California Sketches, Second Series
O. P. Fitzgerald
Part 2 out of 4
this weakness was curious: He was a printer in Mobile, Alabama. On one
occasion a thirty-two-page book-form of small type was "pied." "I
undertook,", said he, "to set that pied form to rights, and, in doing
so, the words got so mixed in my brain that my spelling was spoiled
He went to Oregon, and traveled and preached from the Cascade Mountains
to Idaho, thrilling, melting, and amusing, in turn, the crowds that came
out to hear the wild-looking man whose coming was so sudden, and whose
going as so rapid, that they were lost in wonder, as if gazing at a
meteor that flashed across the sky.
He was a Yankee from New Hampshire, who, going to Alabama, lost his
heart, and was ever afterward intensely Southern in all his convictions
and affections. His fiery soul found congenial spirits among the
generous, hotblooded people of the Gulf States, whose very faults had a
sort of charm for this impulsive, generous, erratic, gifted, man. He
made his way back to his New England hills, where he is waiting for the
sunset, often turning a longing eye southward, and now and then sending
a greeting to Alabama.
The California Politician.
The California politician of the early days was plucky. He had to be so,
for faint heart won no votes in those rough times. One of the Marshalls
(Tom or Ned--I forget which), at the beginning of a stump speech one
night in the mines, was interrupted by a storm of hisses and execrations
from a turbulent crowd of fellows, many of whom were full of whisky. He
paused a moment, drew himself up to his full height, coolly took a
pistol from his pocket, laid it on the stand before him, and said:
"I have seen bigger crowds than this many a time. I want it to be fully
understood that I came here to make a speech tonight, and I am going to
do it, or else there will be a funeral or two."
That touch took with that crowd. The one thing they all believed in was
courage. Marshall made one of his grandest speeches, and at the close
the delighted miners bore him in triumph from the rostrum.
That was a curious exordium of "Uncle Peter Mehan," when he made his
first stump-speech at Sonora: "Fellow-citizens, I was born an orphin at
a very early period of my life." He was a candidate for supervisor, and
the good-natured miners elected him triumphantly. He made a good
supervisor, which is another proof that book-learning and elegant
rhetoric are not essential where there are integrity and native good
sense. Uncle Peter never stole any thing, and he was usually on the
right side of all questions that claimed the attention of the
county-fathers of Tuolumne.
In the early days, the Virginians, New Yorkers, and Tennesseans, led in
politics. Trained to the stump at home, the Virginians and Tennesseans
were ready on all occasions to run a primary-meeting, a convention, or a
canvass. There was scarcely a mining-camp in the State in which there
was not a leading local politician from one or both of these States. The
New Yorker understood all the inside management of party organization,
and was up to all the smart tactics developed in the lively struggles of
parties in the times when Whiggery and Democracy fiercely fought for
rule in the Empire State. Broderick was a New Yorker, trained by Tammany
in its palmy days. He was a chief, who rose from the ranks, and ruled by
force of will. Thick-set, strong-limbed, full-chested, with immense
driving-power in his back-head, he was an athlete whose stalwart
physique was of more value to him than the gift of eloquence, or even
the power of money. The sharpest lawyers and the richest money-kings
alike went down before this uncultured and moneyless man, who dominated
the clans of San Francisco simply by right of his manhood. He was not
without a sort of eloquence of his own. He spoke right to the point, and
his words fell like the thud of a shillalah; or rang like the clash of
steel. He dealt with the rough elements of politics in an exciting and
turbulent period of California politics, and was more of a border chief
than an Ivanhoe in his modes of warfare. He reached the United States
Senate, and in his first speech in that august body he honored his
manhood by an allusion to his father, a stone mason, whose hands, said
Broderick, had helped to erect the very walls of the chamber in which he
spoke. When a man gets as high as the United States Senate, there is
less tax upon his magnanimity in acknowledging his humble origin than
while he is lower down the ladder. You seldom hear a man boast how low
he began until he is far up toward the summit of his ambition.
Ninety-nine out of every hundred self-made men are at first more or less
sensitive concerning their low birth; the hundredth man who is not is a
Broderick's great rival was Gwin. The men were antipodes in every thing
except that they belonged to the same party. Gwin still lives, the most
colossal figure in the history of California. He looks the man he is. Of
immense frame, ruddy complexion, deep-blue eyes that almost blaze when
he is excited, rugged yet expressive features, a massive bead crowned
with a heavy suit of silver-white hair, he is marked by Nature for
leadership. Common men seem dwarfed in his presence. After he had
dropped out of California politics for awhile, a Sacramento hotel-keeper
expressed what many felt during a legislative session: "I find myself
looking around for Gwin. I miss the chief."
My first acquaintance with Dr. Gwin began with, an incident that
illustrates the man and the times. It was in 1856. The Legislature was
in session at Sacramento, and a United States Senator was to, be
elected. I was making a tentative movement toward starting a Southern
Methodist newspaper, and visited Sacramento on that business. My friend
Major P. L. Solomon was there, and took a friendly interest in my
enterprise. He proposed to introduce me to the leading men of both
parties, and I thankfully availed myself of his courtesy. Among the
first to whom he presented me was a noted politician who, both before
and since, has enjoyed a national notoriety, and who still lives, and is
as, ready as ever to talk or fight. His name I need not give. I
presented to him my mission, and he seemed embarrassed.
"I am with you, of course. My mother was a Methodist, and all my
sympathies are with the Methodist Church. I am a Southern man in all my
convictions and impulses, and I am a Southern Methodist in principle.
But you see, sir, I am a candidate for United States Senator, and
sectional feeling is likely to enter into the contest, and if it were
known that my name was on your list of subscribers, it might endanger my
He squeezed my arm, told me he loved me and my Church, said he would be
happy to see me often, and so forth--but he did not give me his name. I
left him, saying in my heart, Here is a politician.
Going on together, in the corridor we met Gwin. Solomon introduced me,
and told him my business.
"I am glad to know that you are going to start a Southern Methodist
newspaper. No Church can do without its organ. Put me down on your list,
and come with me, and I will make all these fellows subscribe. There is
not much religion among them, I fear, but we will make them take the
This was said in a hearty and pleasant way, and he took me from man to
man, until I had gotten more than a dozen names, among them two or three
of his most active political opponents.
This incident exhibits the two types of the politician, and the two
classes of men to be found in all communities--the one all "blarney"
and selfishness, the other with real manhood redeeming poor human
nature, and saving it from utter contempt. The senatorial prize eluded
the grasp of both aspirants, but the reader will not be at a loss to
guess whose side I was on. Dr. Gwin made a friend that day, and never
lost him. It was this sort of fidelity to friends that, when fortune
frowned on the grand old Senator after the collapse at Appomattox,
rallied thousands of true hearts to his side, among whom were those who
had fought him in many a fierce political battle. Broderick and Gwin
were both, by a curious turn of political fortune, elected by the same
Legislature to the United States Senate. Broderick sleeps in Lone
Mountain, and Gwin still treads the stage of his former glory, a living
monument of the days when California politics was half romance and half
tragedy. The friend and protege of General Andrew Jackson, a member of
the first Constitutional Convention of California, twice United States
Senator, a prominent figure in the civil war, the father of the great
Pacific Railway, he is the front figure on the canvas of California
Gwin was succeeded by McDougall. What a man was he! His face was as
classic as a Greek statue. It spoke the student and the scholar in every
line. His hair was snow-white, his eyes bluish gray, and his form
sinewy and elastic. He went from Illinois, with Baker and other men of
genius, and soon won a high place at the bar of San Francisco. I heard
it said, by an eminent jurist, that when McDougall had put his whole
strength into the examination of a case, his side of it was exhausted.
His reading was immense, his learning solid. His election was doubtless
a surprise to himself as well as to the California public. The day
before he left for Washington City, I met him in the street, and as we
parted I held his hand a moment, and said:
"Your friends will watch your career with hope and with fear."
He knew what I meant, and said, quickly:
"I understand you. You are afraid that I will yield to my weakness for
strong drink. But you may be sure I will play the man, and California
shall have no cause to blush on my account."
That was his fatal weakness. No one, looking upon his pale, scholarly
face, and noting his faultlessly neat apparel, and easy, graceful
manners, would have thought of such a thing. Yet he was a--I falter in
writing it--a drunkard. At times he drank deeply and madly. When half
intoxicated he was almost as brilliant as Hamlet, and as rollicking as
Falstaff. It was said that even when fully drunk his splendid intellect
never entirely gave way.
"McDougall commands as much attention in the Senate when drunk as any
other Senator does when sober," said a Congressman in Washington in
1866. It is said that his great speech on the question of
"confiscation," at the beginning of the war, was delivered when he was
in a state of semi-intoxication. Be that as it may, it exhausted the
whole question, and settled the policy of the Government.
"No one will watch your senatorial career with more friendly interest
than myself; and if you will abstain wholly from all strong drink, we
shall all, be proud of you, I know."
"Not a drop will I touch, my friend; and I'll make you proud of me."
He spoke feelingly, and I think there was a moisture about his eye as he
pressed my hand and walked away.
I never saw him again. For the first few months he wrote to me often,
and then his letters came at longer intervals, and then they ceased. And
then the newspapers disclosed the shameful secret California's brilliant
Senator was a drunkard. The temptations of the Capital were too strong
for him. He went down into the black waters a complete wreck. He
returned to the old home of his boyhood in New Jersey to die. I learned
that he was lucid and penitent at the last. They brought his body back
to San Francisco to be buried, and when at his funeral the words "I know
that my Redeemer liveth," in clear soprano, rang through the vaulted
cathedral like a peal of triumph, I indulged the hope that the spirit of
my gifted and fated friend had, through the mercy of the Friend of
sinners, gone from his boyhood hills up to the hills of God.
The typical California politician was Coffroth. The "boys" fondly called
him "Jim" Coffroth. There is no surer sign of popularity than a popular
abbreviation of this sort, unless it is a pet nickname. Coffroth was
from Pennsylvania, where he had gained an inkling of polities and
general literature. He gravitated into California polities by the law of
his nature. He was born for this, having what a friend calls the gift of
popularity. His presence was magnetic; his laugh was contagious; his
enthusiasm irresistible. Nobody ever thought of taking offense at Jim
Coffroth. He could change his politics with impunity without losing a
friend--he never had a personal enemy; but I believe he only made that
experiment once. He went off with the Know-nothings in 1855, and was
elected by them to the State Senate, and was called to preside over
their State Convention. He hastened back to his old party associates,
and at the first convention that met in his county on his return from
the Legislature, he rose and told them how lonesome he had felt while
astray from the old fold, how glad he was to get back, and how humble he
felt, concluding by advising all his late supporters to do as he had
done by taking "a straight chute" for the old party. He ended amid a
storm of applause, was reinstated at once, and was made President of the
next Democratic State Convention. There he was in his glory. His tact
and good humor were infinite, and he held those hundreds of excitable
and explosive men in the hollow of his hand. He would dismiss a
dangerous motion with a witticism so apt that the mover himself would
join in the laugh, and give it up. His broad face in repose was that of
a Quaker, at other times that of a Bacchus. There was a religious streak
in this jolly partisan, and he published several poems that breathed the
sweetest and loftiest religious sentiment. The newspapers were a little
disposed to make a joke of these ebullitions of devotional feeling, but
they now make the light that casts a gleam of brightness upon the
background of his life. I take from an old volume of the Christian
Spectator one of these poems as a literary curiosity. Every man lives
two lives. The rollicking politician, "Jim Coffroth," every Californian
knew; the author of these lines was another man by the same name:
Amid the Silence of the Night. "Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall
neither slumber nor sleep." Psalm cxxi.
