The Departed (two poems, 1871)

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These two poems amount to a sort of roll-call of some of the Bay Area’s most colorful characters, including, of course, Emperor Norton I. I’ll take some time in the near future to add some material about some of the others.

NOTES:

“A familiar figure for many years was the ‘Gutter Snipe.’ His shoulders were covered all seasons with an old white oilcloth cape. He went about the streets head down, rummaging among the gutters, picking up bits of vegetables and fruit, wiping the dirt off with his sleeve, and eating them. He never spoke to any one, never looked at any one, would accept no food or money. He slept in a hole in the sand-hills. He was not a sightly object to look at, and one day a fastidious policeman ‘took him in charge;’ a commission of lunacy sat upon him, and he was seen no more. Disappointment in love was his complaint.”

“Francis Judge, alias Sanguinetti, alias ‘Gutter Snipe,’ alias ‘Misery,’ a well known rounder, assaulted ‘a man on Montgomery street to-day, and a policeman attempting to arrest him, slashed at him with a knife like a madman, but was overcome after a hard struggle and locked up on a charge of assault to murder.”

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The Departed—Where Are They?

Ye gods! where am I? Can I be
In San Francisco— by the sea?
If so, why do I never meet
An ancient land-mark in the street?
Is there no well-remembered face
To greet me In my native place?
Where’s bow-legged gray beard? he who lay
Around the ocean steamers’ quay?
Where’s Absalom? the man of hair.
Where’s Freddy Coombs? Jack Stratman, where?
Has he, too, gone? nor left a sheet
Where we may read the “ring’s” defeat.

Tom Mooney’s smile and shuffling strides
We also miss (and coin besides);
Where’s he whose nose did always send
Our thoughts to Falstaff ‘s needy friend?
Where’s he, the knight of huge brown hat,
Who on a box or beer-barrel sat,
And advertised in basso tones
His patent drugs and razor hones?
Is he too gone? or does old age
Limit his voice and pilgrimage?

No more the “Gutter-Snipe” uprolled
In oil-cloth garb of ample fold,
With copper face and charcoal hair
Goes slouching down the thoroughfare!
How must he ponder, pine and chafe,
Locked like a “deed” in iron safe?
How often will his fancy reach
To his rude hut upon the beach ;
How will he pine to sit alone

And gnaw in peace his offal bone;
How long to Independent stray,
Or stretch upon his bed of hay?
And in webby dreams once more
Weave sea-bird’s cry and ocean’s roar?

Is there none left—no northern star
To still remind us where we are?
Yes, there is one! But for his face
I’d think I trod some foreign place;
In flaunting robes of azure dressed,
With knurly cane and nosegay breast ;
With martial step and bearing bold
And ruddy face of foreign mold,
With condescending nod for all;
An ample hat, or chapeau, small,
Decked with long turkey-feathers gray,
Old Norton I. pursues his way.

Su Donim.

Daily Alta California 23 No. 7624 (February 5, 1871): 1.

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The Departed—Where They Are

Yes, ‘tis true as true can be,
You’re in Frisco—by the sea,
And if you’ll look, you’ll often meet
An ancient land shark in the street
And there’s often many a pretty face,
To greet you in your native place.
Bow legged Gray Beard, he has gone
To diamond fields, around Cape Horn;
And Absalom, the man of hair,
Has gone—the goodness only knoweth where.
Freddy Coombs has crossed the sea,
Who once was known to you and me.
And Stratman Jack, oh, where is he,
This lover of the dread Chinee?
The blatant, loud-mouthed wide awake,
Who followed Gorham for a state;
To put you on the Major’s trail—
Go ask for him at the County Jail.

Tom Mooney, faith, old Ireland’s son,
Who fleeced his patrons one by one,
For the Fenian cause—he tho’t ‘twas best
To seek the Springs, to feather his nest.
The knight of the great, huge brown hat
Has now retired, and groweth fat,
No more he cries in basso tones;
He’s coined enough from razor hones.

The “Gutter Snipe,” poor hungry cuss,
With a policeman had a muss,
And now is lost to public sight.
And to another grants the right
To pick the bones that greet his way
And share his hut, and bed of hay:
Not now in dreams, his fancy weans—
But he wont to sup on pork and beans!

Of those that left, you quite forgot
“Unknown”—not he a gutter sot—
But proud of mien, and lofty air,
With silk plug-hat, and bushy hair,
Unknown! Alas! they know him well
Who gaze upon this high-tone swell!

Save “Norton First” who still moves by
With ruddy nose and senseless eye—
The “Gutter Snipe” and great “Unknown,”
The famous land marks all have flown,
And soon, too, they who brightly shineth
Will go a plume where the woodbine twineth.

— Valley Bard.

Oakland, February 10, 1871.

Oakland Daily Transcript 6 No. 117 (February 15, 1871): 1.

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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2132 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.