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Territorial Enterprise, February 6-7, 1866

SAN FRANCISCO LETTER dated February 3, 1866

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REV. CHARLES ELLIS - text not available



I spoke the other day of some singular proceedings of a firm of undertakers here, and now I come to converse about one or two more of the undertaker tribe. I begin to think this sort of people have no bowels -- as the ancients would say -- no heart, as we would express it. They appear to think only of business -- business first, last, all the time. They trade in the woes of men as coolly as other people trade in candles and mackerel. Their hearts are ironclad, and they seem to have no sympathies in common with their fellow men.

A prominent firm of undertakers here own largely in Lone Mountain Cemetery and also in the toll-road leading to it. Now if you or I owned that toll-road we would be satisfied with the revenue from a long funeral procession and would "throw in" the corpse -- we would let him pass free of toll -- we would wink placidly at the gate-keeper and say, "Never mind this gentleman in the hearse -- this fellow's a dead-head." But the firm I am speaking of never do that -- if a corpse starts to Paradise or perdition by their road he has got to pay his toll or else switch off and take some other route. And it is rare to see the pride this firm take in the popularity and respectability of their cemetery, and the interest and even enthusiasm which they display in their business.

A friend of mine was out at Lone Mountain the other day, and was moving sadly among the tombs thinking of departed comrades and recalling the once pleasant faces now so cold, and the once familiar voices now so still, and the once busy hands now idly crossed beneath the turf, when he came upon Mr. Smith, of the firm.

"Ah, good morning," says Smith, "come out to see us at last, have you? -- glad you have! let me show you round -- let me show you round. Pretty fine ain't it? -- everything in apple pie order, eh? Everybody says so -- everybody says mighty few graveyards go ahead of this. We are endorsed by the best people in San Francisco. We get 'em, sir, we get the pick and choice of the departed. Come, let me show you. Here's Major-General Jones-distinguished man, he was -- very distinguished man -- highsted him up on that mound, there, where he's prominent. And here's MacSpadden -- rich? -- Oh, my! And we've got Brigadier-General Jollopson here -- there he is, over there -- keep him trimmed up and spruce as a fresh " plant," all the time. And we've got Swimley, and Stiggers, the bankers, and Johnson and Swipe, the railroad men, and m-o-r-e Admirals and them kind of people -- slathers of 'em! And bless you we've got as much as a whole block planted in nothing but hundred thousand-dollar fellows -- and --"

(Here Mr. Smith's face lighted up suddenly with a blaze of enthusiasm, and he rubbed his hands together and ducked his head to get a better view through the shrubbery of the distant toll-road, and then exclaimed):

"Ah! is it another? Yes, I believe it is -- yes it is! Third arrival to-day! Long procession! 'George this is gay! Well, so-long, Thompson, I must go and cache this party!"

And the happy undertaker skipped lightly away to offer the dismal hospitalities of his establishment to the unconscious visitor in the hearse.



