O.P. Fitzgerald.

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It was his opinion that two great men had met, and that the occasion was
a grand one. Moralizers to the contrary notwithstanding, greatness is
not always lacking in self-consciousness.

"I would like to go into one of their wigwams, or huts, and see how they
really live," said the Bishop.

"You had better drop that idea," said the guide, a white man who knew
more about Digger Indians than was good for his reputation and morals,
but who was a good-hearted fellow, always ready to do a friendly turn,
and with plenty of time on his hands to do it. The genius born to live
without work will make his way by his wits, whether it be in the lobby
at Washington City, or as a hanger-on at a Digger camp.

The Bishop insisted on going inside the chief's wigwam, which was a
conical structure of long tule-grass, air-tight and weather-proof, with
an aperture in front just large enough for a man's body in a crawling
attitude. Sacrificing his dignity, the Bishop went down on all-fours,
and then a degree lower, and, following the chief; crawled in. The air
was foul, the smells were strong, and the light was dim. The chief
proceeded to tender to his distinguished guest the hospitalities of the
establishment, by offering to share his breakfast with him. The bill of
fare was grasshoppers, with acorns as a side-dish. The Bishop maintained
his dignity as he squatted there in the dirt - his dignity was equal to
any test. He declined the grasshoppers tendered him by the chief,
pleading that he had already breakfasted, but watched with peculiar
sensations the movements of his host, as handful after handful of the
crisp and juicy gryllus vulgaris were crammed into his capacious mouth,
and swallowed. What he saw and smelt, and the absence of fresh air,
began to tell upon the Bishop - he became sick and pale, while a gentle
perspiration, like unto that felt in the beginning of seasickness,
beaded his noble forehead. With slow dignity, but marked emphasis, he
spoke:

"Brother Bristow, I propose that we retire."

They retired, and there is no record that Bishop Soule ever expressed
the least desire to repeat his visit to the interior of a Digger
Indian's abode.

The whites had many difficulties with the Diggers in the early days. In
most cases I think the whites were chiefly to blame. It is very hard for
the strong to be just to the weak. The weakest creature, pressed hard,
will strike back. White women and children were massacred in retaliation
for outrages committed upon the ignorant Indians by white outlaws. Then
there would be a sweeping destruction of Indians by the excited whites,
who in those days made rather light of Indian shooting. The shooting of
a "buck" was about the same thing, whether it was a male Digger or a
deer.

"There is not much fight in a Digger unless he's got the dead-wood on
you, and then he'll make it rough for you. But these Injuns are of no
use, and I'd about as soon shoot one of them as a coyote" (ki-o-te).

The speaker was a very red-faced, sandy-haired man, with blood-shot blue
eyes, whom I met on his return to the Humboldt country after a visit to
San Francisco.

"Did you ever shoot an Indian?" I asked.

"I first went up into the Eel River country in '46," he answered. "They
give us a lot of trouble in them days. They would steal cattle, and our
boys would shoot. But we've never had much difficulty with them since
the big fight we had with them in 1849. A good deal of devilment had
been goin' on all roun', and some had been killed on both sides. The
Injuns killed two women on a ranch in the valley, and then we set in
just to wipe 'em out. Their camp was in a bend of the river, near the
head of the valley, with a deep slough on the right flank. There was
about sixty of us, and Dave was our captain. He was a hard rider, a dead
shot, and not very tender-hearted. The boys sorter liked him, but kep' a
sharp eye on him, knowin' he was so quick and handy with a pistol. Our
plan was to git to their camp and fall on em at daybreak, but the sun
was risin' just as we come in sight of it. A dog barked, and Dave sung
out:

"'Out with your pistols! pitch in, and give 'em the hot lead!'

"In we galloped at full speed, and as the Injuns come out to see what
was up, we let 'em have it. We shot forty bucks - about a dozen got away
by swimmin' the river."

"Were any of the women killed?"

"A few were knocked over. You can't be particular when you are in a
hurry; and a squaw, when her blood is up, will fight equal to a buck."

The fellow spoke with evident pride, feeling that he was detailing a
heroic affair, having no idea that he had done any thing wrong in merely
killing "bucks." I noticed that this sane man was very kind to an old
lady who took the stage for Bloomfield - helping her into the vehicle,
and looking after her baggage. When we parted, I did not care to take
the hand that had held a pistol that morning when the Digger camp was
"wiped out."

