A Railroad Poem so Cleverly Imitative of Bret Harte
that the Famous Author Refused to Disown It.

ONE of the most successful hoaxes that ever slid unchallenged into the mind of the great American public was perpetrated by Sam Davis, now Controller and Insurance Commissioner of Nevada. Some years ago, in company with Thomas McCrossen, he started at Vallejo, California, a paper called The Open Letter. At dinner one night with Woodford Owem, then Collector of the Port, Mr. Davis defended his ability to imitate the style of any modern poet so closely as to defy detection. A friendly wager followed, Mr. Owens naming Bret Harte as the poet to be imitated.

Within a week Mr. Davis had written 'Binley and 46' and had published it in The Open Letter over the name of Bret Harte. An accompanying editorial paragraph explained that the poem had been found by Mr. McCrossen in a trunk which Harte had left in a San Francisco lodging-house many years before. So "Binley and 46" went the rounds of the press. Even Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper gave it a full page, with illustrations by Matt Morgan. The authenticity of the poem remained unquestioned. As for Harte, he said nothing. When the hoaxers thought the joke had gone far enough they exposed it in The Open Letter. The feelings of readers who had been tricked were, as the poet has said, various. Many showed indignation; others laughed - but Mr. Davis had won his wager. His principal embarrassment has been the impossibility of undoing the hoax. Despite all efforts to establish the real status of the poem, despite the innate absurdity of a situation in which an engineer who takes his locomotive out into a blizzard with no fireman and then freezes to death beside a roaring furnace, there are people living who still regard "Binley and 46" as one of Bret Harte's masterpieces.


UPON Wasatch's peaks of snow
Night holds illimitable sway,
Where but a single hour ago
The crags and chasms, high and low,
Resplendent shone with day.

From out the sky no star ray shines
Upon the awful solitude;
While moaning through the tossing pines,
Like some unquiet spirit's brood,
The winds sweep to and fro,
Breathing in saddened mood
Their whisperings of wo.

At first they only sighed,
But now they moan and sob;
And since the eventide
Their maddened pulses throb
In quicker, wilder flow,
Such as the Storm Kings know.

'Twas eleven o'clock near Bridger's Gap,
In a station that swayed in the tempest's sweep,
Where a lightning-jerker enjoyed his nap,
When a call from the Canyon broke his sleep.
And he caught the words from the subtle clicks,
"Send Binley down here with 46."

Soon Binley had mounted his iron steed,
And the fires of his furnace glowed again,
As the ponderous monster devoured his feed,
And rolled from the side-track onto the main.
Out in the night where the snowflakes fell,
Out where the blasts of the tempests roar,
Binley shouted his friend farewell
As he opened the throttle-valve one notch more.

Then over the winding track he sped,
While the pathway with chasms and crags was lined;
The glare of his great light streamed ahead,
While the snow like a bride's veil streamed behind.
And soon the sound of the clanking steel
Was drowned in the echoes from hill to hill;
He felt the engine sway and reel,
But the throttle went one notch farther still.

Then down the grade like a courser fleet,
Plunging through mountains of drifted snow,
The engine plows through the crusts of sleet,
And hurls a thousand feet below
The gathering masses that block its way,
Throws them far to the left and right,
Into the black, oblivious night,
To reach the Canyon by break of day.

Now old Binley feels the thrill
That the soldier knows when he meets the foe;
He opens the throttle-valve wider still,
And his furnace burns with a fiercer glow,
As the piston flashes in faster stroke;
But firm as a rock stands the engineer,
For in that honest old heart of oak
There beats not the faintest pulse of fear.

But now the engine is running slower,
Though its pathway lies on a level grade;
And soon a tremor comes stealing o'er
Binley's hand on the throttle laid.
There's a slacking up of the driving-wheel
While the engine struggles with human will,
Then slowly ceases the clank of steel,
And the panting monster is standing still.

Thicker and faster the drifting snow
Throws round its victim its winding sheet
And quenches the glare of the headlight's glow
As Binley mutters "I give up beat."

Next morning a snow-plow forced its way
To the spot where the buried engine lay;
They hewed a path through the frozen crust,
And then was the ghastly story told;
There sat Binley beside his trust
While his hand on the throttle was stiff and cold.

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