The Confessions of a Backslider – By Henry Morrison

Chapter 8

Homeward Bound

Finally, there came into me a desire to return to the United States, and, like many another hopeless, hapless human being tossed like driftwood on a stream which is heat first upon this coast and then that, I sailed away for New York. Upon landing I undertook to get a letter to my father and learned in a note from the postmaster that he had died quite a while ago and that my mother, whose health was poor, was spending the winter either in southern Florida or in Havana, Cuba. This information was something of a relief to me. I felt sure that if there was any better world father and John had met there in great peace, and faulty as I was, I felt it would be my duty to visit my mother if I knew where to find her, but so long as I did not know where she was, I was under no obligation to visit her and therefore tossed away all thought of any sort of responsibility and plunged into the seething human ocean of sin in the great American metropolis.

In time I drifted to Chicago where I was arrested for burglary and brought to trial, but escaped the justice which I deserved for lack of testimony; drifted to St. Louis, helped to rob a bank in a little western town, got away with a few thousand to my share which was soon squandered, and roamed about the west assuming to be an easy-going, careless fellow seeking the boldest and most wicked of associates, never missing an opportunity to talk against religion and the Bible and reading with interest and, as near delight as was possible for myself to feel, anything, and everything that was said in the Outlook, Literary Digest, daily papers, and other literature against the old faith of the devout people who really loved God and trusted in Jesus for salvation. Those men who boast of being higher critics and who cast doubt on the inspiration of the Scriptures, and the awful responsibilities which a man must meet in the other World for his wicked conduct here, may be sure that their writings are hailed With delight in bar-rooms, brothels, and all dives of sin and iniquity. Men who give themselves up to wickedness nevertheless are men. They have some intelligence, they have some conscience however dead it may be and, again and again, there is an inclination to be stirred with fear lest they must meet, and be held responsible for their conduct at some judgment bar or in some awful afterworld where the heart and life are uncovered in the white light to the gaze of the intelligent universe.

To destroy these convictions among the vicious class, is to take a very dangerous risk and I predict that the time is coming in this Union when there will spring up from the seeds of doubt that are now being sown, a fearful condition of utter unbelief and widespread anarchy. It is not at all impossible that in this unbelief in the colleges and universities of the country, lie the germs that will lead on to a state of society that will ultimately result in the overthrow of the republic.

The great civilizations of ancient times were destroyed. The great cities, centers of commerce, art and culture are now places of desolation and waste. History makes plain to us the fact that this desolation and waste were brought about by the abounding wickedness of the people.

My experience forces me to believe that as the Bible has been held up to ridicule, and disbelief in the fundamentals of the gospel has been taught far and near, and faith has dwindled and died, along with the increase of doubt, there has come an increase of deviltry and disregard of great laws and forces that lie at the very foundation of civilization.

The man with strong, natural inclinations to sin, and strong outward temptation urging him on in the direction of his natural inclination, with the fear of consequences removed, is a very dangerous factor in society. I understand very readily that there is a class of people who will ridicule such preaching as this from the cell of a prison; there are others, who, remembering that I was well born, and grew up in a Christian home with all the advantages of good society and college and university life, will realize that after such varied experiences as I have passed through that I have a right to speak. That it is my duty to do so; that it is perfectly consistent that I should point out With the finger of warning to the young men of the rising generation the pathway that led to my undoing. There is no doubt in my mind, but today, I might be a happy and useful member of society had I retained the faith and followed the example of my devout father instead of listening to the sophistries and ridicule of conceited college professors, who were as unsound in their philosophy as they perhaps were, in some instances, in moral character.

In my drifting westward, I was finally brought up on the Pacific coast and landed in San Francisco, the center of worldliness, with the same reckless “don’t care,” with reference to the hereafter. The rebuilding of that city had drawn to the place great numbers of strong, rough, determined men and it was the general belief that whether God had used the earthquake for the destruction of the old city or not, that the new city had as far surpassed the old one in wickedness, as it did in the magnificence of its modern architecture.

The very atmosphere of San Francisco seems surcharged with movement and energy. The ordinary man farther East, seems to become extraordinary in whatever line he follows, when he strikes the rushing current of life in San Francisco, and I here turned myself loose in wickedness with the notion that it would be quite easy to evade the representatives of the law. I was soon however apprehended and brought before the courts, was found guilty and served my first term in prison. Six months penned up behind iron bars seemed only to whet my appetite for adventure along the line of my profession and, on being set free, I started East with a couple of acquaintances who, like myself, had wandered out West, and being unwilling to return to New York without the means for high living, we determined to rob a train. This was the most dangerous and desperate enterprise in all my history as a criminal.

