San Francisco History

My Own Story


THE men in the little store had stopped talking and were looking at Charley. When the woman said, "You don't wear 28 overalls," he thought that everything was ended for him.

However, he flipped a $20 gold piece on the counter and said coolly, "I don't know, but my sheep herder does."

His manner and the show of gold quieted the woman's suspicions, and she sold him the shoes and the overalls. He also bought some cigars and lighted one before he left the shop. In another place he bought a flask of brandy and some food and then went back to his partner in the freight car. Charley took one swallow of the brandy. His stomach settled at once, the last of the ptomaine symptoms disappeared, and he was able to eat heartily.

They took the midnight train to Sacramento, one getting on at one end of the smoker and the other at the other end. Charley sat with a passenger. They began to talk, and before they got to Sacramento became good friends. The passenger invited Charley to his house in Sacramento to spend the night. Charley said, "No, my wife will be at the station to meet me."

Arriving at Sacramento, he rejoined his partner and went to a saloon, bought a couple of drinks, and looked at all the papers of the last few days to see whether or not the detectives were on their trail. They found they were not. Then Charley bought a pistol, a .44, and some cartridges. The partner said, "Let's go out and get a decent meal, Charley, for once."

In telling the tale, Charley said, "In a weak moment I consented. We went into a restaurant on K street. No sooner were we seated than two policemen walked in, stepped up to the counter and lighted their cigars, and stood there talking.

"I got my .44 and laid it on my knee under the edge of the table and kept it there. The policemen walked out. When we finished our meal we went out and walked toward the railroad yard. On the way I saw a policeman following us. I drew my gun, hid it under my coat and turned and said to him, `Are you following us?' The officer said, `Where are you going?'

"I said, `We are going home.' The officer walked away.

"That man never knew how close he came to Kingdom Come."

The two went on to the American river and located themselves in an old hut in a deserted vineyard. They lived there all winter, going over to a little town occasionally, pretending to be wood-choppers, and buying such food as they needed. In the spring they boarded a freight car, made their way to New Mexico and from there to Chicago, where they separated.

Charley went to work, saved his money, and finally went into business. He accumulated $800 in money, and bought a gold watch and chain. He was doing well.

In the family where he boarded there were two sisters. One of them Charley fell in love with, and she with him. She was a good girl, and pretty. They became engaged to be married. Charley was prospering. He was going to build a little home and settle down. They picked out a lot, and Charley bought it.

Then his partner was caught in a robbery, and in order to save his credits in San Quentin he confessed to where Charley was, and Wells Fargo detectives arrested him.

Up to this time Charley's girl did not know that he was a fugitive, but as soon as he was arrested he sent for her. She came to the city prison, and there Charley gave her the lot, the $800 in money and the gold watch and chain. He told her what he was, that he had to spend the rest of his days in San Quentin.

The officers brought him back to the prison, and when I saw him he had been there twenty-nine years.

When I undertook to get him paroled, I found it necessary to get some signatures in Nevada City, the district attorney and others. There was still a great deal of feeling against him. It was most difficult to get the signatures, but finally I managed to prevail upon them to sign, and Governor Johnson, as a Christmas present to me, paroled Charley.

The day he came out of prison he dined with Mrs. Older and me at the Fairmont, and in our rooms after dinner he told us the story of his escape. I asked him about the girl in Chicago, what had become of her.

He said that she had corresponded with him for eleven years, but that finally he had written her and told her that some day she might want to marry some good man, and that if he learned of this correspondence it might cause trouble. So he had advised her to stop writing.

"That," said Charley, "was eighteen years ago, and since that time until you came into my life, I have never heard from a living human being."

I said, "Were you very much interested in the girl?"

"Yes; we intended to marry. I think I've got her picture here with me now." He put his hand down in his inside pocket and drew out a photograph.

He thought he had it! He knew he had it. It was the only thing he did have, the only thing he had brought with him out of prison. It was the picture of a gentle, sweet-looking girl.

He looked at it for some time, and mused, more to himself than to us, "Of course, she doesn't look like that now. She's probably an old woman now. That was thirty years ago. I wish I knew what has become of her."

Mrs. Older and I had taken up our residence on a ranch in Santa Clara county, in the foothills near Saratoga. It comprised 200 acres. It was a fruit ranch, and there was a great deal of work to be done upon it. It served a good purpose, because I could take men from prison down there and help them to regain their foothold. I made Charley foreman of this ranch.

He was 71, but one of the strongest men I ever saw. He plowed from daylight to dark, never seeming to tire. He ran everything connected with the ranch, made all the purchases, paid all the bills. He was perhaps one of the most exacting men in the way of honesty that I ever encountered.

There was a young man working on the ranch, not a prisoner, just an ordinary citizen, whom Charley soon discovered was what he called a petty pilferer. He had no use for that young man.

