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Territorial Enterprise, January 16-18, 1866

[portion of San Francisco letter]


Yesterday, as I was coming along through a back alley, I glanced over a fence, and there was Fitz Smythe's horse. I can easily understand, now, why that horse always looks so dejected and in different to the things of this world. They feed him on old newspapers. I had often seen Smythe carrying "dead loads" of old exchanges up town, but I never suspected that they were to be put to such a use as this. A boy came up while I stood there, and said, "That hoss belongs to Mr. Fitz Smythe, and the old man - that's my father, you know - the old man's going to kill him."

"Who, Fitz Smythe?"

"No, the hoss - because he et up a litter of pups that the old man wouldn't a taken forty dol - "

"Who, Fitz Smythe?"

"No, the hoss - and he eats fences and everything - took our gate off and carried it home and et up every dam splinter of it; you wait till he gets done with them old Altas and Bulletins he's a chawin' on now, and you'll see him branch out and tackle a-n-y-thing he can shet his mouth on. Why, he nipped a little boy, Sunday, which was going home from Sunday school; well, the boy got loose, you know, but that old hoss got his bible and some tracts, and them's as good a thing as he wants, being so used to papers, you see. You put anything to eat anywheres, and that old hoss'll shin out and get it - and he'll eat anything he can bite, and he don't care a dam. He'd climb a tree, he would, if you was to put anything up there for him - cats, for instance - he likes cats - he's et up every cat there was here in four blocks - he'll take more chances - why, he'll bust in anywheres for one of them fellers; I see him snake a old tom cat out of that there flower-pot over yonder, where she was a sunning of herself, and take her down, and she a hanging on and a grabbling for a holt on some thing, and you could hear her yowl and kick up and tear around after she was inside of him. You see Mr. Fitz Smythe don't give him nothing to eat but them old newspapers and sometimes a basket of shavings, and so you know, he's got to prospect or starve, and a hoss ain't going to starve, it ain't likely, on account of not wanting to be rough on cats and sich things. Not that hoss, anyway, you bet you. Because he don't care a dam. You turn him loose once on this town, and don't you know he'd eat up m-o-r-e goods-boxes, and fences, and clothing-store things, and animals, and all them kind of valuables? Oh, you bet he would. Because that's his style, you know, and he don't care a dam. But you ought to see Mr. Fitz Smythe ride him around, prospecting for them items - you ought to see him with his soldier coat on, and his mustashers sticking out strong like a cat-fish's horns, and them long laigs of his'n standing out so, like them two prongs they prop up a step-ladder with, and a jolting down street at four mile a week - oh, what a guy! - sets up stiff like a close pin, you know, and thinks he looks like old General Macdowl. But the old man's a going to hornisswoggle that hoss on account of his goblin up them pups. Oh, you bet your life the old man's down on him. Yes, sir, coming!" and the entertaining boy departed to see what the "old man" was calling him for. But I am glad that I met the boy, and I am glad I saw the horse taking his literary breakfast, because I know now why the animal looks so discouraged when I see Fitz Smythe rambling down Montgomery street on him - he has altogether too rough a time getting a living to be cheerful and frivolous or anyways frisky.



Why, what can Dr. Rowell expect his resolution calling for inquiry into alleged misbehavior on the part of the police to result in? What have the police been doing? Ain't they virtuous? Don't they take good care of the city? Is not their constant vigilance and efficiency shown in the fact that roughs and rowdies here are awed into good conduct? - isn't it shown in the fact that ladies even on the back streets are safe from insult in the daytime, when they are under the protection of a regiment of soldiers? - isn't it shown in the fact that although many offenders of importance go unpunished, they infallibly snaffle every Chinese chicken-thief that attempts to drive his trade, and are duly glorified by name in the papers for it? - isn't it shown in the fact that they are always on the look-out and keep out of the way and never get run over by wagons and things? And ain't they spry? - ain't they energetic? - ain't they frisky? - Don't they parade up and down the sidewalk at the rate of a block an hour and make everybody nervous and dizzy with their frightful velocity? Don't they keep their clothes nice? - and ain't their hands soft? And don't they work? - don't they work like horses? - don't they, now? Don't they smile sweetly on the women? - and when they are fatigued with their exertions, don't they back up against a lamp-post and go on smiling till they break plum down? But ain't they nice? - that's it, you know! - ain't they nice? They don't sweat - you never see one of those fellows sweat. Why, if you were to see a policeman sweating you would say, "oh, here, this poor man is going to die - because this sort of thing is unnatural, you know." Oh, no - you never see one of those fellows sweat. And ain't they easy and comfortable and happy - always leaning up against a lamp-post in the sun, and scratching one shin with the other foot and enjoying themselves? Serene? - I reckon not.

