A Prophet And A Piute by Bill Nye

Story type: Literature

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.

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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.

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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 successful official.

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.

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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.

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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 void.”

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 more.

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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 as follows:

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.

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