"That kind of a fellow," he said, "would get a whole neighborhood in trouble. He'd steal a whip, or a buggy robe, or some little thing." His contempt was indescribable. "If he'd go out and get some big money, I wouldn't mind it so much, but he's just a petty thief," he said with scorn. "They're the curse of the earth."

Charley and I were living in a tent at this time, and I had a community box of cigars there; that is, I told Charley they were as much his as mine, and to smoke them whenever he wanted to. He was working up on the hill one day, and he saw this young man smoking a cigar down in front of the tent. He knew that it had come from this box.

He said that he thought of a necklace that Mrs. Older had left on the table Sunday evening before she went to San Francisco. He had put it in a bureau drawer under some clothing, and when he saw the young man smoking that cigar he thought of the necklace. He rushed down to the tent, went in and opened the bureau drawer, and the necklace was there.

"It was a good thing it was," said Charley, "because if it hadn't been, I would have taken an iron bar and got it."

Whatever we may wish to believe, the criminal has a different psychology from the rest of us. His motive may be the best in the world, but his mental reactions are not what we call normal.

As my acquaintance with these men grew, I observed many puzzling things.


THERE was another stage robber of a similar type to Charley, also in San Quentin, sentenced to life—Buck English. He was a great friend of Charley, and also of Lowrie, and through them I became interested in Buck, and finally succeeded in getting him paroled. He, too, went straight as long as he lived.

After he came out he told me much about Charley, for one thing, the story of the going-out dinner that the prisoners gave when Charley was paroled.

Buck English and Lowrie were roommates in the prison. They had a room with a bathroom, had accumulated a good library, and were very comfortable together. The reason that Buck was allowed to occupy this room was that he was not locked up at night. He was in charge of the electric lights, and, as they might go out at any time, it was necessary that he be able to attend to them.

So when Buck heard that Charley was going out, he was in a position to celebrate the great occasion. He got together his friends among the prisoners, and it was decided to give Charley a farewell dinner. Each prisoner was detailed to get some portion of the feast by stealth from the prison kitchen; one man the roast beef, another the potatoes, another the soup meat, another the vegetables, another the pies, another the cigars. Buck said, "I'll provide the drinks."

Having access to the kitchen at night, he took several pounds of dried apricots to his room, boiled them, squeezed them and bottled the juice. In some way he got hold of some hops and put them in, with other things that I have forgotten. After the job was done he corked the bottles, tied string around the corks to hold them in, as is done with champagne, and put them away for the great event.

The night before Charley was to go out the guests assembled quietly Buck's room. At midnight, when all the prison was asleep, the feast began.

"It was some dinner!" said Buck in relating it. "We opened up with soup, wound up with dessert, black coffee and cigars. Then I stepped into the closet and brought in the bottles and cut the cord. The corks hit the ceiling. Then I poured our glasses full and served the drinks."

Standing, they gave Charley a toast, and the more eloquent among them made suitable speeches. It was a great occasion, still remembered in the prison.

"Charley sat back then, lighted his cigar, and with the influence of the apricot wine or brandy, or whatever it was, he glowed and talked," said Buck, "more interestingly and fluently than he had talked in the twenty-nine years. He told the story of his life, and of his different escapades. It was a great evening.

"The old man had never talked much in all the years, but now he opened up. He told one story that might interest you.

"He had held up a stage in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and was in hiding until the trouble blew over. Making his way through the mountains, he came across a cabin where the man was sick in bed. There was a wife and several children without money and without food.

"So Charley went down in the night to a nearby town, stole a team, broke into a warehouse and loaded the wagon up with all kinds of food, bacon, ham, flour, sugar, coffee, and such other things as he thought they would need. He took some calico for dresses, and some ribbons for the children. He drove up with these things to the famishing family.

"In telling the story, he said that he felt they now had everything but money. He was thinking this, when a Chinese vegetable wagon came along, and the peddler displayed $40 or $50 in gold. When he had gone on, Charley went down a short cut through a gulch, intercepted the Chinaman, held him up, took the money and carried it back to the family. He now felt that they were well provided for, and he could leave, so he went on his way through the mountains."

I tried frequently to find what started Charley off wrong. He was not very clear himself on the subject, except that when he was a young man he enlisted in the Confederate Army and became a member of the famous Quantrelle Brigade. Quantrelle headed quite a large body of very carefully selected men, good shots, good horsemen, keen, quick and ready for anything that came along.

They were marauders, carrying off whatever they needed for themselves or for other troops. Charley liked the life, so when the war was ended he went right on with it single-handed. He came West in '65 and became a stage robber.

He was a man of violent temper, but with great strength of character, and if he had been able to control his roving disposition he might well have become a king of finance. He certainly had the ability. As it was, I should say that of his long life fully two-thirds was spent in prison or as a fugitive from justice. He must have spent nearly forty years in San Quentin prison.

