12. Hard Days on the McCulloch

Though segment 12 starts on a bucolic Washington farm, it goes on to describe some very harsh shipboard conditions. Hayes describes signing on with the US Navy Cutter McCulloch and the abusive treatment that later caused him to desert the ship. However, it is the description of conditions on whaling ships told to him by other sailors that is particularly hard to read.

I’ve just received a package of some other materials written by Hayes. From museum records, I had known that two long manuscripts, one on Alaska another on Africa, existed but this is the first I’ve seen them. Thank you Michael! Tim, you will be very happy to know that also in the package was a list, with dates, of every ship Hayes traveled on.  As far as I know this document is not in any of the museums.  I had no idea it existed.  It contains a good deal of detail not mentioned in the diaries.  I will get to posting it when school and farming aren’t so pressing.

View the First Ten Segments Without Popups This is a preview showing the path Hayes records in the diary up to age 22 without synopses.  Look at it in Google Earth if you can.

View Segments 11-20 Without Popups. Google maps won’t let me put more than 10 segments on on map or I’d post segments 1-20 there.

View the first twenty segments without popups on Google Earth If you click this button it will offer a google earth download.  You will need to have Google Earth Installed.  This is by far the best way to view all his trips to age 25.

View the first twelve segments with popups on Google Earth This will mean a download again.  But it’s worth it.  Because…  when you have it up in google earth you can close the windows, then open them in order to see his progression.

Here and There Synopsis:

12.1 Farmhand South of Colfax

September 7, 1899

Judging from the speed of travel out to Washington from Coloardo, Hayes must have returned by rail. Though the harvest is nearly done, he finds work with a “gruff sort of farmer” in the same region he had worked the previous summer. Food is plentiful: apples, plums, cherries, and “garden truck” grow well in these rich volcanic soils.

The change from the wild-west boomtowns in Colorado could not be more stark. Here in rural Washington, farm wives define social castes as rigid as any in the fine cities. A farmhand sleeps in the stable and may usually eat at table with the farm family but no more. Heaven forbid a farm girl marry beneath her station – that is to say, to anyone with less money than her father.

September 20, 1899

The farm work dries up so Hayes drifts north to Colfax where he encounters many old workmates from the previous summer. He remarks that the local socialites disdain itinerant workers like him as “hobos and tramps”; he also says that without him and the rest of the riffraff drifting through every season the work could not be done.

12.2 Other Lands Down the Horizon Line

September 25, 1899

Driftng North to Oakesdale Hayes stumbles on a novelty just outside the town: a good job with short hours, good pay, and decent food, working for an educated man. He and the nephew of this “New England Yankee” stack grain to be harvested later. “It is a good place; one of the best I have ever had in the harvest fields.”

On a day off in town he meets Ed Oakes with whom he’d worked in Parkersburg Oregon the previous year. Ed is “badly gone” on Ethel, Hayes’ cousin, “who is now a beautiful girl of seventeen.” The two will marry even though Hayes thinks Ethel too good for Ed, “but one has to marry someone.”

October 4, 1899

Marriage? A tidy little farm in Washington? For Hayes Perkins? He seems to be turning over the option. The farm life is idyllic, all a man could want – but no – by now “wondering has me in its grip and means more than anything else this world holds for me.” Fully informed about the brutal life of a sailor, Hayes still longs for the sea. Not for the sea itself, but for the sea as an avenue to “other lands down the horizon line that need exploring, and to these I must go.” The choice is made; Hayes Perkins will wander – as a sailor because he has little money, and unmarried because… well, because he’s a wanderer.

12.3 A Man in Uniform

October 14, 1899

No remark about how Hayes got from Oakesdale to Portland, but the city on the Columbia seems like a familiar town by now; he takes right back up at Sullivan’s boarding house. When Jack Grant, who placed Hayes on the Austrasia, recognizes him, Hayes chastises Grant for lying about the advance money last time around. “We’ve got to live kid.” Hayes describes Grant as the worst man in Portland who “acts as pimp” for his wife’s high-class bordello under the protection of police and politicians when the business of cheating sailors falls slack. Nevertheless, it is through Jack Grant that Hayes must find work on a ship.