We selected our place near the top of a long grade in the mountains of Nevada, carefully planned the enterprise, but unwisely spent a few days in a village near the place where we proposed the robbery, which we carried out quite successfully, so far as the mere transaction was concerned, but not so far as the amount of booty obtained, which was trifling in comparison with what we had promised ourselves. As soon as the robbery became known, the officials of the village on missing us suspected that we were the guilty parties, struck our trail and pressed us hard for several days.

One of my companions was shot to death. Poor fellow! To all human appearances he went out utterly unprepared. We had abandoned our horses and had gone on foot into the mountain crags where we were closely pressed by a posse of officers who never missed an opportunity to take a snipe at us with their long-range rifles. One of my associates and myself ran some twenty paces from a huge boulder to a cliff where we could not only screen ourselves for the time, but from behind which we could travel quite a distance without exposing ourselves to the fire of our pursuers. When number three undertook to run across the clear space he was fired upon and hit in two places. One shot broke his left limb below the knee and the other, passing through his body, perforated one of his lungs and cut a vein from which the poor fellow soon bled to death. When we saw that he had fallen we waited for him, and he dragged himself to the protection of the cliff where we pulled off his coat, made a pillow for his head and, while my associate climbed to the top of the rock and took several shots at our pursuers which forced them to halt and conceal themselves, I gave our dying friend some water out of a canteen which I carried and asked him if I could render him any service. He gave me his watch and what valuables he had on his person and looking me in the face said to me: “I have never told you my true name; I came of good family and enjoyed excellent advantages but wasted them. Many a time during my reckless life I have determined to down-brakes and change for the better, but it is all up with me now. It seems hard to die in this place alone, but it looks like one who was getting as little real happiness out of life as I was ought not to complain.” He weakened rapidly from the loss of blood, became quite exhausted and fainted but rallied somewhat; his mind wandered; he called for his mother, then seemed to be greatly frightened at something, struggled almost to a sitting posture and fell back, stone dead.

I called to my companion who was firing away at the top of the rock, that he was dead and we had better continue our flight. He leaped down and we ran away, but were soon hemmed in by some parties who had made a circuit during the delay, and forced us to change our course. We separated and I ran on not knowing whither I went or what had become of my comrade. I afterward learned that he was captured a short time after our separation.

The sun was burning hot on the barren mountain, the glare almost blinded me and perspiration trickled down my face into my eyes. I had eaten all of my scanty rations and was weak and hungry and the water in my canteen was hot, though I treasured it to its last precious drops which I drank and threw away the canteen.

A feeling of desolation came over me. Here I was, a desolate, ruined, hunted man. In the nature of things, every good citizen on earth must be against me and was bound to unite with the forces that pursued me as a wretch unfit for freedom and a dangerous menace to society. As I stumbled on, I determined if I could make my escape this time, I would reform my life and strive once more for better things. Sometimes I had a strong impulse to turn and stand at bay and fighting to the last to court death. But bad as I was, I couldn’t find it in my heart to shoot down another one of my fellowmen, and I was somewhat opposed to being shot. I could hear the yells and shots of my pursuers. There were not less than fifteen or twenty men following me in the shape of a crescent on the right hand and on the left, I judged very close and now and then I caught the glimpse of a man dodging from rock to rock about even with me.

I had climbed up out of a depression to a slope reaching the edge of a broad plain comparatively free from any obstruction or place of concealment. It was my judgment if I undertook to cross this plain, I would be shot down, so I unbuckled my cartridge belt and flung it away, tossed my pistols and rifle into a gulch, pulled off my coat, made a pillow of it and lay down utterly exhausted in the shadow of a great boulder. As I lay there waiting for my captors, not knowing but they would perforate me with bullets the moment they saw me and caring little what happened, my life passed before me. I thought of my home, of those who had once loved me with tender solicitude, of the happy days I had known in my early life, of the battles and defeats that had come to me later on and I was forced to admit that whatever the opinion of the higher critics and college professors with reference to the inspiration of the Scriptures, there was one statement written in the Old Book that my own experience had sadly verified, namely: “The way of the transgressor is hard.”