Buck English joined Charley at our ranch. Their friendship was very deep, but Buck was taken ill, and I had him sent to the relief home, where he could have the care he needed. He was there for a year before he died. Charley visited him every Sunday regularly and carried him something nice to eat, whatever delicacy he thought Buck would like.

A short time before Buck's death, when Charley was with him, he said, "Charley, I am going over the hill."

"Well, what of it, Buck? That's nothing. Death is only a leap into the dark. Why regret it?"

"I don't," said Buck. "I don't care anything about that, Charley. But I owe you $80, and I would like to get well and work long enough to get the money and pay you back. I don't like to go out without doing that."

Charley took Buck's hand and said, "Buck, you know damn well you don't owe me a cent. Forget it."

Buck smiled and seemed happy. A day or two later he died. On the day of the funeral Charley appeared in my office with his best suit on a rose in his button-hole. "Everything is arranged, Mr. Older. Buck will have as good a funeral as any man ever had. I've taken care of that. The services are up at the undertaker's at 10 o'clock.

"It's 10 now," I said.

"I know," he said. "I know. I want to be a little late. Some of Buck's friends have stuck a preacher in, and I can't stand preachers, so I'm going to hang around outside till he's through."

Charley saved his money and prospered. He grew too old for farm work, but I got him some work in San Francisco that he could do, and he continued to save money, to live frugally and do well. After he left the ranch he still had a very kindly interest in our affairs, and was very strict as to what kind of prisoners we allowed to come there. He had a stern social code.

While he was still at the ranch I brought down a Mexican who had just come out of the penitentiary. He was what Charley regarded as a petty larceny thief. Mrs. Older and I had moved up the hill into the new house, and Charley had refused to take his meals with us there. He said the new house was too stylish for him, and he preferred to cook for himself down in the cabin. After the Mexican came, however, he appeared at our house for dinner.

We were surprised, and asked him why he had changed his mind. He said, "Well, you know I can't eat with that Mexican. He's a low-down thief; he's not in my class. You know, over in San Quentin there are just as many classes as there are outside, and more, too. I can't associate with a fellow like that."

So after he moved to the city he still endeavored to care for the social standing of our guests, and in this connection some interesting incidents occurred.


AFTER Charley came to the city and went to work in his new position, a burglar who was living with me came to the city one Sunday for a little recreation.

During the day he got to drinking, and that evening he went to Charley's room to call on him. Because he was drinking, he probably was more talkative than he would otherwise have been. He told Charley that he had just robbed a woman of the underworld of six dollars.

Charley said, "Where are you going tonight?"

"Back to Older's ranch."

Charley was in bed. He sat up, and said, "Don't you DARE! Don't you dare go to Older's ranch with stolen money in your pockets. You come with me." Charley leaped out of bed, dressed himself and made the burglar go with him to the woman and give back the money. Then, with a warning, he allowed the burglar to come back to our place.

Ordinarily, Charley was quite sympathetic with ex-prisoners; that is, if they were of his class, had never been stool pigeons, and had played the game according to his code of how it should be played. He loved Lowrie, Buck English and Jack Black. There was nothing he would not do for them. Loyalty was very strong in him, and a kind of character that held him sternly to his own code of morality. The difference was that his code was not the code of ordinary men.

In San Francisco he was highly regarded by everyone who knew him. Finally, Governor Johnson pardoned him and he again became a citizen and a voter. He never let it be known who he was, he kept his history secret from all his new friends. More than a year ago he located in Texas and the last I heard from him he was well and happy.

During my acquaintance with Charley a number of things had vaguely disturbed my belief that men in prisons are just the same as men outside. But it was perhaps Fritz Bauer who was first to shake that belief deeply. Fritz certainly was not like normal men.

He was a big, fine, well built German, about 30 years old, apparently a perfect specimen of a man. He came to my office after having been out of prison for a few days. He was hungry, not having had any food for two days, and he wanted to go to my ranch.

I told him that I had no place for him there, but he was so insistent that I said I would take him down anyway and let him work on the ranch roads, that I would give him $30 a month and board, although I really had all the help that I could afford.

He was very glad to go. The first month he behaved so well that Mrs. Older felt that he was a really normal human being. There did not seem to be the slightest kink in his mental makeup. I said, "We can't be sure until the first pay day. Let's see how he acts when he gets his money.

On Saturday night I paid him $28. He had drawn $2 in advance. I said to Mrs. Older, "Now, we'll see if anything happens."

Fritz was all right on Sunday, amused himself about the ranch. On Monday night when I came down he was acting queerly—sullen and sulky, avoiding looking at me. I asked him what was the matter, and he said, "Nothing."

