The Philosopher from Weber Creek

Life in the California gold mines, while peaceful at times, had its rough moments, as one would expect anyplace where alcohol was plentiful and there were few women to moderate behavior. A miner of little education but who knew a few scientific terms and was quite the talker lived along Weber Creek near Hangtown. He was an advocate of the practice of phrenology, or the belief that the shape of the skull and the bumps on the head can determine a man’s mental facilities and character traits. At every opportunity he would intrude on a conversation and was never satisfied until he had been allowed to feel each head and chart out his divination of their personality, and so he was commonly known thereabouts as the Philosopher.

A mining camp at Weber Creek, by JD Borthwick

On one particular Sunday morning he journeyed into Hangtown, where he stayed throughout the day and evening and didn’t return until late that night, and then very drunk. But instead of going to his own cabin he stopped at the home of an acquaintance, rambling on about phrenology, the democratic ticket, and playing poker with a man named Jim. The next morning, now somewhat sober, and while he made his apologies to his host, it was noticed that his face was badly battered and so the host asked him what had happened. The Philosopher would only say that down at the store the night before he had gotten into a fight and had his hat handed to him, and that it had all been his fault.

A Question of Title from “A Peep at Washoe’

The host soon learned that the Philosopher had indeed been at the store, lecturing all who would listen on phrenology and then feeling everyone’s head that would tolerate it. Then he gave each man a detailed description of his attributes, all the while keeping his own spirits up with frequent glasses of liquor. Finally he got hold of someone whose bumps showed him to be a man of bad character and, filled with drunken excitement and egged on by the crowd, the Philosopher went on to call the man a liar, a cheat and a thief who would murder his own father for five dollars. The man who possessed this reputed bad character took immediate offense and commenced to drub the Philosopher mercilessly. He would have continued at it for some time too but the crowd that had been listening interfered and pulled him away. There is no record if the Philosopher ever learned to keep his opinions of another man’s character to himself.


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