James Richmond's
California Story

The Evils of Drink

March 8, 1860 I was today in a secluded spot with my back against the railing, reading my Bible. A wild looking fellow came along and stopped and gazed at me for several seconds. Finally as I paid no attention to him he ejaculated "Pius cuss! Eh!" wheeled and walked off. I saw nothing of him again for several hours. When for exercise I was making a circuit of the boat and came across the same fellow who had taken a survey of me. It was my turn now to look him over. He was gathering up all the life preservers he could find and attaching them to his person in every conceivable way and manner, around his neck, arms, legs and feet , he seemed to be in the greatest possible haste. Finally I said to him "My friend, what do you propose to do?" He wheeled on me in a rage saying "You just tend your own business, sir, you little cuss, you go back and read your Bible, Iím going ashore, back where we started from. Once in the water I can escape all these devils." And he glared around him as if the air was full of them. "Alright," said I, "but let me get you some better life preservers. Just wait a moment" I wanted to keep him from jumping overboard until I could notify the Captain who was soon on hand. I kept out of sight as I thought best not to have him get the impression that I had informed against him. The Captain addressed him kindly and tried to reason with him, but no reason could reach his liquor befogged brain. He was bound to go back. The Captain finally called the guard and take the life preservers from him. He fought like a tiger cursing and swearing that men and the devil were all aginí him. In spite of his raving he was speedily divested of the life preservers and given a straight jacket in place of them. His life history was soon told. The last chapter of this book was finished. After a few hours of the most fearful suffering with imaginary snakes and devils he died. The conflict was over. Whisky and the devil were triumphant. What a horrible gloom it cast over the passengers. How our hearts did ache for his sweet young wife, whose face had attracted my attention, before I knew the cause of her sorrow.

The Captain told us something of their history. The young mans story was that of many another one, wealth, idleness, bad company, whiskey, death. His wife had married him, knowing he was addicted to that bad habit but trusting that her influence would restrain him from ever becoming a drunkard. But she found, alas, that loveís power loses all itís brilliancy is lost when pitted against the demon, drink. Love did for a short time prove a restraining influence but tiring of the restraint he made up his mind to go to California . He would leave his wife at home; then he would feel free to indulge in riot with no sorrowful face to upbraid him. She would not be left and he found to his surprise that she was a passenger on the same boat. Quietly, gently and unobtrusively did she try to restrain him, but to no avail. Her task was ended and it really seemed her heart was broken. I shall never forget her sad face. The Captain told me she would only go with us to Aspenwall where she would take a return steamer home.

Then came the most solemn event of a burial at sea. The poor fellow was put at rest in the watery grave, the water he was sure would drive the demons from him. The body was prepared for burial, enveloped in canvas with weights enough at the feet, to sink it many fathoms below fish life, it is calculated. I had always supposed the bodies that were buried at sea went to the bottom and I had always supposed that fish went to the bottom of the great waters but the Captain tells me not. I find I have to learn on this voyage some things agreeable and some disagreeable. The body was rested on a plank at the ships side enveloped in the American flag. The flag was also flying at half mast. The vessel itself was stopped, all itís mighty machinery was still. We no longer felt the jar and beat of itís mighty pulse, the solemnity of the mid ocean silence was upon us. when the Captain read the burial in slow measured tones the plank was tipped and out from under the American flag glided the body with swift and silent motion struck the water and descended in itís watery grave in an erect position. There to stand in midwater until the sea shall give up itís dead. I shall never forget the scene. I did not wonder that the desolate young widow was carried fainting to her room.
The vessel was once more underway but we all felt a sadness that we could not banish. I hoped that we would not have to stop for such sad obsequies. But little we know. Only that we feel God watches over all. we might well fear.