The next morning he didn't come up to breakfast. I asked the ex-prisoner who usually came up with him, "Where's Fritz?"

He said, tapping his forehead, "Brain storm."

I went down to the farmhouse, found Fritz and asked him, "What's the matter, Fritz?"


"Oh, yes there is. Has anyone hurt your feelings or wounded you in any way?"


"Well, why don't you go up to breakfast, and go on with your work as usual? Of course, if you don't want to stay, I don't want you. You're free to go; I'm not getting any advantage out of your being here. But why don't you stay and have another month's pay? Then you'll have $58, instead of $28. You know you were near starvation when I met you, and another month will put you just that much farther away from a similar situation."

He would not answer. I urged him again to tell me what the matter was, if anything had happened that he didn't like. He finally said, "Well, I boiled up."

I didn't understand what he meant, and he made no further explanation. However, he stayed at the ranch, and next day was eating as usual. The following Sunday Jack Black came down to visit us, and when Fritz saw Jack, his face lighted up. He knew that Jack would understand. He said, "Jack, you know, I boiled up. You know. Don't you understand?"

"Yes," said Jack. "I understand."

Later, Jack explained to me that men in prison frequently get into a state of mind where they will not talk to anyone for a week or more, and sometimes will not eat. Jack did not know what happened to them, but he knew that it was a common occurrence.

Fritz stuck it out for twenty days and then quit. I brought him to the city with me and paid him. A few days later, a policeman rang me up and asked me if Fritz Bauer had ever worked at my ranch. I said, "Yes; why?"

"Well, we think he stole a suit of clothes from a ship."

Fritz was a sailor and had been down to the waterfront. Being an ex-convict, of course, he had been suspected when the theft was discovered. He may have been guilty. I don't know. At any rate, I got him out of the scrape. Later he was arrested again, and I got him out again.

He met Jack Black one day in front of the Bulletin office and said, "The big fellow may have to get me out again," and Jack said, "You keep this up, Fritz, and the first thing you know the big fellow will stop getting you out. Then you know what will happen. You'll get twenty years when he gives you up."

Later I got Fritz a job as a sailor on a sailing vessel, and he seemed quite pleased. This seemed to be the thing he needed. Months afterward, he came up from Central America and brought us a parrot, which showed that in his muddled head and through all his boilings up, he remembered the kindness we had shown him. Later in his voyages he sent postal cards to Mrs. Older and me, always remembering us on Christmas day.

I don't know what became of him. I am still puzzled as to why he acted as he did. He had a comfortable place on the ranch; he had all the chance that Charley had to save money and to make his way in the world; he certainly hated prison, and had no desire to be hungry and cold and friendless. Nor was there anything vicious about him. There seemed simply to be a flaw, something lacking, in his mind. If we only knew what it was, we might have better knowledge of how to treat men who violate the law.

George was another ex-prisoner who increased my doubt of getting very far in determining why men break the penal code and seem unable to keep pace with the rest of us. An old cellmate of George's interested me in his case. He insisted that George was 100 per cent right.

"I know him," he said. "I lived in the same cell with him for three years, and we never had a cross word. A loving husband and wife could hardly pass that test, locked up together for three years in an eight by ten space. They would probably quarrel some. George and I never did. He is absolutely all right—100 per cent."

I secured a parole for George and he came to the ranch to work.


GEORGE was about 40 years old. He had a fine face, mild blue eyes, a gentle, kindly manner. He loved little children, and his sympathies for suffering people were very keen. He had never drunk liquor or used tobacco. Yet he was a burglar and had served four terms in the penitentiary.

Mrs. Older was puzzled. "Here's one of your prisoners that I can't make out," she said. "That is, I can't understand how he ever did anything that would get him into prison."

The children at the ranch were very fond of George. They did not know that he had been in prison. We thought it best for them not to know. It might prejudice them, and they might thoughtlessly tell the neighbors. George was very sensitive about his past life.

One evening Mrs. Older and I returned from the city. We asked the children how they had amused themselves while we were away.

"Oh, we had such a good time!" they said. "George showed us such wonderful secrets!"

"What secrets?" we asked, full of curiosity.

"He took us up into the forest and showed us a beautiful little waterfall that he had built. He called it his `little Yosemite.' Then he showed us where he had planted a peach tree and an almond tree in the woods, and he told us lovely names he has for the trees and the little hollows. He told us not to tell anyone because those are his secrets. He goes there all by himself to look at them, and nobody knows. We promised him we wouldn't tell, but we know you won't tell if we tell you."

The wild animals on the ranch all seemed to love George, and had no fear of him. The beautiful bushtailed tree squirrels came to him when he gave a certain rap on the base of their favorite tree. He always carried nuts in his pockets for them. Nothing wild was afraid of him, and all the domestic animals loved him. The cows and the pigs came to him whenever they could, and he petted them and stroked their backs.