The scattered remnants of the Digger tribes were gathered into a
reservation in Round Valley, Mendocino county, north of the Bay of San
Francisco, and were there taught a mild form of agricultural life, and
put under the care of Government agents, contractors, and soldiers, with
about the usual results. One agent, who was also a preacher, took
several hundred of them into the Christian Church. They seemed to have
mastered the leading facts of the gospel, and attained considerable
proficiency in the singing of hymns. Altogether, the result of this
effort at their conversion showed that they were human beings, and as
such could be made recipients of the truth and grace of God, who is the
Father of all the families of the earth. Their spiritual guide told me
he had to make one compromise with them - they would dance. Extremes
meet - the fashionable white Christians of our gay capitals and the
tawny Digger exhibit the same weakness for the fascinating exercise that
cost John the Baptist his head.

There is one thing a Digger cannot bear, and that is the comforts and
luxuries of civilized life. A number of my friends, who had taken Digger
children to raise, found that as they approached maturity they fell into
a decline and died, in most cases of some pulmonary affection. The only
way to save them was to let them rough it, avoiding warm bed-rooms and
too much clothing. A Digger girl belonged to my church at Santa Rosa,
and was a gentle, kind-hearted, grateful creature. She was a domestic in
the family of Colonel H - . In that pleasant Christian household she
developed into a pretty fair specimen of brunette young womanhood, but
to the last she had an aversion to wearing shoes.

The Digger seems to be doomed. Civilization kills him; and if he sticks
to his savagery, he will go down before the bullets, whisky, and vices
of his white fellow-sinners.



The California Mad-House.

On my first visit to the State Insane Asylum, at Stockton, I was struck
by the beauty of a boy of some seven or eight years, who was moving
about the grounds clad in a strait-jacket. In reply to my inquiries, the
resident physician told me his history:

"About a year ago he was on his way to California with the family to
which he belonged. He was a general pet among the passengers on the
steamer. Handsome, confiding, and overflowing with boyish spirits,
everybody had a smile and a kind word for the winning little fellow.
Even the rough sailors would pause a moment to pat his curly head as
they passed. One day a sailor, yielding to a playful impulse in passing,
caught up the boy in his arms, crying:

"'I am going to throw you into the sea!'

"The child gave one scream of terror, and went into convulsions. When
the paroxysm subsided, he opened his eyes and gazed around with a vacant
expression. His mother, who bent over him with a pale face, noticed the
look, and almost screamed:

"'Tommy, here is your mother - don't you know me?'

"The child gave no sign of recognition. He never knew his poor mother
again. He was literally frightened out of his senses. The mother's
anguish was terrible. The remorse of the sailor for his thoughtless
freak was so great that it in some degree disarmed the indignation of
the passengers and crew. The child had learned to read, and had made
rapid progress in the studies suited to his age, but all was swept away
by the cruel blow. He was unable to utter a word intelligently. Since he
has been here, there have been signs of returning mental consciousness,
and we have begun with him as with an infant. He knows and can call his
own name, and is now learning the alphabet."

"How is his health?"

"His health is pretty good, except that he has occasional convulsive
attacks that can only be controlled by the use of powerful opiates."

I was glad to learn, on a visit made two years later, that the
unfortunate boy had died.

This child was murdered by a fool. The fools are always murdering
children, though the work is not always done as effectually as in this
case. They cripple and half kill them by terror. There are many who will
read this Sketch who will carry to the grave, and into the world of
spirits, natures out of which half the sweetness, and brightness, and
beauty has been crushed by ignorance or brutality. In most cases it is
ignorance. The hand that should guide, smites; the voice that should
soothe, jars the sensitive chords that are untuned forever. He who
thoughtlessly excites terror in a child's heart is unconsciously doing
the devil's work; he that does it consciously is a devil.

"There is a lady here whom I wish you would talk to. She belongs to one
of the most respectable families in San Francisco, is cultivated,
refined, and has been the center of a large and loving circle. Her
monomania is spiritual despair. She thinks she has committed the
unpardonable sin. There she is now. I will introduce you to her. Talk
with her, and comfort her if you can."