Amid the silence of the night, Amid its lonely hours and dreary, When we
Close the aching sight, Musing sadly, lorn and weary, Trusting that
tomorrow's light May reveal a day more cheery;
Amid affliction's darker hour, When no hope beguiles our sadness, When
Death's hurtling tempests lower, And forever shroud our gladness, While
Grief's unrelenting power Goads our stricken hearts to madness;
When from friends beloved we're parted, And from scenes our spirits
love, And are driven, broken-hearted, O'er a heartless world to rove;
When the woes by which we've smarted, Vainly seek to melt or move; When
we trust and are deluded, When we love and are denied, When the schemes
o'er which we brooded Burst like mist on mountain's side, And, from
every hope excluded, We in dark despair abide;
Then, and ever, God sustains us, He whose eye no slumber knows, Who
controls each throb that pains us, And in mercy sends our woes, And by
love severe constrains us To avoid eternal throes.
Happy he whose heart obeys him! Lost and ruined who disown! O if idols
e'er displace him, Tear them from his chosen throne! May our lives and
language praise him! May our hearts be his alone!
He took defeat with a good nature that robbed it of its sting, and made
his political opponents half sorry for having beaten him. He was talked
of for Governor at one time, and he gave as a reason, why he would like
the office that "a great many of his friends were in the State-prison,
and he wanted to use the pardoning power in their behalf." This was a
jest, of course, referring to the fact that as a lawyer much of his
practice was in the criminal courts. He was never suspected of treachery
or dishonor in public or private life. His very ambition was unselfish:
he was always ready to sacrifice himself in a hopeless candidacy if he
could thereby help his party or a friend.
His good nature was tested once while presiding over a party convention
at Sonora for the nomination of candidates for legislative and county
offices. Among the delegates was the eccentric John Vallew, whose mind
was a singular compound of shrewdness and flightiness, and was stored
with the most out-of-the-way scraps of learning, philosophy, and poetry.
Some one proposed Vallew's name as a candidate for the Legislature. He
rose to his feet with a clouded face, and in an angry voice said:
"Mr. President, I am surprised and mortified. I have lived in this
county more than seven years, and I have never had any difficulty with
my neighbors. I did not know that I had an enemy in the world. What have
I done, that it should be proposed to send me to the Legislature? What
reason has anybody to think I am that sort of a man? To think I should
have come to this! To propose to send me to the Legislature, when it is
a notorious fact that you have never sent a man thither from this county
who did not come back morally and pecuniarily ruined!"
The crowd saw the point, and roared with laughter, Coffroth, who had
served in the previous session, joining heartily in the merriment.
Vallew was excused.
Coffroth grew fatter and jollier; his strong intellect struggled against
increasing sensual tendencies. What the issue might have been, I know
not. He died suddenly, and his destiny was transferred to another
sphere. So there dropped out of California-life a partisan without
bitterness, a satirist without malice, a wit without a sting, the
jolliest, freest, readiest man that ever faced a California audience on
the hustings--the typical politician of California.
Old Man Lowry.
I had marked his expressive physiognomy among my hearers in the little
church in Sonora for some weeks before he made himself known to me. As I
learned afterward, he was weighing the young preacher in his critical
balances. He had a shrewd Scotch face, in which there was a mingling of
keenness, benignity, and humor. His age might be sixty, or it might be
more. He was an old bachelor, and wide guesses are sometimes made as to
the ages of that class of men. They may not live longer than married
men, but they do not show the effects of life's wear and tear so early.
He came to see us one evening. He fell in love with the mistress of the
parsonage, just as he ought to have done, and we were charmed with the
quaint old bachelor. There was a piquancy, a sharp flavor, in his talk
that was delightful. His aphorisms often crystallized a neglected truth
in a form all his own. He was an original character. There was nothing
commonplace about him. He had his own way of saying and doing every
Society in the mines was limited in that day, and we felt that we had
found a real thesaurus in this old man of unique mold. His visits were
refreshing to us, and his plain-spoken criticisms were helpful to me.
He had left the Church because he did not agree with the preachers on
some points of Christian ethics, and because they used tobacco. But he
was unhappy on the outside, and finding that my views and habits did not
happen to cross his peculiar notions, he came back. His religious
experience was out of the common order. Bred a Calvinist, of the good
old Scotch-Presbyterian type, he had swung away from that faith, and was
in danger of rushing into Universalism, or infidelity. That once famous
and much-read little book, "John Nelson's Journal," fell into his hands,
and changed his whole life. It led him to Christ, and to the Methodists.
He was a true spiritual child of the unflinching Yorkshire stone-cutter.
Like him he despised half-way measures, and like him he was aggressive
in thought and action. What he liked he loved, what he disliked he
hated. Calvinism he abhorred, and he let no occasion pass for pouring
into it the hot shot of his scorn and wrath. One night I preached from
the text, Should it be according to thy mind?
"The first part of your sermon," he said to me as we passed out of the
church, "distressed me greatly. For a full half hour you preached
straight out Calvinism, and I thought you had ruined every thing; but
you had left a little slip-gap, and crawled out at the last."
His ideal of a minister of the gospel was Dr. Keener, whom he knew at
New Orleans before coming to California. He was the first man I ever
heard mention Dr. Keener's name for the episcopacy. There was much in
common between them. If my eccentric California bachelor friend did not
have as strong and cool a head, he had as brave and true a heart as the
incisive and chivalrous Louisiana preacher, upon whose head the miter
was placed by the suffrage of his brethren at Memphis in 1870.
He became very active as a worker in the Church. I made him
class-leader, and there have been few in that office who brought to its
sacred duties as much spiritual insight, candor, and tenderness. At
times his words flashed like diamonds, showing what the Bible can reveal
to a solitary thinker who makes it his chief study day and night. When
needful, he could apply caustic that burned to the very core of an error
of opinion or of practice. He took a class in the Sunday-school, and his
freshness, acuteness, humor, and deep knowledge of the Scriptures, made
him far more than an ordinary teacher. A fine pocket Bible was offered
as a prize to the scholar who should, in three months, memorize the
greatest number of Scripture verses. The wisdom of such a contest is
questionable to me now, but it was the fashion then, and I was too young
and self-distrustful to set myself against the current in such matters.
The contest was an exciting one--two boys, Robert A--and Jonathan R--,
and one girl, Annie P--, leading all the school. Jonathan suddenly fell
behind, and was soon distanced by his two competitors. Lowry, who was
his teacher, asked him what was the reason of his sudden breakdown. The
boy blushed, and stammered out:
"I didn't want to beat Annie."
Robert won the prize, and the day came for its presentation. The house
was full, and everybody was in a pleasant mood. After the prize had been
presented in due form and with a little flourish, Lowry arose, and
producing a costly Bible, in a few words telling how magnanimously and
gallantly Jonathan had retired from the contest, presented it to the
pleased and blushing boy. The boys and girls applauded California
fashion, and the old man's face glowed with satisfaction. He had in him
curiously mingled the elements of the Puritan and the Cavalier--the
uncompromising persistency of the one, and the chivalrous impulse and
openhandedness of the other.
The old man had too many crotchets and too much combativeness to be
popular. He spared no opinion or habit he did not like. He struck every
angle within reach of him. In the state of society then existing in the
mines there were many things to vex his soul, and keep him on the
warpath. The miners looked upon him as a brave, good man, just a little
daft. He worked a mining-claim on Wood's Creek, north of town, and lived
alone in a tiny cabin on the hill above. That was the smallest of
cabins, looking like a mere box from the trail which wound through the
flat below. Two little scrub-oaks stood near it, under which he sat and
read his Bible in leisure moments. There, above the world, he could
commune with his own heart and with God undisturbed, and look down upon
a race he half pitied and half despised. From the spot the eye took in a
vast sweep of hill and dale: Bald Mountain, the most striking object in
the near background, and beyond its dark, rugged mass the snowy summits
of the Sierras, rising one above another, like gigantic stair-steps,
leading up to the throne of the Eternal. This lonely height suited
Lowry's strangely compounded nature. As a cynic, he looked down with
contempt upon the petty life that seethed and frothed in the camps
below; as a saint, he looked forth upon the wonders of God's handiwork
around and above him.
There was an intensity in all that he did. Passing his mining-claim on
horseback one day, I paused to look at him in his work. Clad in a blue
flannel mining-suit, he was digging as for life. The embankment of red
dirt and gravel melted away rapidly before his vigorous strokes, and he
seemed to feel a sort of fierce delight in his work. Pausing a moment,
he looked up and saw me.
"You dig as if you were in a hurry," I said.
"Yes, I have been digging here three years. I have a notion that I have
just so much of the earth to turn over before I am turned under," he
replied with a sort of grim humor.
He was still there when we visited Sonora in 1857. He invited us out to
dinner, and we went. By skillful circling around the hill, we reached
the little cabin on the summit with horse and buggy. The old man had
made preparations for his expected guests. The floor of the cabin had
been swept, and its scanty store of furniture put to rights, and a
dinner was cooking in and on the little stove. His lady-guest insisted
on helping in the preparation of the dinner, but was allowed to do
nothing further than to arrange the dishes on the primitive table, which
was set out under one of the little oaks in the yard. It was a miner's
feast--can-fruits, can-vegetables, can-oysters, can-pickles, can-every
thing nearly, with tea distilled from the Asiatic leaf by a receipt of
his own. It was a hot day, and from the cloudless heavens the sun
flooded the earth with his glory, and the shimmer of the sunshine was in
the still air. We tried to be cheerful, but there was a pathos about the
affair that touched us. He felt it too. More than once there was a tear
in his eye. At parting, he kissed little Paul, and gave us his hand in
silence. As we drove down the hill, he stood gazing after us with a look
fixed and sad. The picture is till before me the lonely old man standing
sad and silent, the little cabin, the rude dinner-service under the oak,
and the overarching sky. That was our last meeting. The next will be on
the Other Side.
Suicide in California.
A half protest rises within me as I begin this Sketch. The page almost
turns crimson under my gaze, and shadowy forms come forth out of the
darkness into which they wildly plunged out of life's misery into
death's mystery. Ghostly lips cry out, "Leave us alone! Why call us back
to a world where we lost all, and in quitting which we risked all?
Disturb us not to gratify the cold curiosity of unfeeling strangers. We
have passed on beyond human jurisdiction to the realities we dared to
meet. Give us the pity and courtesy of your silence, O living brother,
who didst escape the wreck!" The appeal is not without effect, and if I
lift the shroud that covers the faces of these dead self-destroyed, it
will be tenderly, pityingly. These simple Sketches of real California
life would be imperfect if this characteristic feature were entirely
omitted; for California was (and is yet) the land of suicides. In a
single year there were one hundred and six in San Francisco alone. The
whole number of suicides in the State would, if the horror of each case
could be even imperfectly imagined, appall even the dryest statistician
of crime. The causes for this prevalence of self-destruction are to be
sought in the peculiar conditions of the country, and the habits of the
people. California, with all its beauty, grandeur, and riches, has been
to the many who have gone thither a land of great expectations, but
small results. This was specially the case in the earlier period of its
history, after the discovery of gold and its settlement by "Americans,"
as we call ourselves, par excellence. Hurled from the topmost height of
extravagant hope to the lowest deep of disappointment, the shock is too
great for reaction; the rope, razor, bullet, or deadly drug, finishes
the tragedy. Materialistic infidelity in California is the avowed belief
of multitudes, and its subtle poison infects the minds and unconsciously
the actions of thousands who recoil from the dark abyss that yawns at
the feet of its adherents with its fascination of horror. Under some
circumstances, suicide becomes logical to a man who has neither hope nor
dread of a hereafter. Sins against the body, and especially the nervous
system, were prevalent; and days of pain, sleepless nights, and weakened
wills, were the precursors of the tragedy that promised change, if not
rest. The devil gets men inside a fiery circle, made by their own sin
and folly, from which there seems to be no escape but by death, and they
will unbar its awful door with their own trembling hands. There is
another door of escape for the worst and most wretched, and it is opened
to the penitent by the hand that was nailed to the rugged cross. These
crises do come, when the next step must be death or life-penitence or
perdition. Do sane men and women ever commit suicide? Yes--and, No.
