Mile 1695: Bates’s/ Butte/ Robber’s Roost Station

“While the Shoshonee is tracking and driving the old mare, we will glance around the “Robber’s Roost,” which will answer for a study of the Western man’s home.

It is about as civilized as the Galway shanty, or the normal dwelling-place in Central Equatorial Africa. A cabin fronting east and west, long walls thirty feet, with port-holes for windows, short ditto fifteen; material, sandstone and bog ironstone slabs compacted with mud, the whole roofed with split cedar trunks, reposing on horizontals which rested on perpendiculars. Behind the house a corral of rails planted in the ground ; the inclosed space a mass of earth, and a mere shed in one corner the only shelter. Outside the door the hingeless and lockless backboard of a wagon, bearing the wounds of bullets and resting on lintels and staples, which also had formed parts of locomotives, a slab acting stepping-stone over a mass of soppy black soil strewed with ashes, gobs of meat offals, and other delicacies. On the right hand a load of wood; on the left a tank formed by damming a dirty pool which had flowed through a corral behind the “Roost.” There was a regular line of drip distilling from the caked and hollowed snow which toppled from the thick thatch above the cedar braces.

The inside reflected the outside. The length was divided by two perpendiculars, the southernmost of which, assisted by a halfway canvas partition, cut the hut into unequal parts. Behind it were two bunks for four men : standing bedsteads of poles planted in the ground, as in Australia and Unyamwezi, and covered with piles of ragged blankets. Beneath the frame-work were heaps of rubbish, saddles, cloths, harness, and straps, sacks of wheat, oats, meal, and potatoes, defended from the ground by underlying logs, and dogs nestled where they found room. The floor, which also frequently represented bedstead, was rough, uneven earth, neither tamped nor swept, and the fine end of a spring oozing through the western wall kept part of it in a state of eternal mud. A redeeming point was the fireplace, which occupied half of the northern short wall: it might have belonged to Guy of Warwick’s great hall; its ingle nooks boasted dimensions which one connects with an idea of hospitality and jollity; while a long hook hanging down it spoke of the bouillon-pot, and the iron oven of hot rolls. Nothing could be more simple than the furniture. The chairs were either posts mounted on four legs spread out for a base, or three-legged stools with reniform seats. The tables were rough-dressed planks, two feet by two, on rickety trestles. One stood in the centre for feeding purposes; the other was placed as buffet in the corner near the fire, with eating apparatus tin coffee-pot and gamelles, rough knives, “pitchforks,” and pewter spoons. The walls were pegged to support spurs and pistols, whips, gloves, and leggins. Over the door, in a niche, stood a broken coffee-mill, for which a flat stone did duty. Near the entrance, on a broad shelf raised about a foot from the ground, lay a tin skillet and its “dipper.” Soap was supplied by a handful of gravel, and evaporation was expected to act towel. Under the board was a pail of water with a floating can, which enabled the inmates to supply the drainage of everlasting chaws. There was no sign of Bible, Shakspeare, or Milton; a Holywell-Street romance or two was the only attempt at literature. En revanche, weapons of the flesh, rifles, guns, and pistols, lay and hung all about the house, carelessly stowed as usual, and tools were not wanting hammers, large borers, axe, saw, and chisel.”