Fitz Smythe ("Amigo," of the Gold Hill News) is the champion of the police, and is always in a sweat because I find fault with them. Now I don't find fault with them often, and when I do I sometimes do it honestly; even Fitz Smythe will not have cheek to say he expresses his honest opinions when he invariably and eternally slobbers them over with his slimy praise and can never find them otherwise than pure and sinless in every case. No man is always blameless - Fitz Smythe ought to recollect that and bestow his praise with more judgment. Fitz knows he would abuse them like pirates if they were all to die suddenly. I know it, because he always abuses dead people. He was a firm, unswerving friend of poor Barney Olwell until the man was hanged and buried, and then look what hard names he called him in the last News. Fitz can ruin the reputation of any man with a paragraph or two of his praise. I don't say it in a spirit of anger, but I am telling it for a plain truth. I have only stirred the police up and irritated them a little with my cheerful abuse, but Fitz Smythe has utterly ruined their character with his disastrous praise. I don't ask any man to take my evidence alone in this matter - I refer doubters to the police themselves. But for Fitz Smythe's kindly meant but calamitous compliments, the police of San Francisco would stand as high to-day as any similar body of men in the world. But you know yourself that you soon cease to attach weight to the compliments of a man whose mouth is an eternally-flowing fountain of flattery. Fitz Smythe praises all alike - makes no distinction. There is that man Ansbro - I don't know him - never saw him, that I know of - but I know, and so does Fitz Smythe, that he does twice as much work as any other detective on the force - but does Fitz Smythe praise him any more than he praises those pets who never do anything at all? Not he - he makes no discrimination. And Chappell? but why argue the case? When those officers do anything Fitz impartially rings in all the balance of the force to share the credit, sometimes. Fitz, you won't do. I have told you so fifty times, and I tell you again, that you won't do. I can warm you up with ten sentences, and make you dance like a hen on a hot griddle, any time, Fitz Smythe. I know your weak spot. I can touch you on the raw whenever I please, make you lose your temper and write the most spiteful, undignified things. You see you will always be a little awkward with a pen, Fitz, because your head isn't sound - isn't well balanced; you have good points, you know, but they are kept down and crowded out by bad ones. You don't know that when a man is in a controversy he is at a great disadvantage when he loses his temper. It leaves him too open to ridicule, you know. And you can't stand ridicule, Fitz; it cuts you to the quick; it just makes you howl; I know that as well as you do, Fitz, and I am saying these things for your own good; you are young, and you are apt to let the fire of youth drive you into exceedingly unhappy performances. I do not mean that you are so young in years, you know, but young in experience of the world. You ought to be modest; the same wisdom which was so potent in Illinois and the wilds of Texas does not overpower the people of a great city like it used to do there, you know. Ah, no - they read you, attentively - because you write with a certain attractiveness Fitz Smythe - but they say "Oh, this prairie wisdom is too wide - too flat; and this swamp wisdom's too deep altogether."

And they don't attach any weight to your praise of the police. They say, "Oh, this fellow don't know - he ain't used to police - they don't have 'em in the wilds of Texas where this Ranger come from."

But you are certainly the most interesting subject to write about, Fitzy - I never get hold of you but I want to stay with you and hang on to you just as if you were a jug. I didn't intend to write two lines this time, Fitz; I only wanted to get you, as Excuser and Explainer-in-Chief to the Police, to go on the witness stand and inform me when it is possible for a man to lug a prisoner about a mile through the thickest settled portion of this city - clear to the station-house - and never come across a policeman. Read this communication from the Morning Call, Fitz - and it is a true version - and then go on and explain it, Fitz - try it, you long-legged rip!


EDITORS MORNING CALL: - On Thursday night a terrible onslaught was made on the house of a peaceable citizen on Larkin street by a band of soldiers. The man, awakened by this attempt to enter his dwelling, called on his neighbors for help. One came to his aid, the soldiers threatened to fire on the families, but, after a severe fight and long chase, the citizen and his neighbor captured two of the rascals near the Spring Valley School House. They have been held over to appear before the County Court. The citizen, with his prisoner, came from the Presidio Road, along Larkin, down Union, along Stockton, down Broadway to Kearny street, before he met an officer. The neighbor, with his prisoner, came from the same place, down Union to Powell, along that street to Washington, and down to the lower side of the Plaza, before he met an officer. This was between three and four, A. M. What I wish to know is, where were the Police, and cannot we, in the remote parts, be protected by at least one officer?

 ["More Cemeterial Ghastliness" reprinted in Mark Twain's San Francisco, edited by Bernard Taper, (McGraw Hill, 1963), pp. 204-05. "Take the Stand Fitz Smythe" reprinted in The Works of Mark Twain; Early Tales & Sketches, Vol. 2 1864-1865, (Univ. of California Press, 1981), pp. 350-52 .Available from ]

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