Sacramento Union
24 April 1866

Scenes in Honolulu -- No. 7




I wandered along the sea beach on my steed Oahu around the base of the extinct crater of Leahi, or Diamond Head, and a quarter of a mile beyond the point I overtook the party of ladies and gentlemen and assumed my proper place that is, in the rear, for the horse I ride always persists in remaining in the rear in spite of kicks, cuffs, and curses. I was satisfied as long as I could keep Oahu within hailing distance of the cavalcade--I knew I could accomplish nothing better even if Oahu were Norfolk himself.

We went on--on--on--a great deal too far, I thought, for people who were unaccustomed to riding on horseback, and who must expect to suffer on the morrow if they indulged too freely in this sort of exercise. Finally we got to a point which we were expecting to go around in order to strike an easy road home; but we were too late; it was full tide and the sea had closed in on the shore. Young Henry McFarlane said he knew a nice, comfortable route over the hill--a short cut--and the crowd dropped into his wake. We climbed a hill a hundred and fifty feet high, and about as straight up and down as the side of a house, and as full of rough lava blocks as it could stick--not as wide, perhaps, as the broad road that leads to destruction, but nearly as dangerous to travel, and apparently leading in the same general direction. I felt for the ladies, but I had no time to speak any words of sympathy, by reason of my attention being so much occupied by Oahu. The place was so steep that at times he stood straight up on his tiptoes and clung by his forward toenails, with his back to the Pacific Ocean and his nose close to the moon--and thus situated we formed an equestrian picture which was as uncomfortable to me as it may have been picturesque to the spectators. You may think I was afraid, but I was not. I knew I could stay on him as long as his ears did not pull out.

It was a great relief to me to know that we were all safe and sound on the summit at last, because the sun was just disappearing in the waves, night was abroad in the land, candles and lamps were already twinkling in the distant town, and we gratefully reflected that Henry had saved us from having to go back around the rocky, sandy beach. But a new trouble arose while the party were admiring the rising moon and the cool, balmy night breeze, with its odor of countless flowers, for it was discovered that we had got into a place we could not get out of--we were apparently surrounded by precipices--our pilot's chart was at fault, and he could not extricate us, and so we had the prospect before us of either spending the night in the admired night breeze, under the admired moon, or of clambering down the way we came, in the dark. However, a Kanaka came along presently and found a first-rate road for us down an almost imperceptible decline, and the party set out on a cheerful gallop again, and Oahu struck up his miraculous canter once more.


The moon rose up, and flooded mountain and valley and ocean with silvery light, and I was not sorry we had lately been in trouble, because the consciousness of being safe again raised our spirits and made us more capable of enjoying the beautiful scene than we would have been otherwise. I never breathed such a soft, delicious atmosphere before, nor one freighted with such rich fragrance. A barber shop is nothing to it.


Gaily laughing and talking, the party galloped on, and with set teeth and bouncing body I clung to the pommel and cantered after. Presently we came to a place where no grass grew--a wide expanse of deep sand. They said it was an old battleground. All around everywhere, not three feet apart, the bleached bones of men gleamed white in the moonlight. We picked up a lot of them for mementoes. I got quite a number of arm bones and leg bones-of great chiefs, maybe, who had fought savagely in that fearful battle in the old days, when blood flowed like wine where we now stood--and wore the choicest of them out on Oahu afterward, trying to make him go. All sorts of bones could be found except skulls; but a citizen said, irreverently, that there had been an unusual number of "skull hunters" there lately--a species of sportsmen I had never heard of before. The conversation at this point took a unique and ghastly turn. A gentleman said:

"Give me some of your bones, Miss Blank; I'll carry them for you."

Another said:

"You haven't got bones enough, Mrs. Blank; here's a good shinbone, if you want it."

Such observations as these fell from the lips of ladies with reference to their queer newly-acquired property:

"Mr. Brown, will you please hold some of my bones for me a minute?" And, "Mr. Smith, you have got some of my bones; and you have got one, too, Mr. Jones; and you have got my spine, Mr. Twain. Now don't any of you gentlemen get my bones all mixed up with yours so that you can't tell them apart."

These remarks look very irreverent on paper, but they did not sound so, being used merely in a business way and with no intention of making sport of the remains. I did not think it was just right to carry off any of these bones, but we did it, anyhow. We considered that it was at least as right as it is for the Hawaiian Government and the city of Honolulu (which is the most excessively moral and religious town that can be found on the map of the world), to permit those remains to lie decade after decade, to bleach and rot in the sun and wind and suffer desecration by careless strangers and by the beasts of the field, unprotected by even a worm fence. Call us hard names if you will, you statesmen and missionaries! but I say shame upon you, that after raising a nation from idolatry to Christianity, and from barbarism to civilization, you have not taught it the comment of respect for the dead. Your work is incomplete.