One evening, as I was returning from the city Mrs. Older met me on the road. She was very much excited. Her hands were trembling.

"George has turned queer," she said. "You know you told me to tell him to turn the calf into the pasture; you said I had kept it in the pen too long and it was time for it to learn to eat grass. I told George what you said, and he refused to do it. I urged that you wanted it done.

"George said, `I know he wants it done, but I won't do it for him or for anyone else. The calf might eat too much grass, take sick and die.' He absolutely refused to obey me."

I asked Mrs. Older not to be perturbed, to let George have his way.

The cellmate who had said that George was 100 per cent right came to visit us, and one evening after dinner, as he was going down to the farmhouse to see George, I decided to let him discover for himself George's queerness. I did not want his mind to be influenced by any prejudiced word from me.

The pump was run by electricity, and forced the water up to the top of the hill above our house. It furnished our house supply, and we used a great deal of it for watering the flowers. Starting it involved no work, just pushing in the switch.

Next morning the ex-cellmate came to me and said, "Mr. Older, George is 90 per cent wrong. I asked him to start the pump. He said he wouldn't do it.

"`Mr. Older wants you to start it.'

"`I don't care if he does. I won't.'

"`Why not?'

"`Because they're using too much water on the hill. They're using too much on the flowers. Besides, they will wear out the pump.'

"`That's none of your business,' I said. `They wouldn't live here without some flowers and if the pump wears out they will buy another one.'

"George said, `I won't do what's wrong for Mr. Older or anyone else. Supposing he were to order me to kill Frank, the horse. Do you suppose I would do it? Of course not.'

"`I would,' I said. `I wouldn't care what his reason was. He might want to stuff the hide and put it in a museum. I'd burn his house if he asked me to. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for him.'

"George said, `I won't start the pump.' That was his final answer. "I tell you," said his old cellmate, "George is off his head."

George stayed on until he expressed a desire to leave. When he left I got him a job in the city. Finally, he decided to go East. He came down to the ranch to say good-by to us and his wild animal friends and to leave with us Bessie, his beloved dog.

He was very sad. He rapped on the tree and no squirrels came. They had all been shot by thoughtless boys. His chipmunks, grown older, did not come at his call. He visited his "little Yosemite" and his secret places in the forest. As we drove away from the ranch, his dog was sobbing on the hilltop and looking lovingly after him.

He is in the East now, and every Christmas comes a box. Everyone is remembered, everyone he ever met at the ranch, and Bessie, his dog. Her present is usually a box of chocolates, of which she is very fond. Bessie never seems to be her old self since George left.

I am sure the penitentiary never reached George's trouble. It is beyond us all, and until we know why he is so different from the rest of us, the best we can do is to be kind to him.


THERE were other characters as baffling as George. Tim O'Grady was one of them.

Tim walked into my room in the Bulletin office one morning early. A linnet was perched on his shoulder.

"I'm just from Quentin, Mr. Older, and I brought my little friend with me. Of course I know I can't keep the bird now that I am out. I didn't like to leave him in the prison, and so I said to myself I'll give him to Mr. Older. Perhaps his wife will like him. So here he is."

The bird hopped from Tim's shoulder to my desk and chirped gaily.

"He's been a great comfort to me," said Tim. "The only friend I had in the world. I raised him from the nest, and trained him. When I left the cell in the morning, the bird flew away over the wall and played all day with other birds, but as soon as the bell rang for the lockup he'd fly in and light on my shoulder and go to the cell with me.

"Take him to your home, Mr. Older. I'm sure Mrs. Older will take good care of him."

Tim was a thief and had been in San Quentin twice. Not at all a bad fellow. Kindly, full of fun and mischievous. For his pranks in prison he had spent a lot of time in the dungeon and in the "sash and blind," the old house of torture that Governor Johnson abolished.

"What are you going to do, Tim? Have you a trade?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied. "I am a good waiter, and I guess I can get a job all right. I'll go out now and hunt one and leave the bird with you."

I sent out and bought a cage and put the bird in it with water and food, and left it on my desk. It remained there over night. That evening I told the story to Mrs. Older and she urged me to bring it home. When I entered my office in the morning I was startled to find the cage empty. I thought some one in the office had stolen it. But in a few minutes Tim entered, smiling, with the bird on his shoulder.

"I was lonesome last night, Mr. Older, and hated to go to bed alone, and so I came into your room after you had gone and took him with me to my room. But I won't do it again. You take him home with you and then I can't."

"How about the job, Tim?" I asked. "You must get work, you know. If you don't you'll be tempted and the first thing you know you'll be back in jail."

Tim assured me that nothing of that kind would ever happen again. He was through with stealing forever.

