstaking and conscientious
seer of Canada, and the bicycle prophet of the Pacific slope. I am
willing to stand or fall by the result.
As a prophet I have never attracted attention in this country, mostly
because I have been too busy with other things. Also because there was
so little prophesying to be done in these degenerate days that I did not
care to take hold of the industry; but I have ever been ready to
purchase at a great discount the desirable residences of those
contemplating a general collapse of the universe, or a tidal wave which
would wipe out the general government and cover with a placid sea the
mighty republic which God has heretofore, for some reason, smiled upon.
Moreover, I can hardly believe that the Deity would commission a man to
go out over California on a bicycle to warn people, when a few red
messages and a standing notice in the newspapers would do the work in
less time. Reasoning in this manner with a sturdy logic worthy of my
rich and unctious past, I have secured some good trades in down-town
property, and shall await the coming devastation with a calm and
entirely unruffled breast.
California, at any season of the year, is a miracle of beauty, as almost
every one knows. Nature heightens the effect for the tenderfoot by
compelling him to cross the Alpine heights of the Sierra Nevada
Mountains and freeze approximately to death in the cold heart of a snow
blockade. Thus, weather-beaten and sore, he reaches the rolling green
hills and is greeted with the rich odor of violets. I submitted to the
insults of a tottering monopoly for a week, in the heart of the winter,
and, tired and sick at soul, with chilblains on my feet and liniment on
my other lineaments, I burst forth one bright morning into the realm of
eternal summer. The birds sang in my frozen bosom. I shed the gunnysack
wraps from my tender feet even as a butterfly or a tramp bursts his hull
in the spring time, and I laughed two or three coarse, outdoor laughs,
which shook the balmy branches of the tall pomegranate trees and
twittered in the dense foliage of the magnolia.
The railroad was very kind to me at first. That was when I was buying my
ticket. Later on it became more harsh and even reproached me at times.
Conductors woke me up two or three times in the night to gaze fondly on
my ticket and look as if they were sorry they ever parted with it. On
the Central Pacific passengers are not permitted to give their tickets
to the porter on retiring. You must wake up and converse with the
conductor at all hours of the night, and hold a lantern for him while he
slowly spells out the hard words on your ticket. I did not like this,
and several times I murmured in a querulous tone to the conductor. But
he did not mind it. He went on doing the behests of his employer, and in
that way endearing himself to the great adversary of souls.
I said to an official of the road: "Do you not think this is the worst
managed road in the United States—always excepting the Western North
Carolina Railroad, which is an incorporated insult to humanity?"
"Well," he replied, "that depends, of course, on the standpoint from
which you view it. If we were trying to divert travel to the Southern
Pacific, also the rolling stock, the good-will, the culverts, the
dividends, the frogs, the snowsheds, the right of way and the new-laid
train figs, everything except the first, second and third mortgages,
which would naturally revert to the government, would you not think we
were managing the business with a steady hand and a watchful eye?"
I said I certainly should. I then wrung his hand softly and stole away,
as he also began to do the same thing.
At Reno we had a day or two in which to observe the city from the car
platform, while waiting for the blockade to be raised. We could not go
away from the train further than five hundred feet, for it might start
at any moment. That is one beauty about a snow blockade. It entitles you
to a stop-over, but you must be ready to hop on when the train starts. I
improved the time by cultivating the acquaintance of the beautiful and
picturesque outcasts known as the Piute Indians. They are a quiet,
reserved set of people, who, by saying nothing, sometimes obtain a
reputation for deep thought. I always envy anybody who can do that. Such
men make good presidential candidates. Candidates, I say, mind you. The
time has come in this country when it is hard to unite good
qualifications as a candidate with the necessary qualities for a
I improved the time by cultivating the acquaintance of
the beautiful and picturesque outcasts known as the Piute Indians (Page
The Piute, in March or April, does not go down cellar and bring up his
gladiolus, or remove the banking from the side of his villa. He does not
mulch the asparagus bed, or prune the pie-plant, or rake the front yard,
or salt the hens. He does not even wipe his heartbroken and neglected
nose. He makes no especial change in his great life-work because spring
has come. He still looks serious, and like a man who is laboring under
the impression that he is about to become the parent of a thought. These
children of the Piute brave never mature. They do not take their places
in the histories or the school readers of our common country. The Piute
wears a bright red lap-robe over his person, and generally a stiff
Quaker hat, with a leather band. His hair is very thick, black and
coarse, and is mostly cut off square in the neck, by means of an adz, I
judge, or possibly it is eaten off by moths. The Piute is never bald
during life. After he is dead he becomes bald and beloved.