Yes, in the sense that they sometimes do it with even pulse and steady
nerves. No, in the sense that there cannot be perfect soundness in the
brain and heart of one who violates a primal instinct of human nature.
Each case has its own peculiar features, and must be left to the
all-seeing and all-pitying Father. Suicide, where it is not the greatest
of crimes, is the greatest of misfortunes. The righteous Judge will
classify its victims.
A noted case in San Francisco was that of a French Catholic priest. He
was young, brilliant, and popular--beloved by his flock, and admired by
a large circle outside. He had taken the solemn vows of his order in all
sincerity of purpose, and was distinguished as well for his zeal in his
pastoral work as for his genius. But temptation met him, and he fell. It
came in the shape in which it assailed the young Hebrew in Potiphar's
house, and in which it overcame the poet-king of Israel. He was seized
with horror and remorse, though he had no accuser save that voice
within, which cannot be hushed while the soul lives. He ceased to
perform the sacred functions of his office, making some plausible
pretext to his superiors, not daring to add sacrilege to mortal sin.
Shutting himself in his chamber, he brooded over his crime; or, no
longer able to endure the agony he felt, he would rush forth, and walk
for hours over the sand-dunes, or along the sea-beach. But no answer of
peace followed his prayers, and the voices of nature soothed him not. He
thought his sin unpardonable--at least, he would not pardon himself. He
was found one morning lying dead in his bed in a pool of blood. He had
severed the jugular-vein with a razor, which was still clutched in his
stiffened fingers. His handsome and classic face bore no trace of pain.
A sealed letter, lying on the table, contained his confession and his
Among the lawyers in one of the largest mining towns of California was
H. B--. He was a native of Virginia, and an alumnus of its noble
University. He was a scholar, a fine lawyer, handsome and manly in
person and bearing, and had the gift of popularity. Though the youngest
lawyer in the town, he took a front place at the bar at once. Over the
heads of several older aspirants, he was elected county judge. There was
no ebb in the tide of his general popularity, and he had qualities that
won the warmest regard of his inner circle of special friends. But in
this case, as in many others, success had its danger. Hard drinking was
the rule in those days. Horace B--had been one of the rare exceptions.
There was a reason for this extra prudence. He had that peculiar
susceptibility to alcoholic excitement which has been the ruin of so
many gifted and noble men. He knew his weakness, and it is strange that
he did not continue to guard against the danger that he so well
understood. Strange? No; this infatuation is so common in everyday life
that we cannot call it strange. There is some sort of fatal fascination
that draws men with their eyes wide open into the very jaws of this hell
of strong drink. The most brilliant physician in San Francisco, in the
prime of his magnificent young manhood, died of delirium tremens, the
victim of a self-inflicted disease, whose horrors no one knew or could
picture so well as himself. Who says man is not a fallen, broken
creature, and that there is not a devil at hand to tempt him? This
devil, under the guise of sociability, false pride, or moral cowardice,
tempted Horace B--, and he yielded. Like tinder touched by flame, he
blazed into drunkenness, and again and again the proud-spirited, manly,
and cultured young lawyer and jurist was seen staggering along the
streets, maudlin or mad with alcohol. When he had slept off his madness,
his humiliation was intense, and he walked the streets with pallid face
and downcast eyes. The coarser-grained men with whom he was thrown in
contact had no conception of the mental tortures he suffered, and their
rude jests stung him to the quick. He despised himself as a weakling and
a coward, but he did not get more than a transient victory over his
enemy. The spark had struck a sensitive organization, and the fire of
hell, smothered for the time, would blaze out again. He was fast
becoming a common drunkard, the accursed appetite growing stronger, and
his will weakening in accordance with that terrible law by which man's
physical and moral nature visits retribution on all who cross its path.
During a term of the court over which he presided, he was taken home one
night drunk. A pistol-shot was heard by persons in the vicinity some
time before daybreak; but pistol-shots, at all hours of the night, were
then too common to excite special attention. Horace B--was found next
morning lying on the floor with a bullet through his head. Many a stout,
heavy-bearded man had, wet eyes when the body of the ill-fated and
brilliant young Virginian was let down into the grave, which had been
dug for him on the hill overlooking the town from the south-east.
In the same town there was a portrait-painter, a quiet, pleasant fellow,
with a good face and easy, gentlemanly ways. As an artist, he was not
without merit, but his gift fell short of genius. He fell in love with a
charming girl, the eldest daughter of a leading citizen. She could not
return his passion. The enamored artist still loved, and hoped against
hope, lingering near her like a moth around a candle. There was another
and more favored suitor in the case, and the rejected lover had all his
hopes killed at one blow by her marriage to his rival. He felt that
without her life was not worth living. He resolved to kill himself, and
swallowed the contents of a two-ounce bottle of laudanum. After he had
done the rash deed, a reaction took place. He told what he had done, and
a physician was sent for. Before the doctor's arrival, the deadly drug
asserted its power, and this repentant suicide began to show signs of
going into a sleep from which it was certain he would never awake.
"My God! What have I done?" he exclaimed in horror. "Do your best, boys,
to keep me from going to sleep before the doctor gets here."
The doctor came quickly, and by the prompt and very vigorous use of the
stomach-pump he was saved. I was sent for, and found the would-be
suicide looking very weak, sick, silly, and sheepish. He got well, and
went on making pictures; but the picture of the fair, sweet girl, for
love of whom he came so near dying, never faded from his mind. His face
always wore a sad look, and he lived the life of a recluse, but he never
attempted suicide again--he had had enough of that.
"It always makes me shudder to look at that place," said a lady, as we
passed an elegant cottage on the western side of Russian Hill, San
"Why so? The place to me looks specially cheerful and attractive, with
its graceful slope, its shrubbery, flowers, and thick greensward."
"Yes, it is a lovely place, but it has a history that it shocks me to
think of. Do you see that tall pumping-apparatus, with water-tank on
top, in the rear of the house?"
"Yes; what of it?"
"A woman hanged herself there a year ago. The family consisted of the
husband and wife, and two bright, beautiful children. He was thrifty and
prosperous, she was an excellent housekeeper, and the children were
healthy and well-behaved. In appearance a happier family could not be
found on the hill. One day Mr. P--came home at the usual hour, and,
missing the wife's customary greeting, he asked the children where she
was. The children had not seen their mother for two or three hours, and
looked startled when they found she was missing. Messengers were sent to
the nearest neighbors to make inquiries, but no one had seen her. Mr. P
----'s face began to wear a troubled look as he walked the floor, from
time to time going to the door and casting anxious glances about the
"About dusk a sudden shriek was heard, issuing from the water-tank in the
yard, and the Irish servant-girl came rushing from it, with eyes
distended and face pale with terror.
"Holy Mother of God! It's the Missus that's hanged herself!"
The alarm spread, and soon a crowd, curious and sympathetic, had
collected. They found the poor lady suspended by the neck from a beam at
the head of the staircase leading to the top of the inclosure. She was
quite dead, and a horrible sight to see. At the inquest no facts were
developed throwing any light on the tragedy. There had been no cloud in
the sky portending the lightning stroke that laid the happy little home
in ruins. The husband testified that she was as bright and happy the
morning of the suicide as he had ever seen her, and had parted with him
at the door with the usual kiss. Every thing about the house that day
bore the marks of her deft and skillful touch. The two children were
dressed with accustomed neatness and, good taste. And yet the bolt was
in the cloud, and it fell before the sun had set! What was the mystery?
Ever afterward I felt something of the feeling expressed by my lady
friend when, in passing, I looked upon the structure which had been the
scene of this singular tragedy.
One of the most energetic business men living in one of the foothill
towns, on the northern edge of the Sacramento Valley, had a charming
wife, whom he loved with a deep and tender devotion. As in all true
love-matches, the passion of youth had ripened into a yet stronger and
purer love with the lapse of years and participation in the joys and
sorrows of wedded life. Their union had been blessed with five children,
all intelligent, sweet, and full of promise. It was a very affectionate
and happy household. Both parents possessed considerable literary taste
and culture, and the best books and current magazine literature were
read, discussed, and enjoyed in that quiet and elegant home amid the
roses and evergreens. It was a little paradise in the hills, where Love,
the home-angel, brightened every room and blessed every heart. But
trouble came in the shape of business reverses; and the worried look and
wakeful nights of the husband told how heavy were the blows that had
fallen upon this hard and willing worker. The course of ruin in
California was fearfully rapid in those days. When a man's financial
supports began to give way, they went with a crash. The movement
downward was with a rush that gave no time for putting on the brakes.
You were at the bottom, a wreck, almost before you knew it. So it was in
this case. Every thing was swept away, a mountain of unpaid debts was
piled up, credit was gone, clamor of creditors deafened him, and the
gaunt wolf of actual want looked in through the door of the cottage upon
the dear wife and little ones. Another shadow, and a yet darker one,
settled upon them. The unhappy man had been tampering with the delusion
of spiritualism, and his wife had been drawn with him into a partial
belief in its vagaries. In their troubles they sought the aid of the
"familiar spirits" that peeped and muttered through speaking, writing,
and rapping mediums. This kept them in a state of morbid excitement that
increased from day to day until they were wrought up to a tension that
verged on insanity. The lying spirits; or the frenzy of his own heated
brain, turned his thought to death as the only escape from want.
"I see our way out of these troubles, wife," he said one night, as they
sat hand in hand in the bedchamber, where the children were lying
asleep. "We will all die together! This has been revealed to me as the
solution of all our difficulties. Yes, we will enter the beautiful
spirit-world together! This is freedom! It is only getting out of
prison. Bright spirits beckon and call us. I am ready."
There was a gleam of madness in his eyes, and, as he took a pistol from
a bureau-drawer, an answering gleam flashed forth from the eyes of the
wife, as she said:
"Yes, love, we will all go together. I too am ready."
The sleeping children were breathing sweetly, unmindful of the horror
that the devil was hatching.
"The children first, then you, and then me," he said, his eye kindling
with increasing excitement.
He penciled a short note addressed to one of his old friends, asking him
to attend to the burial of the bodies, then they kissed each of the
sleeping children, and then--but let the curtain fall on the scene that
followed. The seven were found next day lying dead, a bullet through the
brain of each, the murderer, by the side of the wife, still holding the
weapon of death in his hand, its muzzle against his right temple.
Other pictures of real life and death crowd upon, my mind, among them
noble forms and faces that were near and dear to me; but again I hear
the appealing voices. The page before me is wet with tears--I cannot
see to write.
He came to California in 1855. The Pacific Conference was in session at
Sacramento. It was announced that the new preacher from Texas would
preach at night. The boat was detained in some way, and he just had time
to reach the church, where a large and expectant congregation were in
waiting. Below medium height, plainly dressed, and with a sort of
peculiar shuffling movement as he went down the aisle, he attracted no
special notice except for the profoundly reverential manner that never
left him anywhere. But the moment he faced his audience and spoke, it
was evident to them that a man of mark stood before them. They were
magnetized at once, and every eye was fixed upon the strong yet
benignant face, the capacious blue eyes, the ample forehead, and massive
head, bald on top, with silver locks on either side. His tones in
reading the Scripture and the hymns were unspeakably solemn and very
musical. The blazing fervor of the prayer that followed was absolutely
startling to some of the preachers, who had cooled down under the
depressing influence of the moral atmosphere of the country. It almost
seemed as if we could hear the rush of the pentecostal wind, and see the
tongues of flame. The very house seemed to be rocking on its
foundations. By the time the prayer had ended, all were in a glow, and
ready for the sermon. The text I do not now call to mind, but the
impression made by the sermon remains. I had seen and heard preachers
who glowed in the pulpit--this man burned. His words poured forth in a
molten flood, his face shone like a furnace heated from within, his
large blue eyes flashed with the lightning of impassioned sentiment, and
anon swam in pathetic appeal that no heart could resist. Body, brain,
and spirit, all seemed to feel the mighty afflatus. His very frame
seemed to expand, and the little man who had gone into the pulpit with
shuffling step and downcast eyes was transfigured before us. When, with
radiant face, upturned eyes, an upward sweep of his arm, and
trumpet-voice, he shouted, "Hallelujah to God!" the tide of emotion
broke over all barriers, the people rose to their feet, and the church
reechoed with their responsive hallelujahs. The new preacher from Texas
that night gave some Californians a new idea of evangelical eloquence,
and took his place as a burning and a shining light among the ministers
of God on the Pacific Coast.