Mrs. Older was delighted with the bird. "Little Tim," she called him. We soon grew very fond of him. He sang two or three beautiful little songs and flew from her shoulder to mine in the happiest way. At night he made his bed in a geranium pot.

Meanwhile Tim disappeared. One morning I saw in one of the papers that he had been arrested for attempted theft. I told Mrs. Older that evening that Tim was in jail. While she had never seen him her sympathy went out to him because of his bird. She looked over at Little Tim, through her tears, and said, "Poor Little Tim, your father is in jail." Then she turned to me and said, "You must get him out."

The following day I called on Chief White and told him Tim's story and the story of the bird. He sent an officer for Tim. He was brought into the chief's room in handcuffs.

"Take off those handcuffs," said the chief to the officer.

"Now, Tim, sit down. You are with friends who want to help you. I'll get you a good job in a work camp in the mountains and will pay your way up there. You may go tonight. Try to make good, Tim," said the kindly chief, "and I'll do everything I can for you."

Tim was strong with promises, and no doubt he meant them at the time.

"Chief," he said, with tears streaming down his cheeks. "I'll never steal again, so help me God."

There were tears in the chief's eyes, too, as he sent for an officer to take Tim back to the city prison.

"Let me go back to the jail alone, chief. PLEASE do. Let me go on my honor. I want to show you I can be square."

The chief dismissed the officer who had come to take him, and Tim started down the corridor alone, with his head high and his chest out. He went up in the elevator and gave himself up at the prison.

That afternoon he was free and on his way to his new job in the mountains.

I took the good news home to Mrs. Older. My first words were when I entered her room, "Tim is out."

"So is Little Tim," she said. "He flew out the window an hour ago. I am sorry to lose him, but I am glad he is free. He'll join the other linnets and make his way."

Tim held his job for a few weeks, but finally quarreled with the Chinese cook and had to quit. He returned to the city. I saw him a few times, and then he disappeared.

A few weeks later I received a postal card from him sent from a little town in Iowa. "Kind regards to you, Mr. Older, and thanks for your help. Love to Donald Lowrie. I shall be here for about four weeks. Yours, Tim."

I showed the card to Lowrie. He smiled and said, "He'll be there four weeks. To me that sounds like `thirty days'."

Lowrie was right. Tim had taken to stealing again. Later we heard from him from other jails, and if he is alive is probably in one now. He just can't keep step with the rest of us.


ONE evening about dinner time, Boggs suddenly stepped out of the darkness into our kitchen at the ranch. Mrs. Older and I were away, and Lowrie and George were in charge. The boys recognized Boggs at once as an exprisoner. They knew him by the cut of his suit of prison made clothes and the squeak of his prison brogans.

"I have walked over from San Jose," said Boggs. "I haven't had anything to eat in three days. I know Older will give me a meal and put me up for the night."

"Sure he will," said Lowrie. "He isn't here, but George and I will cook a dinner for you."

The boys started a fire in the cook stove, and began preparing the potatoes.

"By trade I am a cook," said Boggs. "Let me get the dinner."

Lowrie and George stepped aside and Boggs soon had a fine dinner under way. He ate ravenously, proving at least that he was very hungry.

When the dishes were washed and the kitchen swept, Mrs. Older arrived from the city. Lowrie presented Boggs to her as a starving man they had just fed.

Mrs. Older asked them to give him a room at the farm house, and they went away together.

In the morning, after breakfast, Boggs insisted to Mrs. Older that he wanted to do some work to pay for the two meals.

"What can you do?" Mrs. Older asked.

"By trade," said Boggs, "I am a locomotive engineer."

There being no locomotives on the ranch, Mrs. Older was puzzled. "I have only gardening work here," she said.

"I am a professional gardener," said Boggs.

Doubting, but curiously interested in this new type of "nut," she said, "Very well, I want some flower beds made." She pointed out the spot.

Boggs seized a spade and Mrs. Older left him at work and went about her own affairs. Later he asked if she wanted the flower beds in the form of stars or heart-shaped. She looked down at the garden and saw that he was making both designs, and executing them beautifully. For the first time, she realized that he had done landscape gardening in prisons.

She told him she wanted just the ordinary flower beds, and he quickly transformed them to suit her taste. He was wonderfully skillful, and when I returned from the city that evening Mrs. Older excitedly related to me the story of Boggs and admiringly pointed out the work he had done. He was undoubtedly a genius gone wrong. She was glad to employ him permanently at good wages.

A few days later as I was motoring home, George, excited, stopped me at the barn.

"The yearling steer has broken his leg. What are we to do?" said George.

Knowing no answer, I made none, but drove on up the hill to the house. I met Boggs coming down. I told him my trouble. He was smilingly calm. "Don't worry, Mr. Older. By trade I am a butcher. I'll take care of the steer."

An hour or two later he showed me the carcass, hung on a tree, dressed as might be for a Christmas stall in a city market.