She was a tall, well-formed woman in black, with all the marks of
refinement in her dress and bearing. She was walking the floor to and
fro with rapid steps, wringing her hands, and moaning piteously.
Indescribable anguish was in her face - it was a hopeless face. It
haunted my thoughts for many days, and it is vividly before me as I
write now. The kind physician introduced me, and left the apartment.

There is a sacredness about such an interview that inclines me to veil
its details.

"I am willing to talk with you, sir, and appreciate your motive, but I
understand my situation. I have committed the unpardonable sin, and I
know there is no hope for me."

With the earnestness excited by intense sympathy, I combated her
conclusion, and felt certain that I could make her see and feel that she
had given way to an illusion. She listened respectfully to all I had to
say, and then said again:

"I know my situation. I denied my Saviour after all his goodness to me,
and he has left me forever."

There was the frozen calmness of utter despair in look and tone. I left
her as I found her.

"I will introduce you to another woman, the opposite of the poor lady
you have just seen. She thinks she is a queen, and is perfectly
harmless. You must be careful to humor her illusion. There she is - let
me present you."

She was a woman of immense size, enormously fat, with broad red face,
and a self-satisfied smirk, dressed in some sort of flaming scarlet
stuff, profusely tinseled all over, making a gorgeously ridiculous
effect. She received me with a mixture of mock dignity and smiling
condescension, and surveying herself admiringly, she asked:

"How do you like my dress?"

It was not the first time that royalty had shown itself not above the
little weaknesses of human nature. On being told that her apparel was
indeed magnificent, she was much pleased, and drew herself up proudly,
and was a picture of ecstatic vanity. Are the real queens as happy? When
they lay aside their royal robes for their grave clothes, will not the
pageantry which was the glory of their lives seem as vain as that of
this tinseled queen of the mad-house? Where is happiness, after all? Is
it in the circumstances, the external conditions? or, is it in the mind?
Such were the thoughts passing through my mind, when a man approached
with a violin. Every eye brightened, and the queen seemed to thrill with
pleasure in every nerve.

"This is the only way we can get some of them to take any exercise. The
music rouses them, and they will dance as long as they are permitted to
do so."

The fiddler struck up a lively tune, and the queen, with marvelous
lightness of step and ogling glances, ambled up to a tall, raw-boned
Methodist preacher, who had come with me, and invited him to dance with
her. The poor parson seemed sadly embarrassed, as her manner was very
pressing, but he awkwardly and confusedly declined, amid the titters of
all present. It was a singular spectacle, that dance of the mad-women.
The most striking figure on the floor was the queen. Her great size, her
brilliant apparel, her astonishing agility, the perfect time she kept,
the bows, the smiles and blandishments, she bestowed on an imaginary
partner, were indescribably ludicrous. Now and then, in her evolutions,
she would cast a momentary reproachful glance at the ungallant clergyman
who had refused to dance with feminine royalty, and who stood looking on
with a sheepish expression of face. He was a Kentuckian, and lack of
gallantry is not a Kentucky trait.

During the session of the Annual Conference at Stockton, in 1859 or
1860, the resident physician invited me to preach to the inmates of the
Asylum on Sunday afternoon. The novelty of the service, which was
announced in the daily papers, attracted a large number of visitors,
among them the greater part of the preachers. The day was one of those
bright, clear, beautiful October days, peculiar to California, that make
you think of heaven. I stood on the steps, and the hundreds of men and
Women stood below me, with their upturned faces. Among them were old men
crushed by sorrow, and old men ruined by vice; aged women with faces
that seemed to plead for pity, women that made you shrink from their
unwomanly gaze; lion-like young men, made for heroes but caught in the
devil's trap and changed into beasts; and boys whose looks showed that
sin had already stamped them with its foul insignia, and burned into
their souls the shame which is to be one of the elements of its eternal
punishment. A less impressible man than I would have felt moved at the
sight of that throng of bruised and broken creatures. A hymn was read,
and when Burnet, Kelsay, Neal, and others of the preachers, struck up an
old tune, voice after voice joined in the melody until it swelled into a
mighty volume of sacred song. I noticed that the faces of many were wet
with tears, and there was an indescribable pathos in their voices. The
pitying God, amid the rapturous hallelujahs of the heavenly hosts, bent
to listen to the music of these broken harps. This text was announced,
My peace I give unto you; and, the sermon began.