"He is the man we want for San Francisco!" exclaimed the impulsive B. T.
Crouch, who had kindled into a generous enthusiasm under that marvelous
He was sent to San Francisco. He was one of a company of preachers who
have successively had charge of the Southern Methodist Church in that
wondrous city inside the Golden Gate--Boring, Evans, Fisher,
Fitzgerald, Gober, Brown, Bailey, Wood, Miller, Ball, Hoss, Chamberlin,
Mahon, Tuggle, Simmons, Henderson. There was an almost unlimited
diversity of temperament, culture, and gifts among these men; but they
all had a similar experience in this, that San Francisco gave them new
revelations of human nature and of themselves. Some went away crippled
and scarred, some sad, some broken; but perhaps in the Great Day it may
be found that for each and all there was a hidden blessing in the
heart-throes of a service that seemed to demand that they should sow in
bitter tears, and know no joyful reaping this side of the grave. O my
brothers, who have felt the fires of that furnace heated seven times
hotter than usual, shall we not in the resting-place beyond the river
realize that these fires burned out of us the dross that we did not know
was in our souls? The bird that comes out of the tempest with broken
wing may henceforth take a lowlier flight, but will be safer because it
ventures no more into the region of storms.
Fisher did not succeed in San Francisco, because he could not get a
hearing. A little handful would meet him on Sunday mornings in one of
the upper-rooms of the old City Hall, and listen to sermons that sent
them away in a religious glow, but he had no leverage for getting at the
masses. He was no adept in the methods by which the modern sensational
preacher compels the attention of the novelty-loving crowds in our
cities. An evangelist in every fiber of his being, he chafed under the
limitations of his charge in San Francisco, and from time to time he
would make a dash into the country, where, at camp-meetings and on other
special occasions, he preached the gospel with a power that broke many a
sinner's heart, and with a persuasiveness that brought many a wanderer
back to the Good Shepherd's fold. His bodily energy, like his religious
zeal, was unflagging. It seemed little less than a miracle that he
could, day after day, make such vast expenditure of nervous energy
without exhaustion. He put all his strength into every sermon and
exhortation, whether addressed to admiring and weeping thousands at a
great camp-meeting, or to a dozen or less "standbys" at the
Saturday-morning service of a quarterly-meeting.
He had his trials and crosses. Those who knew him intimately learned to
expect his mightiest pulpit efforts when the shadow on his face and the
unconscious sigh showed that he was passing through the waters and
crying to God out of the depths. In such experiences, the strong man is
revealed and gathers new strength; the weak one goes under. But his
strength was more than mere natural force of will, it was the strength
of a mighty faith in God--that unseen force by which the saints work
righteousness, subdue kingdoms, escape the violence of fire, and stop
the mouths of lions.
As a flame of fire, Fisher itinerated all over California and Oregon,
kindling a blaze of revival in almost every place he touched. He was
mighty in the Scriptures, and seemed to know the Book by heart. His was
no rose-water theology. He believed in a hell, and pictured it in Bible
language with a vividness and awfulness that thrilled the stoutest
sinner's heart; he believed in heaven, and spoke of it in such a way
that it seemed that with him faith had already changed to sight. The
gates of pearl, the crystal river, the shining ranks of the white-robed
throngs, their songs swelling as the sound of many waters, the holy love
and rapture of the glorified hosts of the redeemed, were made to pass in
panoramic procession before the listening multitudes until the heaven he
pictured seemed to be a present reality. He lived in the atmosphere of
the supernatural; the spirit-world was to him most real.
"I have been out of the body," he said to me one day. The words were
spoken softly, and his countenance, always grave in its aspect, deepened
in its solemnity of expression as he spoke.
"How was that?" I inquired.
"It was in Texas. I was returning from a quarterly-meeting where I had
preached one Sunday morning with great liberty and with unusual effect.
The horses attached to my vehicle became frightened, and ran away. They
were wholly beyond control, plunging down the road at a fearful speed,
when, by a slight turn to one side, the wheel struck a large log. There
was a concussion, and then a blank. The next thing I knew I was floating
in the air above the road. I saw every thing as plainly as I see your
face at this moment. There lay my body in the road, there lay the log,
and there were the trees, the fence, the fields, and every thing,
perfectly natural. My motion, which had been upward, was arrested, and
as, poised in the air, I looked at my body lying there in the road so
still, I felt a strong desire to go back to it, and found myself sinking
toward it. The next thing I knew I was lying in the road where I had
been thrown out, with a number of friends about me, some holding up my
head, others chafing my hands, or looking on with pity or alarm. Yes, I
was out of the body for a little, and I know there is a spirit-world."
His voice had sunk into a sort of whisper, and the tears were in his
eyes. I was strangely thrilled. Both of us were silent for a time, as if
we heard the echoes of voices, and saw the beckonings of shadowy hands
from that Other World which sometimes seems so far away, and yet is so
near to each one of us.
Surely you heaven, where angels see God's face, Is not so distant as we
deem From this low earth. 'Tis but a little space, 'Tis but a veil the
winds might blow aside; Yes, this all that us of earth divide From the
bright dwellings of the glorified, The land of which I dream.
But it was no dream to this man of mighty faith, the windows of whose
soul opened at all times Godward. To him immortality was a demonstrated
fact, an experience. He had been out of the body.
Intensity was his dominating quality. He wrote verses, and whatever they
may have lacked of the subtle element that marks poetical genius, they
were full of his ardent personality and devotional abandon. He
compounded medicines whose virtues, backed by his own unwavering faith,
wrought wondrous cures. On several occasions he accepted challenge to
polemic battle, and his opponents found in him a fearless warrior, whose
onset was next to irresistible. In these discussions it was no uncommon
thing for his arguments to close with such bursts of spiritual power
that the doctrinal duel would end in a great religious excitement,
bearing disputants and hearers away on mighty tides of feeling that none
I saw in the Texas Christian Advocate an incident, related by Dr. F. A.
Mood, that gives a good idea of what Fisher's eloquence was when in full
"About ten years ago," says Dr. M., "when the train from Houston, on the
Central Railroad, on one occasion reached Hempstead, it was peremptorily
brought to a halt. There was a strike among the employees of the road,
on what was significantly called by the strikers 'The Death-warrant.'
The road, it seems, had required all of their employees to sign a paper
renouncing all claims to moneyed reparation in case of their bodily
injury while in the service of the road. The excitement incident to a
strike was at its height at Hempstead when our train reached there. The
tracks were blocked with trains that had been stopped as they arrived
from the different branches of the road, and the employees were gathered
about in groups, discussing the situation--the passengers peering
around with hopeless curiosity. When our train stopped, the conductor
told us that we would have to lie over all night, and many of the
passengers left to find accommodations in the hotels of the town. It was
now night, when a man came into the car and exclaimed, 'The strikers are
tarring and feathering a poor wretch out here, who has taken sides with
the road--come out and see it!' Nearly every one in the car hastened
out. I had risen, when a gentleman behind me gently pulled my coat, and
said to me, 'Sit down a moment.' He went on to say: 'I judge, sir, you
are a clergyman; and I advise you to remain here. You may be put to much
inconvenience by having to appear as a witness; in a mob of that sort,
too, there is no telling what may follow.' I thanked him, and resumed my
seat. He then asked me to what denomination I belonged, and upon my
telling him I was a Methodist preacher, he asked eagerly and promptly if
I had ever met a Methodist preacher in Texas by the name of Fisher,
describing accurately the appearance of our glorified brother. Upon my
telling him I knew him well, he proceeded to give the following
incident. I give it as nearly as I can in his own words. Said he:
"'I am a Californian, have practiced law for years in that State, and,
at the time I allude to, was district judge. I was holding court at [I
cannot now recall the name of the town he mentioned], and on Saturday
was told that a Methodist camp-meeting was being held a few miles from
town. I determined to visit it, and reached the place of meeting in good
time to hear the great preacher of the occasion--Father Fisher. The
meeting was held in a river canyon. The rocks towered hundreds of feet
on either side, rising over like an arch. Through the ample space over
which the rocks hung the river flowed, furnishing abundance of cool
water, while a pleasant breeze fanned a shaded spot. A great multitude
had assembled--hundreds of very hard cases, who had gathered there,
like myself, for the mere novelty of the thing. I am not a religious man
--never have been thrown under religious influences. I respect religion,
and respect its teachers, but have been very little in contact with
religious things. At the appointed time, the preacher rose. He was
small, with white hair combed back from his forehead, and he wore a
venerable beard. I do not know much about the Bible, and I cannot quote
from his text, but he preached on the Judgment. I tell you, sir, I have
heard eloquence at the bar and on the hustings, but I never heard such
eloquence as that old preacher gave us that day. At the last, when he
described the multitudes calling on the rocks and mountains to fall on
them, I instinctively looked up to the arching rocks above me. Will you
believe it, sir?--as I looked up, to my horror I saw the walls of the
canyon swaying as if they were coming together! Just then the preacher
called on all that needed mercy to kneel down. I recollect he said
something like this: "'Every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall
confess;' and you might as well do it now as then." The whole multitude
fell on their knees--every one of them. Although I had never done so
before, I confess to you, sir, I got down on my knees. I did not want to
be buried right then and there by those rocks that seemed to be swaying
to destroy me. The old man prayed for us; it was a wonderful prayer! I
want to see him once more; where will I be likely to find him?'
"When he had closed his narrative, I said to him: 'Judge, I hope you
have bowed frequently since that day.' 'Alas! no, sir,' he replied; 'not
much; but depend upon it, Father Fisher is a wonderful orator--he made
me think that day that the walls of the canyon were falling.'"
He went back to Texas, the scene of his early labors and triumphs, to
die. His evening sky was not cloudless--he suffered much--but his
sunset was calm and bright; his waking in the Morning Land was glorious.
If it was at that short period of silence spoken of in the Apocalypse,
we may be sure it was broken when Fisher went in.
The only thing white about him was his name. He was a Piute Indian, and
Piutes are neither white nor pretty. There is only one being in human
shape uglier than a Piute "buck"--and that is a Piute squaw. One I saw
at the Sink of the Humboldt haunts me yet. Her hideous face, begrimed
with dirt and smeared with yellow paint, bleared and leering eyes, and
horrid long, flapping breasts--ugh! it was a sight to make one feel
sick. A degraded woman is the saddest spectacle on earth. Shakespeare
knew what he was doing when he made the witches in Macbeth of the
feminine gender. But as you look at them you almost forget that these
Piute hags are women--they seem a cross between brute and devil. The
unity of the human race is a fact which I accept; but some of our
brothers and sisters are far gone from original loveliness. If Eve could
see these Piute women, she would not be in a hurry to claim them as her
daughters; and Adam would feel like disowning some of his sons. As it
appears to me, however, these repulsive savages furnish an argument in
support of two fundamental facts of Christianity. One fact is, God did
indeed make of one blood all the nations of the earth; the other is the
fact of the fall and depravity of the human race. This unspeakable
ugliness of these Indians is owing to their evil living. Dirty as they
are, the little Indian children are not at all repulsive in expression.