"If we leave it here over night, Boggs," I said, "the coyotes will get it. We would better hitch up the team and haul it to the farm house." The farm house was two hundred yards distant.

"It will not be necessary," said Boggs, buoyantly. "I am a trained athlete; been in the professional game for years."

The steer weighed 240 pounds. Boggs, 5 feet 6 in height, swung it lightly on to his back and trotted away with it.

The plumbing in the house went wrong. The nearest plumber was four miles away. We consulted Boggs.

"Don't distress yourselves," he said cheerily; "by trade I am a plumber."

He did the work easily, skillfully and quickly.

When the first rain came water in torrents poured down the hill, threatening the very foundations of the house. Frightened, we summoned Boggs.

"I have specialized in cement work." In a day he had made a long cement drain at the back of the house, which carried away the water. It is still in operation and in perfect condition.

The paint in the dining room needed retouching. It was a delicate shade of gray. Mrs. Older approached Boggs. There was genuine doubt in the tone of her voice.

"Mr. Boggs, you don't happen to know anything about painting, do you?"

"Four years' experience as an interior house painter and decorator," he said.

Boggs mixed the paint, caught the shade exactly and painted the dining room.

One of the cows was taken ill. Boggs was called in.

"Yes; I am a veterinary," he said. "I'll treat the cow." He did. She was well in three days. He built culverts for the road, criticised the plowman's work and gave valuable hints to the men who were pruning the orchards.

Late Christmas Eve we heard Friend, the dog, barking violently on the porch. He barked so earnestly that we thought there must be some one in front of the house. There was. When we went out in the morning we saw stretched across the front of the house the words "Merry Christmas." They were done in red toyone berries, surrounded by garlands of leaves gathered from the hillsides. Boggs had done it.

We were delighted, thanked him for the surprise and complimented him on his skill in lettering.

"It comes easy to me," he said. "I am a woodcarver by trade."

Of course, we wanted Boggs to stay with us forever and ever, but we were sure he wouldn't. He had been with us nearly two months, when he suddenly told Mrs. Older that he never stayed anywhere more than two months.

"Why not remain with us?" she urged. "We like you, and will pay you well. You could save some money."

"No," he said. "I feel I must go. I came up here to get away from pursuing women. I thought if I grew a full beard, perhaps I wouldn't be so attractive and they would let me alone. My beard is grown now, so I'll leave when my month is up."

We paid him, and parted with him sorrowfully.

Two weeks later little Mary, a member of our household, was reading a San Jose paper. She suddenly looked up, startled.

"Mrs. Older, was Mr. Boggs' first name Charles Augustus?"

"Yes; why?"

"He's in jail," said Mary.

Boggs had attached himself to a matrimonial bureau in San Jose in the role of a professional husband. He had married a young woman with intent to swindle her out of a sum of money. He got out of the scrape, but did not return to the ranch. He was evidently ashamed of what he had done. A few weeks later he called on me at the Bulletin office and wanted to come back. In fact, he agreed to go down with me that afternoon. But he did not appear. There were two ex-burglars with us at that time, and Boggs, I reasoned, feared to face them, knowing that his was a kind of crime that even burglars would not forgive.

Some time later he wrote me from Lodi. He was in jail on a serious charge. He asked me to help him. But his was a case this time in which no one could help him. I wrote him and told him so. I have not heard from him since. No doubt he is now doing time in some prison.

Boggs was one of the most useful men I have ever known. He could do so many things that are necessary to be done, and could do them well. He said he had been a woman's dressmaker and had taken prizes for his skill. He had given us such proof of his ability in so many ways that we were inclined to believe that he could even make women's dresses.

Boggs has the misfortune to have some twist in his mental processes that he is in no way responsible for. Whatever the twist is, it is as yet far out of the reach and beyond the knowledge of science. Being abnormal, he does abnormal things, is judged by the standards of normal men, condemned and sent to prison to be corrected and made better by a stupid form of punishment. In fact, a sick man is subjected to a treatment that would make a sound man ill.

Thus, in this cruel way, the human race slowly gropes toward the light.


PEDRO had the soul of a poet and the habits of a sybarite. His eyes were large, dark and languorous. His skin was olive, his features regular, his figure perfect. He dressed in excellent taste and simulated the air and manner of a young man of wealth and leisure. He was 26 years of age when I met him in my office eight years ago.

