LORE & LEGENDS
The Legend Of Devil's Point
Bret Harte in 1871
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On the northerly
shore of San
Francisco Bay, at a point where the Golden Gate broadens into
the Pacific, stands a prominent bluff that affords shelter from the
prevailing winds to a semicircular bay on the east. Around this bay the
hillside is bleak and barren, but there are traces of former habitation in
a weather-beaten cabin and deserted corral. It is said that these were
originally built by an enterprising
squatter, who for some unaccountable reason abandoned them shortly after.
The "jumper" who succeeded him disappeared one day quite as mysteriously.
The third tenant, who seemed to be a man of sanguine, hopeful temperament,
divided the property into building lots, staked off the hillside, and
projected the map of a new metropolis.
Failing, however, to convince the citizens
Francisco that they had mistaken the site of their city, he
presently fell into dissipation and despondency. He was frequently
observed haunting the narrow strip of beach at low tide or perched upon
the cliff at high water.
The Golden Gate in 1902.
In the latter position a sheep-tender
one day found him, cold and pulseless, with a map of his property in his hand, and
his face turned toward the
Perhaps these circumstances gave the
locality its infelicitous reputation. Vague rumors were bruited of a
supernatural influence that had been exercised on the tenants. Strange
stories were circulated of the origin of the diabolical title by which
the promontory was known. By some it was believed to be haunted by the
spirit of one of Sir Francis Drake's sailors, who had deserted his
ship in consequence of stories told by the Indians of gold
discoveries, but who had perished by starvation on the rocks. A
vaquero who had once passed a night in the ruined cabin related how a
strangely dressed and emaciated figure had knocked at the door at
midnight and demanded food. Other story-tellers, of more historical
accuracy, roundly asserted that Sir Francis himself had been little
better than a pirate, and had chosen this spot to conceal quantities
of ill-gotten booty taken from neutral bottoms, and had protected his
hiding-place by the orthodox means of hellish incantation and diabolic
agencies. On moonlight nights a shadowy ship was sometimes seen
standing off and on, or when fogs encompassed sea and shore, the noise
of oars rising and falling in their rowlocks could be heard muffled
and indistinctly during the night.
Whatever foundation there might have been
for these stories, it was certain that a more weird and
desolate-looking spot could not have been selected for their theatre.
High barren hills, filled with dark canyons, cast their gaunt shadows
on the tide. During a greater portion of the day the wind, which blew
furiously and incessantly, seemed possessed with a spirit of fierce
disquiet and unrest. Toward nightfall the sea-fog crept with soft step
through the portals of the Golden Gate, or stole in noiseless marches
down the hillside, tenderly soothing the wind-buffeted face of the
cliff, until sea and sky were hid together. At such times the populous
city beyond and the nearer settlement seemed removed to an infinite
distance. An immeasurable loneliness settled upon the cliff. The
creaking of a windlass, or the monotonous chant of sailors on some
unseen, outlying ship, came faint and far, and full of mystic
About a year ago a well-to-do middle-aged broker of San
Francisco found himself at nightfall the sole occupant of a
plunger, encompassed in a dense fog, and drifting toward the Golden Gate.
This unexpected termination of an afternoon's sail was partly attributable
to his want of nautical skill, and partly to the effect of his usually
sanguine nature. Having given up the guidance of his boat to the wind and
tide, he had trusted too implicitly for that reaction which his business
experience assured him was certain to occur in all affairs, aquatic as
well as terrestrial. "The tide will turn soon," said the broker
confidently, "or something will happen."
He had scarcely settled himself back again in
the stern-sheets, before the bow of the plunger, obeying some mysterious
impulse, veered slowly around and a dark object loomed up before him. A
gentle eddy carried the boat farther in shore, until at last it was
completely embayed under the lee of a rocky point now faintly discernible
through the fog. He looked around him in the vain hope of recognizing some
familiar headland. The tops of the high hills which rose on either side
were hidden in the fog. As the boat swung around, he succeeded in
fastening a line to the rocks, and sat down again with a feeling of
renewed confidence and security.
It was very cold. The insidious fog penetrated
his tightly buttoned coat, and set his teeth to chattering in spite of the
aid he sometimes drew from a pocket-flask. His clothes were wet, and the
stern-sheets were covered with spray. The comforts of fire and shelter
continually rose before his fancy as he gazed wistfully on the rocks. In
sheer despair he finally drew the boat toward the most accessible part of
the cliff and essayed to ascend. This was less difficult than it appeared,
and in a few moments he had gained the hill above. A dark object at a
little distance attracted his attention, and on approaching it proved to
be a deserted cabin.
The story goes on to say that, having built a roaring
fire of stakes pulled from the adjoining corral, with the aid of a flask
of excellent brandy, he managed to pass the early part of the evening with
comparative comfort. There was no door in the cabin, and the windows were
simply square openings, which freely admitted the searching fog. But in
spite of these
discomforts,--being a man of cheerful, sanguine temperament,--he amused
himself by poking the fire and watching the ruddy glow which the flames
threw on the fog from the open door. In this innocent
occupation a great weariness overcame him, and he fell asleep.
He was awakened at midnight by a loud "halloo," which seemed to proceed
directly from the sea. Thinking it might be the cry of some boatman lost
in the fog, he walked to the edge of the cliff, but the
thick veil that covered sea and land rendered all objects at the distance
of a few feet indistinguishable. He heard, however, the regular strokes of
oars rising and falling on the water. The halloo was repeated. He was
clearing his throat to reply, when to his surprise an answer came
apparently from the very cabin he had quitted. Hastily retracing his
steps, he was the more amazed, on reaching the
open door, to find a stranger warming himself by the fire. Stepping back
far enough to conceal his own person, he took a good look at the intruder.
He was a man of about forty, with a cadaverous face. But the oddity of his
dress attracted the broker's attention more than his lugubrious
physiognomy. His legs were hid in enormously wide trousers descending to
his knee, where they met long boots of sealskin. A pea-jacket with
exaggerated cuffs, almost as large as the breeches, covered his chest, and
around his waist a monstrous belt, with a buckle like a dentist's sign,
supported two trumpet-mouthed pistols and a curved hanger. He
wore a long brad, which went halfway down his back. As the firelight
fell on his ingenuous countenance the broker observed with some concern
that this queue was formed entirely of a kind of tobacco known as pigtail
or twist. Its effect, the broker remarked, was much heightened when in a
moment of thoughtful abstraction the apparition bit off a portion of it
and rolled it as a quid into the cavernous recesses of his jaws.
Continued Next Page
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