A boy of ten years, who stood half-naked, shivering in the wind, with
his bow and arrows, had well-shaped features and a pleasant expression
of countenance, with just a little of the look of animal cunning that
belongs to all wild tribes. The ugliness grows on these Indians
fearfully fast when it sets in. The brutalities of the lives they lead
stamp themselves on their faces; and no other animal on earth equals in
ugliness the animal called man, when he is nothing but an animal.
There was a mystery about Jack White's early life. He was born in the
sagebrush desert beyond the Sierras, and, like all Indian babies,
doubtless had a hard time at the outset. A Christian's pig or puppy is
as well cared for as a Piute papoose. Jack was found in a deserted
Indian camp in the mountains. He had been left to die, and was taken
charge of by the kind hearted John M. White, who was then digging for
gold in the Northern mines. He and his good Christian wife had mercy on
the little Indian boy that looked up at them so pitifully with his
wondering black eyes. At first he had the frightened and bewildered look
of a captured wild creature, but he soon began to be more at ease. He
acquired the English language slowly, and never did lose the peculiar
accent of his tribe. The miners called him Jack White, not knowing any
other name for him.
Moving to the beautiful San Ramon Valley, not far from the Bay of San
Francisco, the Whites took Jack with them. They taught him the leading
doctrines and facts of the Bible, and made him useful in domestic
service. He grew and thrived. Broad-shouldered, muscular, and straight
as an arrow, Jack was admired for his strength and agility by the white
boys with whom he was brought into contact. Though not quarrelsome, he
had a steady courage that, backed by his great strength, inspired
respect and insured good treatment from them. Growing up amid these
influences, his features were softened into a civilized expression, and
his tawny face was not unpleasing. The heavy under-jaw and square
forehead gave him an appearance of hardness which was greatly relieved
by the honest look out of his eyes, and the smile which now and then
would slowly creep over his face, like the movement of the shadow of a
thin cloud on a calm day in summer. An Indian smiles deliberately, and
in a dignified way--at least Jack did.
I first knew Jack at Santa Rosa, of which beautiful town his patron, Mr.
White, was then the marshal. Jack came to my Sunday-school, and was
taken into a class of about twenty boys taught by myself. They were the
noisy element of the school, ranging from ten to fifteen years of age
--too large to show the docility of the little lads, but not old enough
to have attained the self-command and self-respect that come later in
life. Though he was much older than any of them, and heavier than his
teacher, this class suited Jack. The white boys all liked him, and he
liked me. We had grand times with that class. The only way to keep them
in order was to keep them very busy. The plan of having them answer in
concert was adopted with decided results. It kept them awake and the
whole school with them, for California boys have strong lungs. Twenty
boys speaking all at once, with eager excitement and flashing eyes,
waked the drowsiest drone in the room. A gentle hint was given now and
then to take a little lower key. In these lessons, Jack's deep guttural
tones came in with marked effect, and it was delightful to see how he
enjoyed it all. And the singing made his swarthy features glow with
pleasure, though he rarely joined in it, having some misgiving as to the
melody of his voice.
The truths of the gospel took strong hold of Jack's mind, and his
inquiries indicated a deep interest in the matter of religion. I was
therefore not surprised when, during a protracted-meeting in the town,
Jack became one of the converts; but there was surprise and delight
among the brethren at the class-meeting when Jack rose in his place and
told what great thing the Lord had done for him, dwelling with special
emphasis on the words, "I am happy, because I know Jesus takes my sins
away--I know he takes my sins away." His voice melted into softness,
and a tear trickled down his cheek as he spoke; and when Dan Duncan, the
leader, crossed over the room and grasped his hand in a burst of joy,
there was a glad chorus of rejoicing Methodists over Jack White, the
Jack never missed a service at the church, and in the social-meetings he
never failed to tell the story of his newborn joy and hope, and always
with thrilling effect, as he repeated with trembling voice, "I am happy,
because I know Jesus takes my sins away." Sin was a reality with Jack,
and the pardon of sin the most wonderful of all facts. He never tired of
telling it; it opened a new world to him, a world of light and joy. Jack
White in the class-meeting or prayer-meeting, with beaming face, and
moistened eyes, and softened voice, telling of the love of Jesus, seemed
almost of a different race from the wretched Piutes of the Sierras and
Jack's baptism was a great event. It was by immersion, the first baptism
of the kind I ever performed--and almost the last. Jack had been talked
to on the subject by some zealous brethren of another "persuasion," who
magnified that mode, and though he was willing to do as I advised in the
matter, he was evidently a little inclined to the more spectacular way
of receiving the ordinance. Mrs. White suggested that it might save
future trouble, and "spike a gun." So Jack, with four others, was taken
down to Santa Rosa Creek, that went rippling and sparkling along the
southern edge of the town, and duly baptized in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. A great crowd covered the bridge
just below, and the banks of the stream; and when Wesley Mock, the Asaph
of Santa Rosa Methodism, struck up--
O happy day that fixed my choice
On thee, my Saviour and my God,
and the chorus--
Happy day, happy day, when
Jesus washed my sins away,
was swelled by hundreds of voices, it was a glad moment for Jack White
and all of us. Religiously it was a warm time; but the water was very
cold, it being one of the chilliest days I ever felt in that genial
"You were rather awkward, Brother Fitzgerald, in immersing those
persons," said my stalwart friend, Elder John McCorkle, of the
"Christian" or Campbellite Church, who had critically but not unkindly
watched the proceedings from the bridge. "If you will send for me the
next time, I will do it for you," he added, pleasantly.
I fear it was awkwardly done, for the water was very cold, and a
shivering man cannot be very graceful in his movements. I would have
done better in a baptistery, with warm water and a rubber suit. But of
all the persons I have welcomed into the Church during my ministry, the
reception of no one has given use more joy than that of Jack White, the
Jack's heart yearned for his own people. He wanted to tell them of
Jesus, who could take away their sins; and perhaps his Indian instinct
made him long for the freedom of the hills.
"I am going to my people," he said to me; "I want to tell them of Jesus.
You will pray for me?" he added, with a quiver in his voice and a
He went away, and I have never seen him since. Where he is now, I know
not. I trust I may meet him on Mount Sion, with the harpers harping with
their harps, and singing, as it were, a new song before the throne.
Postscript.--Since this Sketch was penciled, the Rev. C. Y. Rankin, in
a note dated Santa Rosa, California, August 3, 1880, says: "Mrs. White
asked me to send you word of the peaceful death of Jack White (Indian).
He died trusting in Jesus."
Seated in his library, enveloped in a faded figured gown, a black velvet
cap on his massive head, there was an Oriental look about him that
arrested your attention at once. Power and gentleness, childlike
simplicity, and scholarliness, were curiously mingled in this man. His
library was a reflex of its owner. In it were books that the great
public libraries of the world could not match--black-letter folios that
were almost as old as the printing art, illuminated volumes that were
once the pride and joy of men who had been in their graves many
generations, rabbinical lore, theology, magic, and great volumes of
Hebrew literature that looked, when placed beside a modern book, like an
old ducal palace alongside a gingerbread cottage of today. I do not
think he ever felt at home amid the hurry and rush of San Francisco. He
could not adjust himself to the people. He was devout, and they were
intensely worldly. He thundered this sentence from the teacher's desk in
the synagogue one morning: "O ye Jews of San Francisco, you have so
fully given yourselves up to material things that you are losing the
very instinct of immortality. Your only idea of religion is to acquire
the Hebrew language, and you don't know that!" His port and voice were
like those of one of the old Hebrew prophets. Elijah himself was not
more fearless. Yet, how deep was his love for his race! Jeremiah was not
more tender when he wept for the slain of the daughter of his people.
His reproofs were resented, and he had a taste of persecution; but the
Jews of San Francisco understood him at last. The poor and the little
children knew him from the start. He lived mostly among his books, and
in his school for poor children, whom he taught without charge. His
habits were so simple and his bodily wants so few that it cost him but a
trifle to live. When the synagogue frowned on him, he was as independent
as Elijah at the brook Cherith. It is hard to starve a man to whom
crackers and water are a royal feast.
His belief in God and in the supernatural was startlingly vivid. The
Voice that spoke from Sinai was still audible to him, and the Arm that
delivered Israel he saw still stretched out over the nations. The
miracles of the Old Testament were as real to him as the premiership of
Disraeli, or the financiering of the Rothschilds. There was, at the same
time, a vein of rationalism that ran through his thought and speech. We
were speaking one day on the subject of miracles, and, with his usual
energy of manner, he said:
"There was no need of any literal angel to shut the mouths of the lions
to save Daniel; the awful holiness of the prophet was enough. There was
so much of God in him that the savage creatures submitted to him as they
did to unsinning Adam. Man's dominion over nature was broken by sin, but
in the golden age to come it will be restored. A man in full communion
with God wields a divine power in every sphere that he touches."
His face glowed as he spoke, and his voice was subdued into a solemnity
of tone that told how his reverent and adoring soul was thrilled with
this vision of the coming glory of redeemed humanity.
He knew the New Testament by heart, as well as the Old. The sayings of
Jesus were often on his lips.
One day, in a musing, half-soliloquizing way, I heard him say:
"It is wonderful, wonderful! a Hebrew peasant from the hills of Galilee,
without learning, noble birth, or power, subverts all the philosophies
of the world, and makes himself the central figure of all history. It is
He half whispered the words, and his eyes had the introspective look of
a man who is thinking deeply.
He came to see me at our cottage on Post street one morning before
breakfast. In grading a street, a house in which I had lived and had the
ill luck to own, on Pine street, had been undermined, and toppled over
into the street below, falling on the slate-roof and breaking all to
pieces. He came to tell me of it, and to extend his sympathy.
"I thought I would come first, so you might get the bad news from a
friend rather than a stranger. You have lost a house; but it is a small
matter. Your little boy there might have put out his eye with a pair of
scissors, or he might have swallowed a pin and lost his life. There are
many things constantly taking place that are harder to bear than the
loss of a house."
Many other wise words did the Rabbi speak, and before he left I felt
that a house was indeed a small thing to grieve over.
He spoke with charming freedom and candor of all sorts of people.
"Of Christians, the Unitarians have the best heads, and the Methodists
the best hearts. The Roman Catholics hold the masses, because they give
their people plenty of form. The masses will never receive truth in its
simple essence; they must have it in a way that will make it digestible
and assimilable, just as their, stomachs demand bread, and meats, and
fruits, not their extracts or distilled essences, for daily food. As to
Judaism, it is on the eve of great changes. What these changes will be I
know not, except that I am sure the God of our fathers will fulfill his
promise to Israel. This generation will probably see great things."
"Do you mean the literal restoration of the Jews to Palestine?"
He looked at me with an intense gaze, and hastened not to answer. At
last he spoke slowly:
"When the perturbed elements of religious thought crystallize into
clearness and enduring forms, the chosen people will be one of the chief
factors in reaching that final solution of the problems which convulse
He was one of the speakers at the great Mortara indignation-meeting in
San Francisco. The speech of the occasion was that of Colonel Baker, the
orator who went to Oregon, and in a single campaign magnetized the
Oregonians so completely by his splendid eloquence that, passing by all
their old party leaders, they sent him to the United States Senate. No
one who heard Baker's peroration that night will ever forget it. His
dark eyes blazed, his form dilated, and his voice was like a bugle in
"They tell us that the Jew is accursed of God. This has been the plea of
the bloody tyrants and robbers that oppressed and plundered them during
the long ages of their exile and agony. But the Almighty God executes
his own judgments. Woe to him who presumes to wield his thunderbolts!
