Valuable Donkeys - The Washoe "Canary"
Early Mining
excerpted from
The Big Bonanza

by Dan DeQuille
of the Territorial Enterprise

Dan DeQuille

About three fourths of the prospecting miners who came over from California packed their traps on the backs of donkeys, and, driving these before them, boldly, if not swiftly, scaled the Sierras. These donkeys became a great nuisance about the several camps. All became thieves of the most accomplished type. They would steal flour, sugar, bacon, beans, and everything eatable about the camp. They would even devour gunny-sacks in which bacon had been packed, old woolen shirts, and almost everything else but the picks and shovels. The donkeys would be seen demurelly grazing on the flats and on the hillsides when the miners left camp in the morning to go out prospecting, but all the time had one eye upon every movement that was made. Hardley were the miners out of sight ere the donkeys were in the camp, with heads in the tents devouring all within reach. When the miners returned, the donkeys were all out picking about on the hillsides,as calmly as though nothing had happened; but the swearing in camp as the work of the cunning beasts came to light would have furnished any ordinary bull-driver a stock of oaths that he could not exhaust in six months.

One of these donkeys - too confiding - was caught in the act. Many of the miners used a kind of flour called "self-rising." There was mixed with it when it was ground all of the ingredients used in the manufacture of yeast powders. All the miner had to do in making bread from this flour was to add the proper quantity of water and mix it, when it "came up" beautifully. The donkey in question had struck a sack of this flour and had eaten all he could hold of it. He went down to the spring near the camp and drank a quantity of water. When we came home that evening Mr. Donkey was still at the spring. The self-rising principle in the flour had done its work. The beast was as round as an apple and his legs stood out like those of a carpenter's bench. He was very dead. Here was one of the thieves. Cunning as he had been, he was caught at last, and with "wool in his teeth."

Some Account of Ye Washoe Canary

A queer genius* thus described the donkey called by everybody in that region "the Washoe Canary":
Let it be proclaimed at the outset that ye Washoe canary is not at all a bird; and, though hee hath voice in great volumn, lyke unto that of a prima donna, yet is hee no sweet singer in Israel. Hee is none other than ye ungainly beaste known in other landes as ye jackass. You may many times observe ye Washoe canary strolling at hys leasure high up on the side of ye craggy hill and in ye declivous place, basking in ye picturesque and charging hys soul wyth ye majestic. Hee rolleth abroad hys poetic eye upon ye beauties of nature; yea, expandeth hys nostryls and drinketh in sublimity.

Hee looketh about hym upon ye rocks and ye sage-bushes; hee beholdeth ye lizard basking in ye sun, and observeth ye gambols of ye horned toad. Straightway hys poetic imagination becometh heated, hee feeleth ye sprit upon him; hee becometh puffed up with ye ardent intensity of hys elevated sensations; hee braceth outwardly hys feet and poureth forth in long-drawn, triumphant gushes hys thunderous notes of rapture, the meanwhile wielding hys tayle up and down in the most wanton manner. Hys musick does not approach unto ye ravishing strains whyche decended through ye charmed mountain of Alfouran, and overflowed with melody the cell of the hermit Sunballed. It hath, in some parts, a quaver more of Chinese harmoniousness.

A wild, uneducated species of canary was thought worthy of mention in ye book of Job, amoung the more note-worthy beasts and birds of ye earth; now, how much more worthey of description must be the cultivated and accomplished warbler whyche is the subject of this brief history? We shall presently see that he will compare favorably with any foul or beaste of whyche we have mention in the good booke. Of ye leviathan we read- "Who can come to him with a double bridle?" But, ah! who dare come to ye Washoe canary wythe a spanish-bitted double bridle, two rope halters and a lasso? Again, of the leviathan: "lay thine hand upon hym, remember the battle, do no more." Verily, I say of ye Washoe canary- lay thine hand upon hymm remember hys heels, do no more.

Of ye behemoth it is said: " he moveth hys tayle like a cedar," but when ye Washoe canary giveth vent to hys sudden inspiration in an impromptu vocal effort he moveth hys tayle like two cedars and one pump-handle.

Again, of ye behemoth- " He eateth grass like an ox." Ye Washoe canary not only eateth grass, but in ye wild luxuriance of hys voluptuous fancy, and hys unbounded confidence in hys digestive capacity, rioteth in ye most reckless manner on sage-brush, prickly-pears, thornes and greasewood.

Of ye horse: " He smelleth ye battle afar off and saith, "ha, ha!'" Now, not any horse can further smell out a thing presumed to be hidden - sugar, bacon, and ye lyke - than ye Washoe canary - then, indeed hys "yee-haw" far surpasseth the "ha-ha!" of a horse laugh. What are ye wings of ye peacock of ye feathers of ye ostrich to ye fierceness of hys foretop and ye widespread awfulness of hys ears?

Of ye horse: "He swalloweth ye ground in fierceness and rage." Now, ye Washoe canary swalloweth woolen shirts, old breeches, gunny sacks and dilapidated hoop-skirts when in a state of pensive good nature - what, then must we suppose hym capable of swallowing, once hys wrath is enkindled and all ye fearful ferocity of hys nature is aroused: Such is ye Washoe canary. Be in haste at no time to proclaim a victory over hym. (all misspellings SIC)

*HG editor's note: We've often wondered if DeQuille is referring to his co-worker, Mark Twain, as the "queer genius" when he introduces the Washoe "Canary" description. The mis-spellings are intentional (we didn't spell those words that way! editors) and does well at immitating the obnoxious sounds made by the mules, common in Virginia City at the time and a sound familar to the readers. The resulting humor inflected is something Twain did quite well. Today, a lasting result is that we have a description ~ written at the time ~ on the life of the miners and their daily companion. (Dec. 1998)

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