October 20, 1899

Despite Grant’s protestations, “You’re a damned fool kid!” Hayes signs on with a warship: the McCulloch, a “revenue cutter” recently returned from Manila. Grant knows that eighteen men have jumped ship since the McCulloch drew into port. To hear Grant, the hardboiled swindler, describing harsh conditions, poor food, and miserable pay is somber warning indeed. Right now, Hayes is “almost sorry he took her on.”

But Portland offers plenty to distract a newly uniformed sailor from these dark portents: country people clog the streets of the city where a fair is on and a uniform opens all doors. The bars won’t take money from a hand on the McCulloch, the first of Dewey’s fleet to return from the Philippines.  Even respectable women seek out the sailors and “show favors to them beyond the rules of convention.” It is a Sailor’s paradise.

USS McCulloch circa 1900

Admiral George Dewey

Boarding the ship though ends the idyll. Hayes immediately sees the darker side of discipline on a navy ship: every shackle in the brig of the McCulloch clamps to a wall some poor drunken sailor fed on only bread and water. As Jack Grant had warned Hayes, working the MuCulloch will be, “None of your easy going lime juice times while you’re there!”

12.4 Sizing up the Officers

October 27, 1899

The leg irons hang empty in the brig now that the sailors have all sobered up. In a blinding rain at Astoria some flapper girls attempt to vamp the sailors. No takers; the men are broke and exhausted from Portland and must work to prepare the ship for sea.

Hayes sizes up the officers as mostly bullies. The boatswain, “a Bluenose Yank,” yells constantly, even when immediately beside his object. “Worst among the officers is one At Lee … one of the five on board who was in the scrap at Manila,” who struts around as “a first-class fighting man.” Only the genial Norwegian master-at-arms, who also fought in Manila, is decent from among the officers.

12.5 The Worst Feature of This Boat

November 3, 1899

Rough seas down the coast bring the customary seasickness for Hayes. But eventually the McCulloch finds fair anchorage at Sausalito where the men can ferry to San Francisco every third day. “But it has been rotten.” The screaming, drunkards who command the ship have demoted the kindly Norwegian master-at-arms to the lowly post of coal passer. Common sailors fear to even raise their eyes to these bullying officers.

November 10, 1899

“The worst feature of this boat is the officers expropriate much of our food allowance and sell it to get money to dissipate on shore.” Sailors from all over the world man the USS McCulloch: German, Dutch, French, Italian, Greek, Canadian, Australian, Norwegian, even Japanese. Most know all there is to know about a ship but the abusive officers treat all as green “landsmen.” All hands will desert the ship if things don’t change. Hayes has been on board a month and is of the same mind.

12.6 Helping as Far North as Coos Bay

November 24, 1899

When rough weather rises, the McCulloch sails out to aid ships in danger. In November, the ship ventures as far north as Coos Bay on the Oregon coast looking for a schooner that has been 52 days at sea out of the Coquille River. They locate her 100 miles off the coast bereft of provisions with the crew eating seagulls to survive.

Behind At Lee, an officer named Gould, a protégé of the new commander Thompson, ranks as second worst officer on board. Some examples of his perfidies: The cosmopolitan crew divides evenly over the Boer War – half for the Boers, half for the British. Sometimes it comes to fisticuffs, sometimes just a lively row. During one “friendly quarrel,” Gould threw a heavy club into the crowd of men without ordering them to disperse. Worse yet, Gould stole seventy pounds of sugar from the crew’s provisions and now the men have to pitch in from their salaries to get enough to eat. Gould and the other officers use money stolen from the crew to bring prostitutes right on board the ship setting up house with the girls in the officer’s quarters aft. “This we can see through the fiddley hatch nightly.”

12.7 The Horror of Whaling Ships

December 3, 1899

The McCulloch has no shortage officers to detest. When one Thurber curses Hayes without cause, “I came back at him.” In reply, Thurber blasts Hayes with a firehose, a retort Hayes considers light punishment; officers routinely strike sailors who have no recourse to any form of redress.

The savagery on the McCulloch is, however, nothing compared to conditions Hayes describes on the whaling ships the McCulloch protects at sea. The eighty or so ships owned by the Pacific Whaling Company based in San Francisco are away from port “from nine months to four years.” Experienced sailors avoid the whaling ships but are sometimes kidnapped following “beer well spiked with knockout drops (chloral)”.