Among those standing nearest to me was "Old Kelley," a noted patient
whose monomania was the notion that he was a millionaire, and who spent
most of his time in drawing checks on imaginary deposits for vast sums
of money. I held one of his checks for a round million, but it has never
yet been cashed. The old man pressed up close to me, seeming to feel
that the success of the service somehow depended on him. I had not more
than fairly begun my discourse, when he broke in:

"That's Daniel Webster!"

I don't mind a judicious "Amen," but this put me out a little. I resumed
my remarks, and was getting another good start, when he again broke in
enthusiastically:

"Henry Clay!"

The preachers standing around me smiled - I think I heard one or two of
them titter. I could not take my eyes from Kelley, who stood with open
mouth and beaming countenance, waiting for me to go on. He held me with
an evil fascination. I did go on in a louder voice, and in a sort of
desperation; but again my delighted hearer exclaimed:

"Calhoun!"

"Old Kelley" spoiled that sermon, though he meant kindly. He died not
long afterward, gloating over his fancied millions to the last.

"If you have steady nerves, come with me and I will show you the worst
case we have - a woman half tigress, and half devil."

Ascending a stairway, I was led to an angle of the building assigned to
the patients whose violence required them to be kept in close
confinement.

"Hark! don't you hear her? She is in one of her paroxysms now."

The sounds that issued from one of the cells were like nothing I had
ever heard before. They were a series of unearthly, fiendish shrieks,
intermingled with furious imprecations, as of a lost spirit in an
ecstasy of rage and fear.

The face that glared upon me through the iron grating was hideous,
horrible. It was that of a woman, or of what had been a woman, but was
now a wreck out of which evil passion had stamped all that was womanly
or human. I involuntarily shrunk back as I met the glare of those fiery
eyes, and caught the sound of words that made me shudder. I never
suspected myself of being a coward, but I felt glad that the iron bars
of the cell against which she dashed herself were strong. I had read of
Furies - one was now before me. The bloated, gin-inflamed face, the
fiery-red, wicked eyes, the swinish chin, the tangled coarse hair
falling around her like writhing snakes, the tiger-like clutch of her
dirty fingers, the horrible words - the picture was sickening, disgust
for the time almost, extinguishing pity.

"She was the keeper of a beer-saloon in San Francisco, and led a life of
drunkenness and licentiousness until she broke down, and she was brought
here."

"Is there any hope of her restoration?"

"I fear not - nothing short of a miracle can, retune an instrument so
fearfully broken and jangled."

I thought of her out of whom were cast the seven devils, and of Him who
came to seek and to save the lost, and resisting the impulse that
prompted me to hurry away from the sight and hearing of this lost woman,
I tried to talk with her, but had to retire at last amid a volley of
such language as I hope never to hear from a woman's lips again.

"Listen! Did you ever hear a sweeter voice than that?"

I had heard the voice before, and thrilled under its power. It was a
female voice of wonderful richness and volume, with a touch of something
in it that moved you strangely - a sort of intensity that set your
pulses to beating faster, while it entranced you. The whole of the
spacious grounds were flooded with the melody, and the passing teamsters
on the public highway would pause and listen with wonder and delight.
The singer was a fair young girl, with dark auburn hair, large brown
eyes, that were at times dreamy and sad, and then again lit up with
excitement, as her moods changed from sad to gay.

"She will sit silent for hours gazing listlessly out of the window, and
then all at once break forth into a burst of song so sweet and thrilling
that the other patients gather near her and listen in rapt silence and
delight. Sometimes at a dead hour of the night her voice is heard, and
then it seems that she is under a special afflatus - she seems to be
inspired by the very soul of music, and her songs, wild and sad, wailing
and rollicking, by turns, but all exquisitely sweet, fill the long
night-hours with their melody."

The shock caused by the sudden death of her betrothed lover overthrew
her reason, and blighted her life. By the mercy of God, the love of
music and the gift of song survived the wreck of love and of reason.
This girl's voice, pealing forth upon the still summer evening air, is
mingled with my last recollection of Stockton and its refuge for the
doubly miserable who are doomed to death in life.



