The Protector of MexicoPublished September 11, 2016
Excerpted from “Counting Coup: The Odyssey of Captain Tom Adams”
© 2013, Bob Stockton. All rights reserved.
It was the morning of August 29th and the Union Street Wharf in San Francisco was its usual turbulent and noisy locus of commercial activity. Stevedores loaded and unloaded pier side cargo from the docked vessels while ships officers shouted orders to the ordinary seamen engaged in securing their respective ship’s decks and rigging for sea. Muscular work horses pulled drays loaded with freight from the wharf for delivery to merchants in the city and beyond. The air was heavy with the smell of creosote and canvas mingled with the faint smell of salt air and decomposing fish parts that had been carelessly thrown into the water where other fish would dispose of the unwanted heads and entrails.
Captain Tom Adams, recently mustered out from the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry, worldly possessions packed in his valise, Army issue Spencer .52 caliber repeating rifle and Remington Army .44 caliber revolver holstered, sheathed and secured to the side of the valise, stood by the brow of the Orient Queen waiting for a carriage or wagon for hire that would transport him into town. He would have to secure temporary lodging prior to setting out for the western interior. A good horse and saddle and warm clothing for the approaching winter months had to be purchased as well and the expense of room and board while he was in San Francisco would tax his already dwindling stake. No question about it. He would have to find work in order to begin his quest.
First things first. Find transportation into town, secure temporary lodging in a local hotel or boarding house and prepare for the trek inland.
Adams had been pier side for thirty minutes or more before he was offered a ride in a two team wagon loaded with freight that was heading into San Francisco proper. Upon questioning, the driver recommended a boarding house in downtown San Francisco on Commercial Street, the Eureka Boarding House for Gentlemen.
Journal entry. August 30th. San Francisco
The driver of the Wells Fargo cartage wagon, a most agreeable fellow, has taken me directly to the Eureka and I have secured lodging for the quite reasonable sum of five dollars per week. The proprietress is a Mrs. Chambers, a widow of some fifty odd years. She has shown me my room on the second floor which is rather sparsely furnished but clean and comfortable looking and includes breakfast each morning promptly at seven. There is a bath with running water at the end of the hall that will allow me to perform my morning ablutions. Today and tomorrow will be devoted to settling in and orienting myself as to the city streets. Following this I shall begin searching for a position of employment, possibly as an armed guard as I have had extensive experience with firearms for the preceding four years.
Journal entry. August 31st. San Francisco, 0630 Hours
This morning as I was preparing to use the hall bath I became acquainted with the gentleman who occupies the room across from me. Exiting the bath, he introduced himself to me with a booming voice and sweeping bow as “Norton I, Emperor of these United States and Protector of Mexico!” I must say that he hardly looked the part to me clad only in his undershirt and braced trousers. While the man seems a bit unbalanced, he does not appear to be a danger. I returned his bow as grandly as I could muster and returned his greeting with an “honored to make your acquaintance, excellency.” The Emperor gave me a rather suspicious look and continued on to his quarters. I expect we shall meet again at the breakfast table.
Journal entry. August 31st. San Francisco, 0800 hours
Breakfast this morning was hearty fare indeed. Hot coffee, eggs, fried bread and – scrapple! Evidently Mrs. Chambers must have Pennsylvania roots as I have not tasted this treat in quite some time. I must remember to ask her about this eastern delicacy.
His Excellency the Emperor graced us with his presence at table this morning clad in his full regalia consisting of baggy gray trousers covering well-worn boots, a rather tatty union general officer’s coat replete with yellowed epaulets and an officer’s saber attached to the military belt surrounding his waist. Atop his rather shaggy and unkempt head was a beaver pelt top hat which looked to be in some disrepair. In the hatband were placed large and colorful feathers which appear to have been plucked from a peacock. His ensemble was garnished by the presence of a rather handsome and ornate walking cane. As he approached the table the several other men who were seated rose deferentially and greeted the man. I was so taken aback by this display that I remained seated, fascinated by the spectacle before me and unable to utter so much as a syllable.
His Excellency, Norton I, Emperor of the United States of America and Protector of Mexico had arrived for his morning meal with a sheaf of papers in his hand.
“Good morning gentlemen, Mrs. Chambers. Please take your seats and resume your repast. Mrs. Chambers, we will have a full breakfast this morning if you please as we have much to accomplish today. We have an Imperial Proclamation to deliver to Mr. Clemens at the Herald and to our loyal subjects, and we are to be fitted for a new field uniform at Mr. Costa’s custom tailor shop. Following the sartorial measurements, We shall exercise Lazarus and Bummer for their morning constitutional and survey the streets for cleanliness.”
Lazarus and Bummer? Adams wondered who they might be.
The Emperor sat down to breakfast and everyone resumed their meal. Mrs. Chambers scurried into the kitchen to prepare the Emperor’s breakfast. Apparently the house residents humored this man who was obviously a bit off center line. They actually seemed to enjoy his presence and Adams could sense that they considered it great sport to give the old man exaggerated deference.
Norton began to circulate copies of his latest proclamation to the guests at the table. When he reached Adams he paused a moment, eyeing Adams’s army tunic and handed him a copy of the edict.
“Sir, we will have a word with you following breakfast. “
Adams, still somewhat dumbfounded, nodded in agreement. He took the paper and began to read: