The Pledge of a Temperance Man

In Camp and Cabin with John Steele — part 5

After leaving the mining camp of “Mr. Lawson” (Peter Lassen), John Steele and his buddy John Donnelley started back to Downieville by way of the American Ranch, where they knew they could get food. I had no idea where American Ranch was, but my friend David Brown knows:

American Ranch was founded by H. John Bradley at the site of modern downtown Quincy. There is a plaque noting the location on Main Street. American Valley, the valley in which Quincy is located, recalls the ranch name. Accounts differ as to exactly when the ranch, which catered to travelers, was founded. Bradley had ambitions for the area akin to Bidwell’s, albeit on a smaller scale. He promoted the community which grew around the ranch and had a leading role in the partition of Plumas County from Butte in 1854 and Quincy becoming its county seat.

As a heavy snow storm came up, the men arrived at two over-crowded cabins. There was no room for them, but a kindly prospector gave them the use of a tent, where they could enjoy “the unusual luxury of sleeping with our boots off.” (p. 190) The storm continued through the night and by morning they awoke to find themselves under a snowdrift. They went to one of the cabins to see if they could get breakfast.

Some two hundred men were sheltering in this “unfinished hotel,” and it was noon before they could get their meal. For three dollars each in gold dust they got “a cup of coffee, a slice of fried bacon, and a piece of bread broken from a cake which had been taken hot from before the fire; but it was all delicious beyond expression.”

The storm continued for several days and some of the men had nothing else to do but drink. Steele encountered a drunk who insisted that he drink with him.

I tried to move away, when he exclaimed, “Hold on, you think I’m drunk, and are ashamed to drink with me, but I’ll make you do it”; and seizing a bottle, poured a quantity of liquor in two glasses that stood on the bar, pushed one toward me, and, at the same time producing a revolver, remarked, “There now, take that glass of liquor, or the contents of this pistol.” He evidently meant, drink or die.

“Wait a moment, “said I, “my partner can explain this.”

Donnelley was called. “Here is Mr. Donnelly, my partner; we crossed the plains together. He knows whether I ever drink with any one; now, Mr. Donnelley, did you ever see me drink with any one?”

“No sir, I never did.”

“Did you ever hear me give a reason for not drinking?”

“I’ve heard you say you were pledged against it.”

Now turning to the man, who had put up his pistol, I said, “A gentleman like you would not ask anyone to break his word.”

“Of course not, and here’s my hand on it.”

So we shook hands, and the affair was settled; but I was more than glad of being pledged against drinking. (p. 193)

A young man to make Annie Bidwell and Frances Willard proud. Young John Steele might have been a member of the Sons of Temperance, a fraternal society dedicated to abstinence.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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