San Quentin.

"I want you to go with me over to San Quentin next Thursday, and preach
a thanksgiving-sermon to the poor fellows in the State-prison."

On the appointed morning, I met our party at the Vallejo-street wharf,
and we were soon steaming on our way. Passing under the guns of Fort
Alcatraz, past Angel Island - why so called I know not, as in early days
it was inhabited not by angels but goats only - all of us felt the
exhilaration of the California sunshine, and the bracing November air,
as we stood upon the guards, watching the play of the lazy-looking
porpoises, that seemed to roll along, keeping up with the swift motion
of the boat in such a leisurely way. The porpoise is a deceiver. As he
rolls up to the surface of the water, in his lumbering way, he looks as
if he were a huge lump of unwieldy awkwardness, floating at random and
almost helpless; but when you come to know him better, you find that he
is a marvel of muscular power and swiftness. I have seen a "school" of
porpoises in the Pacific swimming for hours alongside one of our
fleetest ocean-steamers, darting a few yards ahead now and then, as if
by mere volition, cutting their way through the water with the
directness of an arrow. The porpoise is playful at times, and his
favorite game is a sort of leap-frog. A score or more of the creatures,
seemingly full of fun and excitement, will chase one another at full
speed, throwing themselves from the water and turning somersaults in the
air, the water boiling with the agitation, and their huge bodies
flashing in the light. You might almost imagine that they had found
something in the sea that had made them drunk, or that they had inhaled
some sort of piscatorial anaesthetic. But here we are at our
destination. The bell rings, we round to, and land.

At San Quentin nature is at her best, and man at his worst. Against the
rocky shore the waters of the bay break in gentle splashings when the
winds are quiet. When the gales from the southwest sweep through the
Golden Gate, and set the white caps to dancing to their wild music, the
waves rise high, and dash upon the dripping stones with a hoarse roar,
as of anger. Beginning a few hundreds of yards from the water's edge,
the hills slope up, and up, and up, until they touch the base of
Tamalpais, on whose dark and rugged summit, four thousand feet above the
sea that laves his feet on the west, the rays of the morning sun fall
with transfiguring, glory while yet the valley below lies in shadow. On
this lofty pinnacle linger the last rays of the setting sun, as it drops
into the bosom of the Pacific. In stormy weather, the mist and clouds
roll in from the ocean, and gather in dark masses around his awful head,
as if the sea-gods had risen from their homes in the deep, and were
holding a council of war amid the battle of the elements; at other
times, after calm, bright days, the thin, soft white clouds that hang
about his crest deepen into crimson and gold, and the mountaintop looks
as if the angels of God had come down to encamp, and pitched here their
pavilions of glory. This is nature at San Quentin, and this is Tamalpais
as I have looked upon it many a morning and many an evening from my
window above the sea at North Beach.

The gate is opened for us, and we enter the prison-walls. It is a
holiday, and the day is fair and balmy; but the chill and sadness cannot
be shaken off, as we look around us. The sunshine seems almost to be a
mockery in this place where fellow-men are caged and guarded like wild
beasts, and skulk about with shaved heads, clad in the striped uniform
of infamy. Merciful God! is this what thy creature man was made for? How
long, how long?

Seated upon the platform with the prison officials and visitors, I
watched my strange auditors as they came in. There were one thousand of
them. Their faces were a curious study. Most of them were bad faces.
Beast and devil were printed on them. Thick necks, heavy back-heads, and
low, square foreheads, were the prevalent types. The least repulsive
were those who looked as if they were all animal, creatures of instinct
and appetite, good-natured and stupid; the most repulsive were those
whose eyes had a gleam of mingled sensuality and ferocity. But some of
these faces that met my gaze were startling - they seemed so out of
place. One old man with gray hair, pale, sad face, and clear blue eyes,
might have passed, in other garb and in other company, for an honored
member of the Society of Friends. He had killed a man in a mountain
county. If he was indeed a murderer at heart, nature had given him the
wrong imprint. My attention was struck by a smooth-faced, handsome young
fellow, scarcely of age, who looked as little like a convict as anybody
on that platform. He was in for burglary, and had a very bad record.


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Online LibraryO.P. FitzgeraldCalifornia Sketches, Second Series → online text (page 2 of 14)