Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

"Big Jim" 2nd Adventure on Guard Duty:

The night proved cold and uncomfortable, and the bright-glowing camp fires presented most captivating inducements to the shivering sentinels, as they paced their dreary rounds, to step within its cheering influence. Big Jim, who was on the third "relieve," thought it too bad he should be compelled to suffer so much from cold, while a nice warm fire was permitted to waste its kind heat upon the bleak air of night, without so much as one to enjoy it beneficence.

No it would not do.  "Why mayn't I just as well stand guard at the fire, as elsewhere?  I can I'm sure.  I'll stand this time, and not 'lay' as I did before, and then there'd be no danger of falling asleep and burning one's self; nor'll they have the chance to twit me about lying guard and burning shins. I'll head 'em this time, and they wont know the difference."

So saying, he approached the fire, and, giving it a kick, extended his hands towards its blaze, ever and anon rubbing them together and then again spreading them to receive its pleasing warmth; then turning his back to partake alike of its comforting influences and obviate the jealousy that might otherwise be engendered between front and rear. 

Now he stands attent, he hears something move.  He stretches himself to his full height, on tip-toe, and gazes in the black envelope of surrounding night, made doubly obscure in contrast with the refulgence of the camp-fire. “

How dark it has grown!" said Jim.  "What can it be?  Wonder if it's Indians.  Pooh!  It's nothing but the wind.  Bless me, I can't see the use of a poor devil's standing guard on such a dark night as this!  (stepping backward still nearer the fire,) He can't see nothing, if he does. Feugh...What is it smells so? (turning around)  Good gracious, how hot my back is!" 

The mystery of Jim's present predicament is easily explained.  The skirts of his jeans coat, having come in contact with the wind-tossed flames caught fire, and were burned to the shoulders before he was aware of the accident.  The garment was rendered entirely useless, and even his pantaloons were burnt to his skin, in several places.  

Jim began to think it as bad to 'stand' as to 'lay' guard, and concluded that, of the two, fire was more dangerous than Indians;  for, one thing was certain, the Indians had never yet injured him, but he could not say as much of fire!

In the morning, as may be supposed, our hero's last mishap was the prolific subject of comment, and the wags were promptly on the alert to amuse themselves still further at his expense:  

"Say, would you believe it!  That's the way Jim's hit upon to 'shine' in this crowd.  He burns up his old coat to make a light!"

"Ah-ha.  So he means to shine by the light of his old clothes, and come it over us in an underhand manner!  Jim, that'll never do;  I tell you, once for all."

"Wonder if he wont burn up himslef next?"

"He? No.  He's too green and sappy to burn himself, and so he takes his old clothes!"

"Poor Jim.  Shoot grass, kill horse, break gun, burn shoe, scorch foot, lose hat, stick coat in him fire!  Poor fellow.  No can do without Jim, no how."

The above passage is from Rufus Sage in Rocky Mountain Life.  

This is the last time that Rufus sage mentions "Big Jim" Jeems in Rocky Mountain Life.  Presumably "Big Jim" survived without further misadventure to arrive at Fort Platte, where the men in this brigade went separate ways. 

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