ground was just

The mountains are very high and steep about Carson, Eagle and Washoe
Valleys–very high and very steep, and so when the snow gets to melting
off fast in the Spring and the warm surface-earth begins to moisten and
soften, the disastrous land-slides commence. The reader cannot know what
a land-slide is, unless he has lived in that country and seen the whole
side of a mountain taken off some fine morning and deposited down in the
valley, leaving a vast, treeless, unsightly scar upon the mountain’s
front to keep the circumstance fresh in his memory all the years that he
may go on living within seventy miles of that place.

General Buncombe was shipped out to Nevada in the invoice of Territorial
officers, to be United States Attorney. He considered himself a lawyer
of parts, and he very much wanted an opportunity to manifest it–partly
for the pure gratification of it and partly because his salary was
Territorially meagre (which is a strong expression). Now the older
citizens of a new territory look down upon the rest of the world with a
calm, benevolent compassion, as long as it keeps out of the way–when it
gets in the way they snub it. Sometimes this latter takes the shape of a
practical joke.

One morning Dick Hyde rode furiously up to General Buncombe’s door in
Carson city and rushed into his presence without stopping to tie his
horse. He seemed much excited. He told the General that he wanted him
to conduct a suit for him and would pay him five hundred dollars if he
achieved a victory. And then, with violent gestures and a world of
profanity, he poured out his grief. He said it was pretty well known
that for some years he had been farming (or ranching as the more
customary term is) in Washoe District, and making a successful thing of
it, and furthermore it was known that his ranch was situated just in the
edge of the valley, and that Tom Morgan owned a ranch immediately above
it on the mountain side.

And now the trouble was, that one of those hated and dreaded land-slides
had come and slid Morgan’s ranch, fences, cabins, cattle, barns and
everything down on top of his ranch and exactly covered up every single
vestige of his property, to a depth of about thirty-eight feet. Morgan
was in possession and refused to vacate the premises–said he was
occupying his own cabin and not interfering with anybody else’s–and said
the cabin was standing on the same dirt and same ranch it had always
stood on, and he would like to see anybody make him vacate.

“And when I reminded him,” said Hyde, weeping, “that it was on top of my
ranch and that he was trespassing, he had the infernal meanness to ask me
why didn’t I stay on my ranch and hold possession when I see him
a-coming! Why didn’t I stay on it, the blathering lunatic–by George,
when I heard that racket and looked up that hill it was just like the
whole world was a-ripping and a-tearing down that mountain side
–splinters, and cord-wood, thunder and lightning, hail and snow, odds and
ends of hay stacks, and awful clouds of dust!–trees going end over end
in the air, rocks as big as a house jumping ‘bout a thousand feet high
and busting into ten million pieces, cattle turned inside out and
a-coming head on with their tails hanging out between their teeth!–and
in the midst of all that wrack and destruction sot that cussed Morgan on
his gate-post, a-wondering why I didn’t stay and hold possession! Laws
bless me, I just took one glimpse, General, and lit out’n the county in
three jumps exactly.

“But what grinds me is that that Morgan hangs on there and won’t move
off’n that ranch–says it’s his’n and he’s going to keep it–likes it
better’n he did when it was higher up the hill. Mad! Well, I’ve been so
mad for two days I couldn’t find my way to town–been wandering around in
the brush in a starving condition–got anything here to drink, General?
But I’m here now, and I’m a-going to law. You hear me!”

Never in all the world, perhaps, were a man’s feelings so outraged as
were the General’s. He said he had never heard of such high-handed
conduct in all his life as this Morgan’s. And he said there was no use
in going to law–Morgan had no shadow of right to remain where he was
–nobody in the wide world would uphold him in it, and no lawyer would take
his case and no judge listen to it. Hyde said that right there was where
he was mistaken–everybody in town sustained Morgan; Hal Brayton, a very
smart lawyer, had taken his case; the courts being in vacation, it was to
be tried before a referee, and ex-Governor Roop had already been
appointed to that office and would open his court in a large public hall
near the hotel at two that afternoon.

The General was amazed. He said he had suspected before that the people
of that Territory were fools, and now he knew it. But he said rest easy,
rest easy and collect the witnesses, for the victory was just as certain
as if the conflict were already over. Hyde wiped away his tears and

At two in the afternoon referee Roop’s Court opened and Roop appeared
throned among his sheriffs, the witnesses, and spectators, and wearing
upon his face a solemnity so awe-inspiring that some of his
fellow-conspirators had misgivings that maybe he had not comprehended,
after all, that this was merely a joke. An unearthly stillness
prevailed, for at the slightest noise the judge uttered sternly the

“Order in the Court!”

