Brief though the reign of the mining-camp alcaldes was, it left a deep impress upon mountain society ; as an occurrence in northern California a few years ago will perhaps illustrate.
Archive for March, 2014
There is a school-teacher there, a man of mighty frame and great energy, whose boy hood was spent in the placers of Siskiyou, and his young manhood on the cattle-ranges of eastern Oregon, and in adventurous wanderings along the frontiers of British Columbia. When the late war began, he went East, and joined a regiment; returning to his mountain wilderness in 1865, a crippled and battered veteran. He had always been a close reader and hard student: so, as a teacher, he soon won a reputation for success over three counties. Under these circumstances he was called to take charge of what, with undoubted justice, was called one of the worst schools in northern Cali fornia.
The mail-rider threw off the trustee’s letter at the door of this man’s summer cabin, perched on a pine- clad height of the Sierra ; trout-stream within a stone’s throw ; grouse, deer, and bear in the woods ; his gun and rod in the corner, his ” Marcus Aurelius ” and ” Noctes Ambrosiana” on a rustic shelf. He saddled his horse the next morning, and reached the village, once a mining-camp, before nine o’clock. When school was called to order, he found that efficient work demanded a reclassification ; because the previous teacher had tried to gain cheap favor by advancing grades without reason, and skipping the hard places.
After a few weeks he had come to grief by trying to persuade a large boy not to smoke a cigarette in school-hours ; for the playful innocents had ducked him in the adjacent stream, sousing him up and down until he escaped, waded to the farther bank, and sought other fields for his peda gogic prowess.
But the new teacher possessed fron tier freedom of resource, and military discipline of character. ” I must turn you back in your grades,” he said, after several hours of examination. An ominous murmur of rebellion followed. Several boys rose in their seats, and announced that their parents “would see about that.”
The teacher then made his first and last speech to the excited school. He took a book from the table, and addressed the most noisy of the rebels. ” Do you know what this is ? ” ” Yes, sir, — the school-law.” ” And it defines the grades ; and you think that last year you passed an examination, and that I cannot go behind the law ? ” ” Yes, sir.” “Very well, you are quite mistaken. I am the alcalde of this school. I am sheriff, and register of claims, and judge of the camp, and the whole jury. I am absolute finality here ! ” With this comprehensive statement, he threw the school-law out of the open window, and then, in the midst of an awe-struck throng, proceeded to break up and consolidate class after class.
” Yes, an alcalde was what the district needed,” was the opinion of the old pioneers of the village when the story was told; and a better school, for the rest of the year, northern California never knew.