Nothing whatever is known about this place--its story is a secret that will never be revealed. The oldest natives make no pretense of being possessed of its history. They say these bones were here when they were children. They were here when their grandfathers were children--but how they came here, they can only conjecture. Many people believe this spot to be an ancient battleground, and it is usual to call it so; and they believe that these skeletons have lain for ages just where their proprietors fell in the great fight. Other people believe that Kamehameha I fought his first battle here. On this point, I have heard a story, which may have been taken from one of the numerous books which have been written, concerning these islands--I do not know where the narrator got it. He said that when Kamehameha (who was at first merely a subordinate chief on the island of Hawaii), landed here, he brought a large army with him, and encamped at Waikiki. The Oahuans marched against him, and so confident were they of success that they readily acceded to a demand of their priests that they should draw a line where these bones now lie, and take an oath that, if forced to retreat at all, they would never retreat beyond this boundary. The priests told them that death and everlasting punishment would overtake any who violated the oath, and the march was resumed. Kamehameha drove them back step by step; the priests fought in the front rank and exhorted them both by voice and inspiring example to remember their oath--to die, if need be, but never cross the fatal line. The struggle was manfully maintained, but at last the chief priest fell, pierced to the heart with a spear, and the unlucky omen fell like a blight upon the brave souls at his back; with a triumphant shout the invaders pressed forward--the line was crossed--the offended gods deserted the despairing army, and, accepting the doom their perjury had brought upon them, they broke and fled over the plain where Honolulu stands now--up the beautiful Nuuanu Valley--paused a moment, hemmed in by precipitous mountains on either hand and the frightful precipice of the Pari (pronounced Pally; intelligent natives claim that there is no r in the Kanaka alphabet) in front, and then were driven over--a sheer plunge of six hundred feet!

The story is pretty enough, but Mr. Jarves' excellent history says the Oahuans were entrenched in Nuuanu Valley; that Kamehameha ousted them, routed them, pursued them up the valley and drove them over the precipice. He makes no mention of our bone yard at all in his book.

There was a terrible pestilence here in 1804, which killed great numbers of the inhabitants, and the natives have legends of others that swept the islands long before that; and therefore many persons now believe that these bones belonged to victims of one of these epidemics who were hastily buried in a great pit. It is by far the most reasonable conjecture, because Jarves says that the weapons of the Islanders were so rude and inefficient that their battles were not often very bloody. If this was a battle, it was astonishingly deadly, for in spite of the depredations of "skull hunters," we rode a considerable distance over ground so thickly strewn with human bones that the horses' feet crushed them, not occasionally, but at every step.



Impressed by the profound silence and repose that rested over the beautiful landscape, and being, as usual, in the rear, I gave voice to my thought. I said: "What a picture is here slumbering in the solemn glory of the moon! How strong the rugged outlines of the dead volcano stand out against the clear sky! What a snowy fringe marks the bursting of the surf over the long, curved reef! How calmly the dim city sleeps yonder in the plain! How soft the shadows lie upon the stately mountains that border the dream-haunted Manoa Valley! What a grand pyramid of billowy clouds towers above the storied Pari! How the grim warriors of the past seem flocking in ghostly squadrons to their ancient battlefield again--how the wails of the dying well up from the--"

At this point the horse called Oahu deliberately down in the sand. Sat down to listen, I suppose. Never mind what he heard. I stopped apostrophizing and convinced him that I was not a man to allow contempt of court on the part of a horse. I broke the backbone of a chief over his rump and set out to join the cavalcade again.

Very considerably fagged out we arrived in town at nine o'clock at night, myself in the lead--for when my horse finally came to understand that he was homeward bound and hadn't far to go, he threw his legs wildly out before and behind him, depressed his head and laid his ears back, and flew by the admiring company like a telegram. In five minutes he was far away ahead of everybody.

We stopped in front of a private residence--Brown and I did--to wait for the rest and see that none were lost. I soon saw that I had attracted the attention of a comely young girl, and I felt duly flattered. Perhaps, thought I, she admires my horsemanship--and I made a savage jerk at the bridle and said, "Ho! will you!" to show how fierce and unmanageable the beast was--though, to say truly, he was leaning up against a hitching post peaceably enough at the time. I stirred Oahu up and moved him about, and went up the street a short distance to look for the party, and "loped" gallantly back again, all the while making a pretense of being unconscious that I was an object of interest. I then addressed a few "peart" remarks to Brown, to give the young lady a chance to admire my style of conversation, and was gratified to see her step up and whisper to Brown and glance furtively at me at the same time. I could see that her gentle face bore an expression of the most kindly and earnest solicitude, and I was shocked and angered to hear Brown burst into a fit of brutal laughter.

As soon as we started home, I asked with a fair show of indifference, what she had been saying.

Brown laughed again and said: "She thought from the slouchy way you rode and the way you drawled out your words, that you was drunk! She said, 'Why don't you take the poor creature home, Mr. Brown? It makes me nervous to see him galloping that horse and just hanging on that way, and he so drunk.'"

I laughed very loudly at the joke, but it was a sort of hollow, sepulchral laugh, after all. And then I took it out of Oahu.


I have found an old acquaintance here--Rev. Franklin S. Rising, of the Episcopal ministry, who has had charge of a church in Virginia, Nevada, for several years, and who is well known in Sacramento and San Francisco. He sprained his knee in September last, and is here for his health. He thinks he has made no progress worth mentioning towards regaining it, but I think differently. He can ride on horseback, and is able to walk a few steps without his crutches--things he could not do a week ago.



The popular-song nuisance follows us here. In San Francisco it used to be "Just Before the Battle, Mother," every night and all night long. Then it was "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." After that it was "Wearin' of the Green." And last and most dreadful of all, came that calamity of "While We Were Marching Through Georgia." It was the last thing I heard when the ship sailed, and it gratified me to think I should hear it no more for months. And now, here at dead of night, at the very outpost and fag-end of the world, on a little rock in the middle of a limitless ocean, a pack of dark-skinned savages are tramping down the street singing it with a vim and an energy that make my hair rise!--singing it in their own barbarous tongue! They have got the tune to perfection-- otherwise I never would have suspected that "Waikiki lantani oe Kaa hooly hooly wawhoo" means, "While We Were Marching Through Georgia." If it would have been all the same to General Sherman, I wish he had gone around by the way of the Gulf of Mexico, instead of marching through Georgia.


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