And the sheriffs promptly echoed it. Presently the General elbowed his
way through the crowd of spectators, with his arms full of law-books, and
on his ears fell an order from the judge which was the first respectful
recognition of his high official dignity that had ever saluted them, and
it trickled pleasantly through his whole system:

“Way for the United States Attorney!”

The witnesses were called–legislators, high government officers,
ranchmen, miners, Indians, Chinamen, negroes. Three fourths of them were
called by the defendant Morgan, but no matter, their testimony invariably
went in favor of the plaintiff Hyde. Each new witness only added new
testimony to the absurdity of a man’s claiming to own another man’s
property because his farm had slid down on top of it. Then the Morgan
lawyers made their speeches, and seemed to make singularly weak ones
–they did really nothing to help the Morgan cause. And now the General,
with exultation in his face, got up and made an impassioned effort; he
pounded the table, he banged the law-books, he shouted, and roared, and
howled, he quoted from everything and everybody, poetry, sarcasm,
statistics, history, pathos, bathos, blasphemy, and wound up with a grand
war-whoop for free speech, freedom of the press, free schools, the
Glorious Bird of America and the principles of eternal justice!

When the General sat down, he did it with the conviction that if there
was anything in good strong testimony, a great speech and believing and
admiring countenances all around, Mr. Morgan’s case was killed.
Ex-Governor Roop leant his head upon his hand for some minutes, thinking,
and the still audience waited for his decision. Then he got up and stood
erect, with bended head, and thought again. Then he walked the floor
with long, deliberate strides, his chin in his hand, and still the
audience waited. At last he returned to his throne, seated himself, and
began impressively:

“Gentlemen, I feel the great responsibility that rests upon me this day.
This is no ordinary case. On the contrary it is plain that it is the
most solemn and awful that ever man was called upon to decide.
Gentlemen, I have listened attentively to the evidence, and have
perceived that the weight of it, the overwhelming weight of it, is in
favor of the plaintiff Hyde. I have listened also to the remarks of
counsel, with high interest–and especially will I commend the masterly
and irrefutable logic of the distinguished gentleman who represents the
plaintiff. But gentlemen, let us beware how we allow mere human
testimony, human ingenuity in argument and human ideas of equity, to
influence us at a moment so solemn as this. Gentlemen, it ill becomes
us, worms as we are, to meddle with the decrees of Heaven. It is plain
to me that Heaven, in its inscrutable wisdom, has seen fit to move this
defendant’s ranch for a purpose. We are but creatures, and we must
submit. If Heaven has chosen to favor the defendant Morgan in this
marked and wonderful manner; and if Heaven, dissatisfied with the
position of the Morgan ranch upon the mountain side, has chosen to remove
it to a position more eligible and more advantageous for its owner, it
ill becomes us, insects as we are, to question the legality of the act or
inquire into the reasons that prompted it. No–Heaven created the
ranches and it is Heaven’s prerogative to rearrange them, to experiment
with them around at its pleasure. It is for us to submit, without

“I warn you that this thing which has happened is a thing with which the
sacrilegious hands and brains and tongues of men must not meddle.
Gentlemen, it is the verdict of this court that the plaintiff, Richard
Hyde, has been deprived of his ranch by the visitation of God! And from
this decision there is no appeal.”

Buncombe seized his cargo of law-books and plunged out of the court-room
frantic with indignation. He pronounced Roop to be a miraculous fool, an
inspired idiot. In all good faith he returned at night and remonstrated
with Roop upon his extravagant decision, and implored him to walk the
floor and think for half an hour, and see if he could not figure out some
sort of modification of the verdict. Roop yielded at last and got up to
walk. He walked two hours and a half, and at last his face lit up
happily and he told Buncombe it had occurred to him that the ranch
underneath the new Morgan ranch still belonged to Hyde, that his title to
the ground was just as good as it had ever been, and therefore he was of
opinion that Hyde had a right to dig it out from under there and–

The General never waited to hear the end of it. He was always an
impatient and irascible man, that way. At the end of two months the fact
that he had been played upon with a joke had managed to bore itself, like
another Hoosac Tunnel, through the solid adamant of his understanding.