"I live in Los Angeles, Mr. Older," Pedro began. "On the train coming north, I met a young man who is a very dear friend of mine. He was in great trouble, and wholly trusting me, he told me his story. Two years ago he forged a check, for a small sum, was caught, tried, convicted and sentenced to five years in the Colorado pentitentiary. His conduct in prison was excellent. His youth and good behavior appealed to the kindly warden, who paroled him after he had served one year of his sentence. He was allowed to return to Los Angeles, where his father and mother lived. They did not know he had been in prison, and he determined they never should know. He got a job in a laundry and was earning $75 a month. In a short time, a deputy sheriff in Los Angeles who knew he had been in prison and was out on parole called on him and threatened him with exposure if he didn't give him $60. My friend paid the money. A month later the deputy sheriff made another demand for money. This he also met, although he had to borrow a part of the sum.

"The deputy sheriff waited a month or two and made another demand for money. This time he wanted $90. My friend did not have it and could not borrow it. He was desperate, and fearing immediate exposure, he passed a forged check and paid the man what he asked. Feeling this new crime would soon be discovered, my friend bought a bottle of poison, removed all identification marks from his clothing and took the train for San Francisco. Arriving here he intended to commit suicide. His body would not be recognized. It would be buried in an unknown grave, and his parents would never know what had become of him. On the train he read a chapter of Donald Lowrie's story, `My Life in Prison.' Believing that the editor who was publishing Lowrie's story might be sympathetic with him, he decided to call on him and tell him his story."

"I am sympathetic," I said, "and will help him. Where is your friend?"

"It is my story," said Pedro.

I called in Lowrie. I wanted him to hear the tale and pass his expert judgment on it.

Pedro told his story over again to Lowrie. Lowrie believed it and confirmed me in my judgment that I should go at once to Los Angeles with Pedro, expose the deputy sheriff, pay the man who had cashed the forged check, reinstate Pedro in his job, and give him a chance to make good.

Pedro agreed to go with me on the Lark that evening. He had only $8 in money. I told him he could pay for his berth with $5 and I would provide the railroad tickets. We were to meet at the station in time for the Lark. Meanwhile, Lowrie took Pedro over to the Argonaut Hotel and got him a room so that he could change his clothes. He had a long talk with Pedro and was further convinced that he was telling the truth. He took the bottle of poison away from Pedro and brought it to my office.

The train for Los Angeles left at 8 o'clock. I arrived there at a little before 8. I saw Pedro walking up and down the waiting room, immaculately dressed, his hands gloved. He was carrying a very large and very beautiful bouquet of roses.

I was staggered, but I had said goodby to Mrs. Older, and had also confided my errand to my friends, and I still hoped in spite of the bouquet of roses and the gloved hands, that his story might stand up.

"I have your ticket, Pedro. Come with me and buy your berth," I said.

"I am sorry," he said, "but I have spent the eight dollars that I had this afternoon. I needed a new pair of gloves, and I am very fond of roses, and I couldn't resist this bouquet."

Still I didn't weaken. I bought his Pullman, and we went to Los Angeles together. Arriving there in the morning, I sent Pedro to the law office of a friend of mine and instructed him to remain there until he heard from me. I would go first and settle with the manager of the taxicab stand at the Alexandria Hotel, who had cashed the bogus check.

I called at the hotel and introduced myself to the taxicab man. I told him I had come from San Francisco to straighten out the Pedro transaction. He stared at me as if he thought I were mildly insane.

"What do you mean by straightening it out?" he asked.

"I mean," I replied, "I am ready to pay the $90 Pedro owes you. You probably know the boy was hard pressed for money."

"Hard pressed, hell," he said. "He's a crazy fool. He hired an automobile from me, with a driver, at $30 a day. He drove around in it for two days."

"Where did he go?" I asked.

"Oh, nowhere in particular. Down to Santa Monica and back and then around town, showing off. He owed me $60 for the machine for two days. He gave me a check for $90 and I, thinking he was the son of a rich man, out for a time, accepted the check and gave him $30 change."

"Did he seem to have been drinking?" I asked.

"No; he showed no signs of liquor. He is just a damned fool."

So the taxicab man was the cruel deputy sheriff who was threatening with exposure a poor, hard working boy if he didn't pay him hush money.

I was pretty weak by this time, but I took a taxicab from the hotel and drove out into the suburbs and found Pedro's brother. I asked him if he knew what his brother had done.

"Yes," he said, "the poor boy flooded the town with bogus checks and skipped out."

Pedro had bought the poison to be used as an effective part of the story he had planned to tell me.

I rang him up at the attorney's office and told him what I had learned, and added that I could do nothing for him.

I took the train home that evening feeling rather cheap. A day or two later I received a bill for $90 from the Alexandria taxicab man. He had evidently become convinced that I was insane.

I have never heard from Pedro since. I suppose some prison warden has him and is solemnly at work trying to make Pedro walk straight by a form of punishment which would make a strong man stagger.


Source: Library of Congress. California As I Saw It, 1849-1900. Vol. 194. [database online] Washington: Library of Congress, 2000. Older, Fremont. My Own Story. San Francisco, CA: The Call Publishing Co., 1919.

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