Johnson Sides is a well-known Piute who had the pleasure of meeting me
at Reno. He said he was a great admirer of mine and had all my writings
in a scrap-book at home. He also said that he wished I would come and
lecture for his tribe. I afterward learned that he was an earnest and
hopeful liar from Truckee. He had no scrap-book at all. Also no home.
Mr. Sides at one time became quite civilized, distinguishing himself
from his tribe by reading the Bible and imprisoning the lower drapery of
his linen garment in the narrow confines of a pair of cavalry trousers,
instead of giving it to the irresponsible breeze, as other Piutes did.
He then established a hotel up the valley in the Sierras, and decided to
lead a life of industry. He built a hostelry called the
Shack-de-Poker-Huntus, and advertised in the Carson Appeal, a paper
which even the editor, Sam Davis, says fills him with wonder and
amazement when he knows that people actually subscribe for it. Very soon
Piutes began to go to the shack to spend the heated term. Every Piute
who took the Appeal saw the advertisement, which went on to state that
hot and cold water could be got into every room in the house, and that
electric bells, baths, silver-voiced chambermaids, over-charges, and
everything else connected with a first-class hotel, could be found at
that place. So the Piute people locked up their own homes, and,
ejecting the cat, they spat on the fire, and moved to the new summer
hotel. They took their friends with them. They had no money, but they
knew Johnson Sides, and they visited him all summer.
In the fall Mr. Sides closed the house, and resuming his blanket he went
back to live with his tribe. When the butcher wagon called the next day
the driver found a notice of sale, and in the language of Sol Smith
Russell, "Good reasons given for selling."
Mr. Sides had been a temperance man now for a year, at least externally,
but with the humiliation of this great financial wreck came a wild
desire to flee to the maddening bowl, having been monkeying with the
madding crowd all summer. So, silently, he obtained a bottle of Reno
embalming fluid and secreted himself behind a tree, where he was asked
to join himself in a social nip. He had hardly wiped away an idle tear
with the corner of his blanket and replaced the stopper in his tear jug
when the local representative of the U. G. J. E. T. A. of Reno came upon
him. He was reported to the lodge, and his character bade fair to be
smirched so badly that nothing but saltpeter and a consistent life could
save it. At this critical stage Mr. Davis, of the Appeal, came to his
aid, and not only gave him the support and encouragement of his columns,
but told Mr. Sides that he would see that the legislature took speedy
action in removing his alcoholic disabilities. Through the untiring
efforts of Mr. Davis, therefore, a bill was framed "whereby the drink
taken by Johnson Sides, of Nevada, be and is hereby declared null and
On a certain day Mr. Davis told him that the bill would come up for
final passage and no doubt pass without opposition, but a purse would
have to be raised to defray the expenses. The tribe began to collect
what money they had and to sell their grasshoppers in order to raise
Johnson Sides and his people gathered on the day named, and seated
themselves in the galleries. Slim old warriors with firm faces and
beetling brows, to say nothing of having their hair roached, but yet
with no flies on them to speak of, sat in the front seats. Large,
corpulent squaws, wearing health costumes, secured by telegraph wire,
listened to the proceedings, knowing no more of what was going on than
other people do who go to watch the legislature. Finally, however, Sam
Davis came and told Mr. Sides that he was now pure as the driven snow. I
saw him last week, but it seemed to me it was about time to get some
more special legislation for him.
Once Mr. Davis met Mr. Sides on the street and was so glad to see him
that he said: "Johnson, I like you first-rate, and should always be glad
to see you. Whenever you can, let me know where you are."
The next week Sam got quite a lot of telegrams from along the
railroad—for the Indians ride free on account of their sympathies with
the road. These telegrams were dated at different stations. They were
hopeful and even cheery, and were all marked "collect." They read about
Sam Davis, Carson, Nev.
I am here.
Every little while for quite a long time Mr. Davis would get a bright,
reassuring telegram, sometimes in the middle of the night, when he was
asleep, informing him that Johnson Sides was "there," and he then would
go back to bed cheered and soothed and sustained.