by Marlin Spike
Is there anything worse than waking up after a night on the town, on a slow boat to China?
Dustin (Dusty) Rhodes Shanghaied, San Francisco circa-1849-1859
Ughhhrrhhh! What dream is this that is holding me prisoner? I must be near a farm for I hear sheep, chickens and cattle. I smell them also!
But, why am I in this darkness that even with eyes wide open, I cannot see? Am I alive?
Everything around me seems to be moving in many directions simultaneously and there is loud pounding, creating tremors and vibrations as if whatever objects are colliding is to their destruction. All is chaos and beyond my experiences to easily ascertain what manner of horror in gaining consciousness I find myself contending with? My hands find a swelling at the back of my head and what feels to be my own dried blood! What has come upon me? How have I arrived here? Where is here?
My senses are overcome with to much. I breath deeply of the foul air surrounding me and was relieved of what little was left in my stomach. feeling better but I must have fresher air to stop my returning into the darkness I had but a moment ago, climbed out of..
I can feel that the weight of my gold is gone. It, the reason for me being in San Francisco and away from my strike and claim. Was I robbed?
I remember little but a ship grounded, amongst many! Them rafted together looking and functioning like a city on the water. Lights and laughter with merry music and ladies dancing. All seemed well! The owner shouted all a' round and I felt I was with friends for the first time since I had left my home in Columbus, Ohio, two years ago, now. I left also my beautiful bride and my two children, Robyn and Robben Luke with the promise I would send for them after I was founded with a producing claim and a made man.
I, like many others, went to California to find the wealth that was in every paper from Florida to Maine! The headlines saying, "Gold, In California"!
The following article telling all who could believe, their dreams were lying on the ground, to be picked up by anyone who could make their way to what was called," The Mother Lode! " Eureka! I've found it," was the cry of the land. The lust for what gold could buy, driving men mad with desire!
So where am I now? Could I be on a ship at sea?
A kick to my side brought my wandering mind, instantly, to the realities of the moment! The pain and a voice that I was to hear for two years and more set me to the task at hand! The person behind that voice was of a size and proportion that commanded obedience. Who knew the lifelong bond that would form between he and I? Or that he would be directly responsible for my discovery, then mastery of a trade that I did not aspire to gain.
His name was Fearsy. He was first mate on a vessel from hell named, " The Reefer"! The cattle, I had heard meowing, while recovering my bearings, I found, were headed for China with a load of laundry and so was I! I had been Shanghaied out of what was becoming known as San Francisco's, Barbury Coast!
There was a shortage of able bodied seaman neccessary to keep trade going and trade routes flowing, the very life blood of a city growing by leaps and bounds. There simply was not enough available manpower to perform the services one finds, needs and uses in every other city In the early years of the gold rush, ships would arrive in San Francisco and many were abandoned, completely, upon dropping anchor. All aboard, having "The Fever", headed to the gold fields, including the Captain! Hundreds of Ocean going trading vessels, fully rigged, ready for crew and cargo that never arrived, rested at anchor. These ships were taken over and used as Taverns, Barber Shops, Trading Goods Stores, Laundry taken in, Brothels, Hotels, Rooming Houses. Every business that was on land was also found in this floating flotilla of abandoned vessels.
It is during this period of time in San Francisco, some people found it possible and affordable to send their washing by a slow boat to China and back, rather than do it themselves?
On May 10,1869, The Intercontinental Railroad was completed. San Francisco's wealthy could now send their laundry anywhere they wanted!
Footnote: Highlights of ,"The Reefer's. voyage" and what transpired with Fearsy and Dustin Rhodes.
My gold is gone. Maybe my claim has been jumped! I didn't know at this time because I am waking up after a " Mickey Finn " (opium) and apparently have signed " the articles" of seamanship. I am now owned by the ship!
I realized that Fearsy was a simple and honest man and very good at following and carrying out orders. He only kicked me the one time. When I realized that we were outside the Farallon's and headed more west than I had intended, I knew I had to get back to my family, somehow, someway, someday!
I be- friended him and used his friendship to propel me and himself up, to better food and a more responsible position aboard the ship I was now bonded to. With many shanghaid sailors, the Oceans not suited to their nature and proclivities, they died, never tasting freedom again.
I learned ( I was told later) nautical realities faster than any man before the mast. I have no answer as to why It came to me easily. There is much time at sea for self introspection and very little available for distraction. I focused on the workings of the ship and the people that responded to her needs in relation to weather, direction, position and speed.