They fall in blasting, consuming vengeance upon his own head. God deals
with his chosen people in judgment; but he says to men, Touch them at
your peril! They that spoil them shall be for a spoil; they that carried
them away captive shall themselves go into captivity. The Assyrian smote
the Jew, and where is the proud Assyrian Empire? Rome ground them under
her iron heel, and where is the empire of the Caesars? Spain smote the
Jew, and where is her glory? The desert sands cover the site of Babylon
the Great. The power that hurled the hosts of Titus against the holy
city Jerusalem was shivered to pieces. The banners of Spain, that
floated in triumph over half the world, and fluttered in the breezes of
every sea, is now the emblem of a glory that is gone, and the ensign of
a power that has waned. The Jews are in the hands of God. He has dealt
with them in judgment, but they are still the children of promise. The
day of their long exile shall end, and they will return to Zion with
songs and everlasting joy upon their heads!"
The words were something like these, but who could picture Baker's
oratory? As well try to paint a storm in the tropics. Real thunder and
lightning cannot be put on canvas.
The Rabbi made a speech, and it was the speech of a man who had come
from his books and prayers. He made a tender appeal for the mother and
father of the abducted Jewish boy, and argued the question as calmly,
and in as sweet a spirit, as if he had been talking over an abstract
question in his study. The vast crowd looked upon that strange figure
with a sort of pleased wonder, and the Rabbi seemed almost unconscious
of their presence. He was as free from self-consciousness as a little
child, and many a Gentile heart warmed that night to the simple-hearted
sage who stood before them pleading for the rights of human nature.
The old man was often very sad. In such moods he would come round to our
cottage on Post street, and sit with us until late at night, unburdening
his aching heart, and relaxing by degrees into a playfulness that was
charming from its very awkwardness. He would bring little picture-books
for the children, pat them on their heads, and praise them. They were
always glad to see him, and would nestle round him lovingly. We all
loved him, and felt glad in the thought that he left our little circle
lighter at heart. He lived alone. Once, when I playfully spoke to him of
matrimony, he laughed quietly, and said:
"No, no--my books and my poor schoolchildren are enough for me."
He died suddenly and alone. He had been out one windy night visiting the
poor, came home sick, and before morning was in that world of spirits
which was so real to his faith, and for which he longed. He left his
little fortune of a few thousand dollars to the poor of his native
village of Posen, in Poland. And thus passed from California-life Dr.
Julius Eckman, the Rabbi.
My Mining Speculation.
"I Believe the Lord has put me in the way of making a competency for my
old age," said the dear old Doctor, as he seated himself in the armchair
reserved for him at the cottage at North Beach.
"How?" I asked.
"I met a Texas man today, who told me of the discovery of an immensely
rich silver mining district in Deep Spring Valley, Mono county, and he
says he can get me in as one of the owners."
I laughingly made some remark expressive of incredulity. The honest and
benignant face of the old Doctor showed that he was a little nettled.
"I have made full inquiry, and am sure this is no mere speculation. The
stock will not be put upon the market, and will not be assessable. They
propose to make me a trustee, and the owners, limited in number, will
have entire control of the property. But I will not he hasty in the
matter. I will make it a subject of prayer for twenty-four hours, and
then if there be no adverse indications I will go on with it."
The next day I met the broad-faced Texan, and was impressed by him as
the old Doctor had been.
It seemed a sure thing. An old prospector had been equipped and sent out
by a few gentlemen, and he had found outcroppings of silver in a range
of hills extending not less than three miles. Assays had been made of
the ores, and they were found to be very rich. All the timber and
waterpower of Deep Spring Valley had been taken up for the company under
the general and local preemption and mining laws. It was a big thing.
The beauty of the whole arrangement was that no "mining sharps" were to
be let in; we were to manage it ourselves, and reap all the profits.
We went into it, the old Doctor and I, feeling deeply grateful to the
broad-faced Texan, who had so kindly given us the chance. I was made a
trustee, and began to have a decidedly business feeling as such. At the
meetings of "the board," my opinions were frequently called for, and
were given with great gravity. The money was paid for the shares I had
taken, and the precious evidences of ownership were carefully put in a
place of safety. A mill was built near the richest of the claims, and
the assays were good. There were delays, and more money was called for,
and sent up. The assays were still good, and the reports from our
superintendent were glowing. "The biggest thing in the history of
California mining," he wrote; and when the secretary read his letter to
the board, there was a happy expression on each face.
At this point I began to be troubled. It seemed, from reasonable
ciphering, that I should soon be a millionaire. It made me feel solemn
and anxious. I lay awake at night, praying that I might not be spoiled
by my good fortune. The scriptures that speak of the deceitfulness of
riches were called to mind, and I rejoiced with trembling. Many
beneficent enterprises were planned, principally in the line of endowing
colleges, and paying church-debts. (I had had an experience in this
line.) There were further delays, and more money was called for. The
ores were rebellious, and our "process" did not suit them. Fryborg and
Deep Spring Valley were not the same. A new superintendent--one that
understood rebellious ores--was employed at a higher salary. He
reported that all was right, and that we might expect "big news" in a
few days, as he proposed to crush about seventy tons of the best rock,
"by a new and improved process."
The board held frequent meetings, and in view of the nearness of great
results did not hesitate to meet the requisitions made for further
outlays of money. They resolved to pursue a prudent but vigorous policy
in developing the vast property when the mill should be fairly in
All this time I felt an undercurrent of anxiety lest I might sustain
spiritual loss by my sudden accession to great wealth, and continued to
fortify myself with good resolutions.
As a matter of special caution, I sent for a parcel of the ore, and had
a private assay made of it. The assay was good.
The new superintendent notified us that on a certain date we might look
for a report of the result of the first great crushing and cleanup of
the seventy tons of rock. The day came. On Kearny street I met one of
the stockholders--a careful Presbyterian brother, who loved money. He
had a solemn look, and was walking slowly, as if in deep thought.
Lifting his eyes as we met, he saw me, and spoke:
"It is lead!"
"What is lead?"
"Our silver mine in Deep Spring Valley."
Yes; from the seventy tons of rock we got eleven dollars in silver, and
about fifty pounds of as good lead as was ever molded into bullets.
The board held a meeting the next evening. It was a solemn one. The
fifty-pound bar of lead was placed in the midst, and was eyed
reproachfully. I resigned my trusteeship, and they saw me not again.
That was my first and last mining speculation. It failed somehow--but
the assays were all very good.
I had business with him, and went at a business hour. No introduction
was needed, for he had been my landlord, and no tenant of his ever had
reason to complain that he did not get a visit from him, in person or by
proxy, at least once a month. He was a punctual man--as a collector of
what was due him. Seeing that he was intently engaged, I paused and
looked at him. A man of huge frame, with enormous hands and feet,
massive head, receding forehead, and heavy cerebral development, full
sensual lips, large nose, and peculiar eyes that seemed at the same time
to look through you and to shrink from your gaze--he was a man at whom
a stranger would stop in the street to get a second gaze. There he sat
at his desk, too much absorbed to notice my entrance. Before him lay a
large pile of one-thousand-dollar United States Government bonds, and he
was clipping off the coupons. That face! it was a study as he sat using
the big pair of scissors. A hungry boy in the act of taking into his
mouth a ripe cherry, a mother gazing down into the face of her pretty
sleeping child, a lover looking into the eyes of his charmer, are but
faint figures by which to express the intense pleasure he felt in his
work. But there was also a feline element in his joy--his handling of
those bonds was somewhat like a cat toying with its prey. When at length
he raised his head, there was a fierce gleam in his eye and a flush in
his face. I had come upon a devotee engaged in worship. This was Mike
Reese, the miser and millionaire. Placing his huge left-hand on the pile
of bonds, he gruffly returned my salutation,
He turned as he spoke, and east a look of scrutiny into my face which
said plain enough that he wanted me to make known my business with him
I told him what was wanted. At the request of the official board of the
Minna-street Church I had come to ask him to make a contribution toward
the payment of its debt.
"O yes; I was expecting you. They all come to me. Father Gallagher, of
the Catholic Church, Dr. Wyatt, of the Episcopal Church, and all the
others, have been here. I feel friendly to the Churches, and I treat all
alike--it won't do for me to be partial--I don't give to any!"
That last clause was an anticlimax, dashing my hopes rudely; but I saw
he meant it, and left. I never heard of his departing from the rule of
strict impartiality he had laid down for himself.
We met at times at a restaurant on Clay street. He was a hearty feeder,
and it was amusing to see how skillfully in the choice of dishes and the
thoroughness with which he emptied them he could combine economy with
plenty. On several of these occasions, when we chanced to sit at the
same table, I proposed to pay for both of us, and he quickly assented,
his hard, heavy features lighting up with undisguised pleasure at the
suggestion, as he shambled out of the room amid the smiles of the
company present, most of whom knew him as a millionaire, and me as a
He had one affair of the heart. Cupid played a prank on him that was the
occasion of much merriment in the San Francisco newspapers, and of much
grief to him. A widow was his enslaver and tormentor--the old story.
She sued him for breach of promise of marriage. The trial made great fun
for the lawyers, reporters, and the amused public generally; but it was
no fun for him. He was mulcted for six thousand dollars and costs of the
suit. It was during the time I was renting one of his offices on
Washington street. I called to see him, wishing to have some repairs
made. His clerk met me in the narrow hall, and there was a mischievous
twinkle in his eye as he said:
"You had better come another day--the old man has just paid that
judgment in the breach of promise case, and he is in a bad way."
Hearing our voices, he said,
"Who is there?--come in."
I went in, and found him sitting leaning on his desk, the picture of
intense wretchedness. He was all unstrung, his jaw fallen, and a most
pitiful face met mine as he looked up and said, in a broken voice,
"Come some other day--I can do no business today; I am very unwell."
He was indeed sick--sick at heart. I felt sorry for him. Pain always
excites my pity, no matter what may be its cause. He was a miser, and
the payment of those thousands of dollars was like tearing him asunder.
He did not mind the jibes of the newspapers, but the loss of the money
was almost killing. He had not set his heart on popularity, but cash.
He had another special trouble, but with a different sort of ending. It
was discovered by a neighbor of his that, by some mismeasurement of the
surveyors, he (Reese) had built the wall of one of his immense business
houses on Front street six inches beyond his own proper line, taking in
just so much of that neighbor's lot. Not being on friendly terms with
Reese, his neighbor made a peremptory demand for the removal of the
wall, or the payment of a heavy price for the ground. Here was misery
for the miser. He writhed in mental agony, and begged for easier terms,
but in vain. His neighbor would not relent. The business men of the
vicinity rather enjoyed the situation, humorously watching the progress
of the affair. It was a case of diamond cut diamond, both parties
bearing the reputation of being hard men to deal with. A day was fixed
for Reese to give a definite answer to his neighbor's demand, with
notice that, in case of his noncompliance, suit against him would be
begun at once. The day came, and with it a remarkable change in Reese's
tone. He sent a short note to his enemy breathing profanity and
"What is the matter?" mused the puzzled citizen; "Reese has made some
discovery that makes him think he has the upper-hand, else he would not
talk this way."
And he sat and thought. The instinct of this class of men where money is
involved is like a miracle.
"I have it!" he suddenly exclaimed; "Reese has the same hold on me that
I have on him."
Reese happened to be the owner of another lot adjoining that of his
enemy, on the other side. It occurred to him that, as all these lots
were surveyed at the same time by the same party, it was most likely
that as his line had gone six inches too far on the one side, his
enemy's had gone as much too far on the other. And so it was. He had
quietly a survey made of the premises, and he chuckled with inward joy
to find that he held this winning card in the unfriendly game. With grim
politeness the neighbors exchanged deeds for the two half feet of
ground, and their war ended. The moral of this incident is for him who
hath wit enough to see it.
For several seasons he came every morning to North Beach to take
sea-baths. Sometimes he rode his well-known white horse, but oftener he
walked. He bathed in the open sea, making, as one expressed it,
twenty-five tents out of the Pacific Ocean, by avoiding the bathhouse.