I don't know anything the matter with the Department, but may be Dr. Rowell does. Now when Ziele broke that poor wretch's skull the other night for stealing six bits' worth of flour sacks, and had him taken to the Station House by a policeman, and jammed into one of the cells in the most humorous way, do you think there way anything wrong there? I don't. Why should they arrest Ziele and say, "Oh, come, now, you say you found this stranger stealing on your premises, and we know you knocked him on the head with your club - but then you better go in a cell, too, till we see whether there's going to be any other account of the thing - any account that mightn't jibe with yours altogether, you know - you go in for confessed assault and battery, you know." Why should they do that? Well, nobody ever said they did.

And why shouldn't they shove that half senseless wounded man into a cell without getting a doctor to examine and see how badly he was hurt, and consider that next day would be time enough, if he chanced to live that long? And why shouldn't the jailor let him alone when he found him in a dead stupor two hours after - let him alone because he couldn't wake him - couldn't wake a man who was sleeping and with that calm serenity which is peculiar to men whose heads have been caved in with a club - couldn't wake such a subject, but never suspected that there was anything unusual in the circumstance? Why shouldn't the jailor do so? Why certainly - why shouldn't he? - the man was an infernal stranger. He had no vote. Besides, had not a gentleman just said he stole some flour sacks? Ah, and if he stole flour sacks, did he not deliberately put himself outside the pale of humanity and Christian sympathy by that hellish act? I think so. The department think so.  Therefore, when the stranger died at 7 in the morning, after four hours of refreshing slumber in that cell, with his skull actually split in twain from front to rear, like an apple, as was ascertained by post mortem examination, what the very devil do you want to go and find fault with the prison officers for? You are always putting in your shovel. Can't you find somebody to pick on besides the police. It takes all my time to defend them from people's attacks.

I know the police department is a kind, humane and generous institution. Why, it was no longer ago than yesterday that I was reminded of that time Captain Lees broke his leg. Didn't the free-handed, noble Department shine forth with a dazzling radiance then? Didn't the Chief detail officers Shields, Ward and two others to watch over him and nurse him and look after all his wants with motherly solicitude - four of them, you know - four of the very biggest and ablest-bodied men on the force - when less generous people would have though two nurses sufficient - had these four acrobats in active hospital service that way in the most liberal manner, at a cost to the city of San Francisco of only the trifling sum of five hundred dollars a month - the same being the salaries of four officers of the regular police force at $125 a month each. But don't you know there are people mean enough to say that Captain Lees ought to have paid his now nurse bills, and that if he had had to do it maybe he would have managed to worry along on less than five hundred dollars worth of nursing a month? And don't you know that they say also that interest parties are always badgering the Supervisors with petitions for an increase of the police force, and showing such increase to be a terrible necessity, and yet they have always got to be hunting up and creating new civil offices and berths, and making details for nurse service in order to find something for them to do after they get them appointed? And don't you know that they say that they wish to god the city would hire a detachment of nurses and keep them where they will be handy in case of accident, so that property will not be left unprotected while policemen are absent on duty in sick rooms. You can't think how it aggravates me to hear such harsh remarks about our virtuous police force. Ah, well, the police will have their reward hereafter - no doubt.

["Fitz Smythe's Horse" reprinted in The Works of Mark Twain; Early Tales & Sketches, Vol. 2 1864-1865, (Univ. of California Press, 1981), pp. 345-46.] Available from "What Have the Police Been Doing?" reprinted in Mark Twain's San Francisco, edited by Bernard Taper (McGraw Hill, 1963), pp. 189-91. Portion of "What Have the Police Been Doing?" not reprinted by Taper appeared in facsimile of San Francisco Daily Morning Examiner, January 19, 1866 in California Feuds by William B. Secrest, (Word Dancer Press, 2005) p. 83]

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