. When I returned to California on " The Reefer" after finishing trading with the Mandarins in China, I returned as a bit of an anomaly. Because I was educated and knew mathematics, there was need for me and I learned the skills of navigation.
Due to my disposition, discovered over time, the entire crew, before and aft the mast, with the captain's blessing, placed me in a position to arbitrate for solvency, problems that arose between men. I discovered equitable solutions, avoiding the harsher punitive measures that disrupted a fluid operation towards the owners goals, which was and is profit alone! I never had any liking or understanding of the damage imposed, flaling a man, tied to the main, with The Cat-O-Nine Tails? He was broken and destroyed and from there, useless to anyone, including himself. Horrible!
I sailed with a sick captain from San Francisco to the Island of New York, from around " The Horn"! We lost four men off that cold,harsh and unforgiving stretch of converging Oceans. The passive Pacific and the unsettling Atlantic at war with themselves and the elements where the two met! The weather so foul and unco-operitive, at times it has surpassed my understanding, how it is possible for vessel and crew to survive the forces that few men, thank God, have ever seen, much less, had there very lives in the hands of the brave men, aloft in this screaming, freezing unnatural frenzy, rising and falling in the mountainous swellls and looking hard for ship crushing ice burgs, while the men above with frozen hands are shaken by banshee winds like rag dolls, knowing death just might be a step up from this nightmare. Somehow daylight breaks. Another day, and the storm has abated by yesterdays standards. What was a full gale, is now a gale and lessoning. Downhill from here.
Three weeks later but a World away, becalmed at " The Latitudes"! Not a breath of wind, an Ocean of glass and a deck if not continually soaking with salt water would shrink the timber, pulling a part the seams. so as you could see your mates below, sleeping in their hammocks between watches! The deck, untouchable to a barefoot! If we get no relief by wind we will be over the side in our rowing longboats pulling The Reefer away from these Horse Latitudes to the wind we'll find at four degrees North. Rarely have I found wind near or on the equator but have been fortunate in that I have had no men lose their minds suffering The Doldrums as others I have spoken with. The equator No wind, just heat. Time measured and felt differently, than on land. The heat weighs on one as a physical force. In one word, unbearable!
The gold brought from San Francisco combined with the Mandarin China Trade and the hides we had picked up at " Thousand Steps", in Dana Point made the owners wealthy. They knew my hand was in it and responsible for the larger purse than ever the previous captain submitted. The Captain had reported honestly to the backers/ships owners whose homes were in Boston but they had homes and business on New York Island,also.
The captain died two days after arriving at " The Port of New York"! He was 43 years old. I think it was malaria from the mosquito that got him.
I never got on with him. He was a frog. Never found one I liked. Still looking, but not that hard.
Sounds like fiction if I say what has happened to me and share the results of what at first could seem like a death sentence, if one didn't wait for the story to move on a little.
After almost two years of lonely isolation, working the several diggings I had filed claim on, I thought had potential, as they had showed consistent color while panning, then sluicing. Sometimes this is a sign that there is a vein of more concentrated gold nearby. One morning I found it. Not neccessarily it but a rich vein of undetermined dimensions and concentration. I needed the gold assayed and I needed to file claim on the surrounding properties.
Owing myself a treat, I had two choices of where to file a couple new claims and have my gold assayed. Sacramento or San Francisco. I had been to Sacramento but not San Francisco.
In San Francisco, I learned I was a very wealthy man. I had claimed all the surrounding land for mining and the gold was purer than had been seen for quite awhile. Excited that I could now send for my family, I deserved a little celebration.
From the top of the world to the lowest pit in Hades itself, all in the matter of a few hours. Me, robbed and Shanghaied in San Fran, waking on a slow boat to China, family torn out of my grasp.
The next two years, I sailed half the world. Sailing became me. The Ocean and the people who rode upon her waters were friends.
The owners in Boston liked the cut of my jib. They took the recommendation of their dead captain and offered me the position of Captain of the Reefer. I accepted on the condition they allow me to reacquaint myself with my wife and family.
They agreed. They were businessmen. They also, after careful investigation, welcomed me into their world with arms wide open! Boston High Society on one side of the Ocean. Nob Hill on the other.
There is more of this story that needs telling but not now!. I need more ink, my eyes are weary and I must rest. My family have heard nothing of me for just under four years! They must think me dead. Much is behind me but far more lies ahead! I will find and share answers or die in the attempt. You have my word.
Dustin (Dusty) Rhodes,
Captain of the Trader Ship, Reefer 3921 word count