Was this the charm that drew him forth so early? It not seldom chanced
that we walked downtown together. At times he was quite communicative,
speaking of himself in a way that was peculiar. It seems he had thoughts
of marrying before his episode with the widow.
"Do you think a young girl of twenty could love an old man like me?" he
asked me one day, as we were walking along the street.
I looked at his huge and ungainly bulk, and into his animal face, and
made no direct answer. Love! Six millions of dollars is a great sum.
Money may buy youth and beauty, but love does not come at its call.
God's highest gifts are free; only the second-rate things can be bought
with money. Did this sordid old man yearn for pure human love amid his
millions? Did such a dream cast a momentary glamour over a life spent in
raking among the muck-heaps? If so, it passed away, for he never
He understood his own case. He knew in what estimation he was held by
the public, and did not conceal his scorn for its opinion.
"My love of money is a disease. My saving and hoarding as I do is
irrational, and I know it. It pains me to pay five cents for a streetcar
ride, or a quarter of a dollar for a dinner. My pleasure in accumulating
property is morbid, but I have felt it from the time I was a foot
peddler in Charlotte, Campbell, and Pittsylvania counties, in Virginia,
until now. It is a sort of insanity, and it is incurable; but it is
about as good a form of madness as any, and all the world is mad in
This was the substance of what he said of himself when in one of his
moods of free speech, and it gave me a new idea of human nature--a man
whose keen and penetrating brain could subject his own consciousness to
a cool and correct analysis, seeing clearly the folly which he could not
resist. The autobiography of such a man might furnish a curious
psychological study, and explain the formation and development in
society of those moral monsters called misers. Nowhere in literature has
such a character been fully portrayed, though Shakespeare and George
Eliot have given vivid touches of some of its features.
He always retained a kind feeling for the South, over whose hills he had
borne his peddler's pack when a youth. After the war, two young
ex-Confederate soldiers came to San Francisco to seek their fortunes. A
small room adjoining my office was vacant, and the brothers requested me
to secure it for them as cheap as possible. I applied to Reese, telling
him who the young men were, and describing their broken and impecunious
"Tell them to take the room free of rent--but it ought to bring five
dollars a month."
It took a mighty effort, and he sighed as he spoke the words. I never
heard of his acting similarly in any other case, and I put this down to
his credit, glad to know that there was a warm spot in that mountain of
mud and ice. A report of this generous act got afloat in the city, and
many were the inquiries I received as to its truth. There was general
His health failed, and he crossed the seas. Perhaps he wished to visit
his native hills in Germany, which he had last seen when a child. There
he died, leaving all his millions to his kindred, save a bequest of one
hundred and fifty thousand dollars to the University of California. What
were his last thoughts, what was his final verdict concerning human
life, I know not. Empty-handed he entered the world of spirits, where,
the film fallen from his vision, he saw the Eternal Realities. What
amazement must have followed his awakening!
He was black and ugly; but it was an ugliness that did not disgust or
repel you. His face had a touch both of the comic and the pathetic. His
mouth was very wide, his lips very thick and the color of a ripe damson,
blue-black; his nose made up in width what it lacked in elevation; his
ears were big, and bent forward; his eyes were a dull white, on a very
dark ground; his wool was white and thick. His age might be anywhere
along from seventy onward. A black man's age, like that of a horse,
becomes dubious after reaching a certain stage.
He came to the class-meeting in the Pine-street Church, in San
Francisco, one Sabbath morning. He asked leave to speak, which was
"Bredren, I come here sometime ago, from Vicksburg, Mississippi, where I
has lived forty year, or more. I heered dar was a culud church up on de
hill, an' I thought I'd go an' washup wid'em. I went dar three or fo'
Sundays, but I foun' deir ways didn't suit me, an' my ways didn't suit
dem. Dey was Yankees' niggers, an' [proudly] I's a Southern man myself.
Sumbody tole me dar was a Southern Church down here on Pine street, an'
I thought I'd cum an' look in. Soon 's I got inside de church, an' look
roun' a minit, I feels at home. Dey look like home-folks; de preacher
preach like home-folks; de people sing like home-folks. Yer see,
chillan, I'se a Southern man myself [emphatically], and I'se a Southern
Methodis'. Dis is de Church I was borned in, an' dis is de Church I was
rarred in, an' [with great energy] dis is de Church which de Scripter
says de gates ob hell shall not prevail ag'in it! ["Amen!" from Father
Newman and others.] When dey heerd I was comin' to dis Church, some ob
'em got arter me 'bout it. Dey say dis Church was a enemy to de black
people, and dat dey was in favor ob slavery. I tole 'em de Scripter
said, 'Love your enemies,' an' den I took de Bible an' read what it says
about slavery--I can read some, chillun Servants, obey yer masters in
all things, not wid eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as unto de Lord;'
and so on. But, bless yer souls, chillun, dey wouldn't lis'en to dat
--so I foun' out dey was abberlishem niggers, an' I lef' 'em.!"
Yes, he left them, and came to us. I received him into the Church in due
form, and with no little eclat, he being the only son of Ham on our roll
of members in San Francisco. He stood firm to his Southern Methodist
colors under a great pressure.
"Yer ought ter be killed fer goin' ter dat Southern Church," said one of
his colored acquaintances one day, as they met in the street.
"Kill me, den," said Uncle Nolan, with proud humility; "kill me, den;
yer can't cheat me out ob many days, nohow."
He made a living, and something over, by rag-picking at North Beach and
elsewhere, until the Chinese entered into competition with him, and then
it was hard times for Uncle Nolan. His eyesight partially failed him,
and it was pitiful to see him on the beach, his threadbare garments
fluttering in the wind, groping amid the rubbish for rags, or shuffling
along the streets with a huge sack on his back, and his old felt hat
tied under his nose with a string, picking his way carefully to spare
his swollen feet, which were tied up with bagging and woolens. His
religious fervor never cooled; I never heard him complain. He never
ceased to be joyously thankful for two things--his freedom and his
religion. But, strange as it may seem, he was a pro-slavery man to the
last. Even after the war, he stood to his opinion.
"Dem niggers in de South thinks dey is free, but dey ain't. 'Fore it's
all ober, all dat ain't dead will be glad to git back to deir masters,"
he would say.
Yet he was very proud of his own freedom, and took the utmost care of
his free-papers. He had no desire to resume his former relation to the
peculiar and patriarchal institution. He was not the first philosopher
who has had one theory for his fellows, and another for himself.
Uncle Nolan would talk of religion by the hour. He never tired of that
theme. His faith was simple and strong, but, like most of his race, he
had a tinge of superstition. He was a dreamer of dreams, and he believed
in them. Here is one which he recited to me. His weird manner, and low,
chanting tone, I must leave to the imagination of the reader:
Uncle Nolan's Dream.
A tall black man came along, an' took me by de arm, an' tole me he had
come for me. I said:
"What yer want wid me?"
"I come to carry yer down into de darkness."
"Cause you didn't follow de Lord."
Wid dat, he pulled me 'long de street till he come to a big black house,
de biggest house an' de thickest walls I eber seed. We went in a little
do', an' den he took me down a long sta'rs in de dark, till we come to a
big do'; we went inside, an' den de big black man locked de do' behin'
us. An' so we kep' on, goin' down, an' goin' down, an' goin' down, an'
he kep' lockin' dem big iron do's behin' us, an' all de time it was
pitch dark, so I couldn't see him, but he still hel' on ter me. At las'
we stopped, an' den he started to go 'way. He locked de do' behin' him,
an' I heerd him goin' up de steps de way we come, lockin' all de do's
behin' him as he went. I tell you, dat was dreafful when I heerd dat big
key turn on de outside, an' me 'way down, down, down dar in de dark all
alone, an' no chance eber to git out! An' I knowed it was 'cause I
didn't foller de Lord. I felt roun' de place, an' dar was nothin' but de
thick walls an' de great iron do'. Den I sot down an' cried, 'cause I
knowed I was a los' man. Dat was de same as hell [his voice sinking into
a whisper], an' all de time I knowed I was dar, 'cause I hadn't follered
de Lord. Bymeby somethin' say, "Pray." Somethin' keep sayin', "Pray."
Den I drap on my knees an' prayed. I tell you, no man eber prayed harder
'n I did! I prayed, an' prayed, an' prayed! What's dat? Dar's somebody
a-comin' down dem steps; dey 's unlockin' de do'; an' de fus' thing I
knowed, de place was all lighted up bright as day, an' a white-faced man
stood by me, wid a crown on his head, an' a golden key in his han'.
Somehow, I knowed it was Jesus, an' right den I waked up all of a
tremble, an' knowed it was a warnin' dat I mus' foller de Lord. An',
bless Jesus, I has been follerin' him fifty year since I had dat dream.
In his prayers, and class-meeting and love-feast talks, Uncle Nolan
showed a depth of spiritual insight truly wonderful, and the effects of
these talks were frequently electrical. Many a time have I seen the
Pine-street brethren and sisters rise from their knees, at the close of
one of his prayers, melted into tears, or thrilled to religious rapture,
by the power of his simple faith, and the vividness of his sanctified
He held to his pro-slavery views and guarded his own freedom-papers to
the last; and when he died, in 1875, the last colored Southern Methodist
in California was transferred from the Church militant to the great
company that no man can number, gathered out of every nation, and tribe,
and kindred, on the earth.
That is what the boys called him. His real Christian name was Zachariah.
The way he got the name he went by was this: He was a Methodist, and
prayed in public. He was excitable, and his lungs were of extraordinary
power. When fully aroused, his voice sounded, it was said, like the
bellowing of a whole herd of buffaloes. It had peculiar reverberations
--rumbling, roaring, shaking the very roof of the sanctuary, or echoing
among the hills when let out at its utmost strength at a camp-meeting.
This is why they called him Buffalo Jones. It was his voice. There never
was such another. In Ohio he was a blacksmith and a fighting man. He had
whipped every man who would fight him, in a whole tier of counties. He
was converted after the old way; that is to say, he was "powerfully"
converted. A circuit-rider preached the sermon that converted him. His
anguish was awful. The midnight hour found him in tears. The Ohio forest
resounded with his cries for mercy. When he found peace, it swelled into
rapture. He joined the Church militant among the Methodists, and he
stuck to them, quarreled with them, and loved them, all his life. He had
many troubles, and gave much trouble to many people. The old Adam died
hard in the fighting blacksmith. His pastor, his family, his friends,
his fellow-members in the Church, all got a portion of his wrath in due
season, if they swerved a hair-breadth from the straight-line of duty as
he saw it. I was his pastor, and I never had a truer friend, or a
severer censor. One Sunday morning he electrified my congregation, at
the close of the sermon, by rising in his place and making a personal
application of a portion of it to individuals present, and insisting on
their immediate expulsion from the Church. He had another side to his
character, and at times was as tender as a woman. He acted as
class-leader. In his melting moods he moved every eye to tears, as he
passed round among the brethren and sisters, weeping, exhorting, and
rejoicing. At such times, his great voice softened into a pathos that
none could resist, and swept the chords of sympathy with resistless
power. But when his other mood was upon him, he was fearful. He scourged
the unfaithful with a whip of fire. He would quote with a singular
fluency and aptness every passage of Scripture that blasted hypocrites,
reproved the lukewarm, or threatened damnation to the sinner. At such
times his voice sounded like the shout of a warrior in battle, and the
timid and wondering hearers looked as if they were in the midst of the
thunder and lightning of a tropical storm. I remember the shock he gave
a quiet and timid lady whom I had persuaded to remain for the
class-meeting after service. Fixing his stern and fiery gaze upon her,
and knitting his great bushy eyebrows, he thundered the question:
"Sister, do you ever pray?"
