By many accounts, Dan DeQuille (William Wright) was destined to be
as popular a journalist as Samuel Clemens' Mark Twain. History would not
support that idea, but many Nevadans would insist upon it. As a contributor to
the Pacific Coast's publication, "Golden Era", Dan had fans on both coasts
and many in between.
A chronicler of the mining life, DeQuille was gifted with a natural
wit and a keen eye. His eyewitness accounts of gold-rushing, as published in
"The Washoe Rambles", had been serialized in the "Golden Era". Thus by
installments did the eager public learn of his exploits and explorations into the
wild. Not only did DeQuille observe and report the goings-on of gold miners, he
became one himself.
In 1857, DeQuille set out to make his "pile" by chasing the
enigmatic "big thing:" the gold mine. He never found it. But he left another
kind of wealth for posterity -- his writings. One of his contributions was this
story of DeQuille's 1861 celebration of the Fourth of July.
The night before the Fourth had been depressing for Dan and his
comrade. Though he hated travelling the desert at night, Dan and his partners
were forced to look for water. Finally, the familiar tinkle of a nearby cow
bell signaled that relief was at hand. Horses, burros and men knew that their
thirsts would be quenched when they followed the bell.
Though the well water that they found that day was a tad alkaline, it was
better than nothing. DeQuille and his party wasted no time in hauling up
a full bucket. Thirsts quenched and canteens filled, the partners decided
to call it a night. They hunkered down in the bedrolls and went fast
Morning came early in those days. As Dan and his friend slowly
unrolled themselves from their blankets, they tried to begin a new day. Bob,
Dan's partner, griped and grumbled under his breath. Dan started to admonish him, but then he paused as he
remembered the day. This was not just any morning. T'was the Fourth of July!
Dan wrote, "This morning was the morning of the birthday of
Independence to a great people -- the Goddess most loved by the American people -- the
birthday of Liberty!"
Bob went out to fetch the horses while Dan tried to prepare a feast.
His meager rations left him little to prepare. Nonetheless, their hearts
were full of celebration as they fetched cold water, flapped some jacks
and chawed down on a leathery bit of rabbit.
Just as they finished up their breakfast, the owners of the well
suddenly appeared, demanding to be paid for the water that Dan and his
friends had used. Dan and Bob pardon themselves and huddled. They could
not allow these opportunists to ruin their day. They made a pact not to pay
them one red cent, and decided to leave the matter entirely in the hands of
another friend, Tom, who was expected to catch up with them the next day.
Bob suggested to the well owners that if they could be excused
today, then their friend Tom would be most delighted to settle their debt
But Dan suddenly interrupted, working a new plan in his mind. "My
partner here was going to use his twenty dollar bill to pawn, but...."
His voice trailed off as he gave his words a weight they really didn't have.
"Oh, but surely you can change a twenty dollar bill?" he asked, narrowing
his eyes on his prey.
The owners frowned and look at each other. "'Fraid not," one said.
"We ain't got five dollars in the whole house."
"I see," said DeQuille, cutting a sideways look at this friend.
"Well, then perhaps we can settle this in trade since we won't be allowed to pay
in cash -- which would be my preference, you understand."
DeQuille breathed a sigh of relief before he went on. "And by the
way, gentlemen, it is really an inconvenience for us travellers that you don't
have change. After all, change is essential to men engaged in business."
The owners were chagrined. "I'm mighty sorry," said one. "Perhaps
you'll be passing by here again and then maybe--"
DeQuille held up both hands in protest. "I'm afraid not, gentlemen.
It is highly unlikely that we will EVER return to this part of the world.
Besides, we would much prefer to settle our debts immediately, as it
were. But wait! Here is a fine slab of bacon that we can spare. Certainly it
would cost twice the bill in Virginia City. At least."
The two men smiled at each other as they receive the fare.
Waving a hearty goodbye, Dan and Bob left the area a bit lighter
than they had been previously, but it was all to the good. Dan stuck out his
chest and thumbed his suspenders as he moseyed over to his horse.
Bob scratched his head. "I don't get it. That bacon was worth
twice what we owed them. How'd we come out ahead on that deal?"
"You surprise me, Bob, you really do!" Dan said, shaking his head.
"We actually made a great deal. We made an impression! Those fellows
believed that we carried a twenty dollar bill, so we saved our credit AND our
reputation. Granted, we had to sacrifice our bacon, but who'd ever admit
to being flat broke on the Fourth of July!"
Dan and Bob wound up their trip in Virginia City where it seemed
their newfound reputation had proceeded them. After they observed the holiday
fireworks with the townsfolk, they were allowed sufficient credit at their favorite saloon to top off their
celebration of Independence Day. While they didn't save their bacon in
the actual sense, Dan Dequille and friends had a memorable Fourth,
Karal Ayn Barnett is a freelance writer in Las Vegas, Nevada. Just after
she moved to that area in 1991, she began researching the history of the
state and discovered the many wonderful stories of the old west -- stories that
run the gamut from trial to triumph, with a good dose of humor all along
the way. The above story is an excerpt from her ebook, "Echoes Of
Holidays Past In The Old West".
(Note: The story and images on this page are Copyright © 2000, by Karal Ayn Barnett. This story may not be reproduced, reprinted,
or used in any way without the permission of the author.)