Conditions on these whalers are barbaric beyond contemporary imagination: “All these men … are roundly abused. Hanged up by the thumbs for hours, constantly flogged with a rope’s end or with fists or else kicked forward and aft with heavy ship’s boots. They may be marooned on an ice cake, or else chained down in the hold of the ship for months or even years on end.” At the end of a long brutal voyage, sailors often end up in debt to the ship for food, clothing, and supplies purchased against their share of the catch. However, by law every sailor is required payment of at least one dollar at journey’s end.

A particularly vivid example of the cruelty on these whaling ships scandalizes all of San Francisco just now. A year ago, Tommy Hart, a “pale faced boy” came from Yreka to see San Francisco where agents kidnapped him for a whaler headed for the Bering Sea. Tommy escaped at St. Michaels but was caught and sold back to the ship for $2 by some beachcombers. Back on ship, an officer repeatedly kicked Tommy from one end of the deck to the other and gave him three weeks hard labor: twenty hours on deck, four hours below, with nothing but bread and water to eat. He survived only because the captain’s wife snuck him extra bits of food.

December 9, 1899

Tommy’s story so inflames the indignation of San Franciscans that legal authorities launch an investigation – but it comes to nothing – the Pacific Whaling Company “shanghaied” all the complaining witnesses and sent them in deep water ships around the Horn to Europe. With no one to complain, no investigation can proceed. However, in what Hayes sees as divine retribution, the ship’s captain dies in agony from a ruptured bowel at the Palace Hotel.

12.8 Talk of Desertion

December 21, 1899

As a cheerless Christmas approaches, Hayes and all the men talk of deserting the ship. Hayes claims that American ship’s officers count on their sailors jumping ship because the men are paid only at the end of a tour. The money saved on deserters goes to pay the girls from the Barbary Coast gracing the officer’s quarters.

Amidst all of this misery on the McCulloch, a little levity: Two Italian fishermen in a “new fangled gasoline boat,” drift by the larger ship dead in the water “as is the usual thing in such craft.” How does a fisherman find a gas leak? With a candle of course. Both men survived the explosion and a nearby French bark saved the hull of their craft as well.

One more gruesome whaling story, this time from an American ship the Bowhead: Up near the Bering sea the Bowhead was pinched between two ice floes off Point Barrow. With plenty of time to lower the boats and row out some leads in the ice, the captain loaded all boats with supplies and “calmly rowed away, leaving fourteen men behind.” When the ice separated a bit, the crushed ship sank leaving the fourteen sailors stranded on a free-floating chunk of ice. Miraculously, the steamship Thrasher rescued the men, but not before “every man had lost fingers, ears, feet, or some part of his body.” One young eighteen-year-old who had lost both feet nearly to the knee particularly moves Hayes. None of the men have any legal case against the ship or its captain.

12.9 Desertion

December 26, 1899

Hayes and a mate named Lewis enjoy a Christmas feast – even if it is only the scraps left from the officer’s dinner. Lewis swears he will desert and revenge himself on Gould and the rest of the ship’s officers. Just last night, David Stockton, a seventeen-year-old boy, escaped the ship by jumping from the whaleboat and out-swimming the coxswain. Hayes plans his own desertion by taking his things off the ship – wearing several suits of clothes on every shore leave, then stashing them with a friend dockside so “I’ll have little in her when time comes to get clear.”

January 2, 1900

On the morning after “a deal of whistling” in the night celebrating the new century, the crewmen of the McCulloch completely forget the holiday because Lewis comes on board announcing major victories for the Boers in South Africa. This news touches off a wild celebration by the Dutch sailors – which provokes the Brits – and then, “we had a grand scrap until someone thought of the New year.”

But that wasn’t Lewis’ revenge. On the second day of the new century, Lewis went over the side into a small launch but not before tossing all Gould’s possessions, even family pictures, out through a port into the bay. “He also swiped three automatics from the armory, At Lee’s belt he had worn at the Battle of Manila, and anything that looked good to him.” He owed money to everyone on the ship (repaying only the $10 borrowed from Hayes), nevertheless, “The crew are openly delighted at this turn of affairs.”

January 5, 1900

Hayes narrowly passes the keen eye of Captain At Lee for shore liberty and it’s the last the McCulloch will ever see of him. By now the desertions from The McCulloch and two other cutters based at San Francisco, the Bear and the Rush, leave all three anchored without crew enough to sail. Hayes knows he is wrong to desert, but given the conditions aboard ship, one can well understand his decision.

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