The startled woman nearly sprang from her seat in a panic as she
"Yes, sir; yes, sir."
She did not attend his class-meeting again.
At a camp-meeting he was present, and in one of his bitterest moods. The
meeting was not conducted in a way to suit him. He was grim, critical,
and contemptuous, making no concealment of his dissatisfaction. The
preaching displeased him particularly. He groaned, frowned, and in other
ways showed his feelings. At length he could stand it no longer. A young
brother had just closed a sermon of a mild and persuasive kind, and no
sooner had he taken his seat than the old man arose. Looking forth upon
the vast audience, and then casting a sharp and scornful glance at the
preachers in and around "the stand," he said:
"You preachers of these days have no gospel in you. You remind me of a
man going into his barnyard early in the morning to feed his stock. He
has a basket on his arm, and here come the horses nickering, the cows
lowing, the calves and sheep bleating, the hogs squealing, the turkeys
gobbling, the hens clucking, and the roosters crowing. They all gather
round him, expecting to be fed, and lo, his basket is empty! You take
texts, and you preach, but you have no gospel. Your baskets are empty."
Here he darted a defiant glance at the astonished preachers, and then,
turning to one, he added in a milder and patronizing tone:
"You, Brother Sim, do preach a little gospel in your basket there is one
Down he sat, leaving the brethren to meditate on what he had said. The
silence that followed was deep.
At one time his conscience became troubled about the use of tobacco, and
he determined to quit. This was the second great struggle of his life.
He was running a sawmill in the foothills at the time, and lodged in a
little cabin near by.
Suddenly deprived of the stimulant to which it had so long been
accustomed, his nervous system was wrought up to a pitch of frenzy. He
would rush from the cabin, climb along the hill-side, run leaping from
rock to rock, now and then screaming like a maniac. Then he would rush
back to the cabin, seize a plug of tobacco, smell it, rub it against his
lips, and away he would go again. He smelt, but never tasted it again.
"I was resolved to conquer, and by the grace of God I did," he said.
That was a great victory for the fighting blacksmith.
When a melodeon was introduced into the church, he was sorely grieved
and furiously angry. He argued against it, he expostulated, he
protested, he threatened, he staid away from church. He wrote me a
letter, in which he expressed his feelings thus:
San Jose, 1860.
Dear Brother:--They have got the devil into the church now! Put your
foot on its tail and it squeals.
This was his figurative way of putting it. I was told that he had, on a
former occasion, dealt with the question in a more summary way, by
taking his ax and splitting a melodeon to pieces.
Neutrality in politics was, of course, impossible to such a man. In the
civil war his heart was with the South. He gave up when Stonewall
Jackson was killed.
"It is all over--the praying man is gone," he said; and he sobbed like
a child. From that day he had no hope for the Confederacy, though once
or twice, when feeling ran high, he expressed a readiness to use carnal
weapons in defense of his political principles. For all his opinions on
the subject he found support from the Bible, which he read and studied
with unwearying diligence. He took its words literally on all occasions,
and the Old Testament history had a wonderful charm for him. He would
have been ready to hew any modern Agag in pieces before the Lord.
He finally found his way to the Insane Asylum. The reader has already
seen how abnormal was his mind, and will not be surprised that his
storm-tossed soul lost its rudder at last. But mid all its veerings he
never lost sight of the Star that had shed its light upon his checkered
path of life. He raved, and prayed, and wept, by turns. The horrors of
mental despair would be followed by gleams of seraphic joy. When one of
his stormy moods was upon him, his mighty voice could be heard above all
the sounds of that sad and pitiful company of broken and wrecked souls.
The old class-meeting instinct and habit showed itself in his semi-lucid
intervals. He would go round among the patients questioning them as to
their religious feeling and behavior in true class-meeting style. Dr.
Shurtleff one day overheard a colloquy between him and Dr. Rogers, a
freethinker and reformer, whose vagaries had culminated in his shaving
close one side of his immense whiskers, leaving the other side in all
its flowing amplitude. Poor fellow! Pitiable as was his case, he made a
ludicrous figure walking the streets of San Francisco half shaved, and
defiant of the wonder and ridicule he excited. The ex-class-leader's
voice was earnest and loud, as he said:
"Now, Rogers, you must pray. If you will get down at the feet of Jesus,
and confess your sins, and ask him to bless you, he will hear you, and
give you peace. But if you won't do it," he continued, with growing
excitement and kindling anger at the thought, "you are the most infernal
rascal that ever lived, and I'll beat you into a jelly!"
The good Doctor had to interfere at this point, for the old man was in
the very act of carrying out his threat to punish Rogers bodily, on the
bare possibility that he would not pray as he was told to do. And so
that extemporized class-meeting came to an abrupt end.
"Pray with me," he said to me the last time I saw him at the Asylum.
Closing the door of the little private office, we knelt side by side,
and the poor old sufferer, bathed in tears, and docile as a little
child, prayed to the once suffering, once crucified, but risen and
interceding Jesus. When he arose from his knees his eyes were wet, and
his face showed that there was a great calm within. We never met again.
He went home to die. The storms that had swept his soul subsided, the
light of reason was rekindled, and the light of faith burned brightly;
and in a few weeks he died in great peace, and another glad voice joined
in the anthems of the blood-washed millions in the city of God.
The image of this man of many moods and brilliant genius that rises most
distinctly to my mind is that connected with a little prayer-meeting in
the Minna-street Church, San Francisco, one Thursday night. His thin
silver locks, his dark flashing eye, his graceful pose, and his musical
voice, are before me. His words I have not forgotten, but their electric
effect must forever be lost to all except the few who heard them.
"I have been taunted with the reproach that it was only after I was a
broken and disappointed man in my worldly hopes and aspirations that I
turned to religion. The taunt is just"--here he bowed his head, and
paused with deep emotion "the taunt is just. I bow my head in shame, and
take the blow. My earthly hopes have faded and fallen one after another.
The prizes that dazzled my imagination have eluded my grasp. I am a
broken, gray-haired man, and I bring to my God only the remnant of a
life. But, brethren, it is this very thought that fills me with joy and
gratitude at this moment--the thought that when all else fails God
takes us up. Just when we need him most, and most feel our need of him,
he lifts us up out of the depths where we had groveled, and presses us
to his Fatherly heart. This is the glory of Christianity. The world
turns from us when we fail and fall; then it is that the Lord draws
higher. Such a religion must be from God, for its principles are
God-like. It does not require much skill or power to steer a ship into
port when her timbers are sound, her masts all rigged, and her crew at
their posts; but the pilot that can take an old hulk, rocking on the
stormy waves, with its masts torn away, its rigging gone, its planks
loose and leaking, and bring it safe to harbor, that is the pilot for
me. Brethren, I am that hulk; and Jesus is that Pilot!"
"Glory be to Jesus!" exclaimed Father Newman; as the speaker, with
swimming eyes, radiant face, and heaving chest, sunk into his seat. I
never heard any thing finer from mortal lips, but it seems cold to me as
I read it here. Oratory cannot be put on paper.
He was present once at a camp-meeting, at the famous Toll-gate
Camp-ground, in Santa Clara Valley, near the city of San Jose. It was
Sabbath morning, just such a one as seldom dawns on this earth. The
brethren and sisters were gathered around "the stand" under the
live-oaks for a speaking-meeting. The morning glory was on the summits
of the Santa Cruz Mountains that sloped down to the sacred spot, the
lovely valley smiled under a sapphire sky, the birds hopped from twig to
twig of the overhanging branches that scarcely quivered in the still
air, and seemed to peer inquiringly into the faces of the assembled
worshipers. The bugle-voice of Bailey led in a holy song, and Simmons
led in prayer that touched the eternal throne. One after another,
gray-haired men and saintly women told when and how they began the new
life far away on the old hills they would never see again, and how they
had been led and comforted in their pilgrimage. Young disciples, in the
flush of their first love, and the rapture of newborn hope, were borne
out on a tide of resistless feeling into that ocean whose waters
encircle the universe. The radiance from the heavenly hills was
reflected from the consecrated encampment, and the angels of God hovered
over the spot. Judge Robinson rose to his feet, and stepped into the
altar, the sunlight at that moment falling upon his face. Every voice
was hushed, as, with the orator's indefinable magnetism, he drew every
eye upon him. The pause was thrilling. At length he spoke:
"This is a mount of transfiguration. The transfiguration is on hill and
valley, on tree and shrub, on grass and flower, on earth and sky. It is
on your faces that shine like the face of Moses when he came down from
the awful mount where be met Jehovah face to face. The same light is on
your faces, for here is God's shekinah. This is the gate of heaven. I
see its shining hosts, I hear the melody of its songs. The angels of God
encamped with us last night, and they linger with us this morning. Tarry
with us, ye sinless ones, for this is heaven on earth!"
He paused, with extended arm, gazing upward entranced. The scene that,
followed beggars description. By a simultaneous impulse all rose to
their feet and pressed toward the speaker with awestruck faces, and when
Grandmother Bucker, the matriarch of the valley, with luminous face and
uplifted eyes, broke into a shout, it swelled into a melodious hurricane
that shook the very hills. He ought to have been a preacher. So he said
to me once:
"I felt the impulse and heard the call in my early manhood. I conferred
with flesh and blood, and was disobedient to the heavenly vision. I have
had some little success at the bar, on the hustings, and in legislative
halls, but how paltry has it been in comparison with the true life and
high career that might have been mine!"
He was from the hill-country of North Carolina, and its flavor clung to
him to the last. He had his gloomy moods, but his heart was fresh as a
Blue Ridge breeze in May, and his wit bubbled forth like a
mountain-spring. There was no bitterness in his satire. The very victim
of his thrust enjoyed the keenness of the stroke, for there was no
poison in the weapon. At times he seemed inspired, and you thrilled,
melted, and soared, under the touches of this Western Coleridge. He came
to my room at the Golden Eagle, in Sacramento City, one night, and left
at two o'clock in the morning. He walked the floor and talked, and it
was the grandest monologue I ever listened to. One part of it I could
not forget. It was with reference to preachers who turn aside from their
holy calling to engage in secular pursuits, or in politics.
"It is turning away from angels' food to feed on garbage. Think of
spending a whole life in contemplating the grandest things, and working
for the most glorious ends, instructing the ignorant, consoling the
sorrowing, winning the wayward back to duty and to peace, pointing the
dying to Him who is the light and the life of men, animating the living
to seek from the highest motives a holy life and a sublime destiny! O it
is a life that might draw an angel from the skies! If there is a special
hell for fools, it should be kept for the man who turns aside from a
life like this, to trade, or dig the earth, or wrangle in a court of
law, or scramble for an office."
He looked at me as he spoke, with flashing eyes and curled lip.
"That is all true and very fine, Judge, but it sounds just a little
peculiar as coming from you."
"I am the very man to say it, for I am the man who bitterly sees its
truth. Do not make the misstep that I did. A man might well be willing
to live on bread and water, and walk the world afoot, for the privilege
of giving all his thoughts to the grandest themes, and all his service
to the highest objects. As a lawyer, my life has been spent in a
prolonged quarrel about money, land, houses; cattle, thieving,
slandering, murdering, and other villainy. The little episodes of
politics that have given variety to my career have only shown me the
baseness of human nature, and the pettiness of human ambition. There are
men who will fill these places and do this work, and who want and will
choose nothing better. Let them have all the good they can get out of
such things. But the minister of the gospel who comes down from the
height of his high calling to engage in this scramble, does that which
makes devils laugh and angels weep."
This was the substance of what he said on this point. I have never
forgotten it. I am glad he came to my room that night. What else he
said I cannot write, but the remembrance of it is like to that of a
melody that lingers in my soul when the music has ceased.
"I thank you for your sermon today--you never told a single lie."
This was his remark at the close of a service in Minna street one
"What is the meaning of that remark?"
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