Letters and Manuscripts — Volume 3 (1876 - 1882)


Ms 4, 1878

Visit to Oregon State Prison



Portions of this manuscript are published in 5MR 178.

E. G. White Visit to Oregon State Prison

I was right in the midst of a stateroom. The mate would walk back and forth, and the captain would follow him, and then one would cry out, “Mother, O mother.” Then they would spue. ... Then another would swear. ... And the mate would say, “How is it, captain?” and he would cry out, “It rides high.” 3LtMs, Ms 4, 1878, par. 1

I lay at or near a post, and I had that tight sack on me, and it was so tight that it seemed as though I could not breathe. When the vessel would pitch, I would strike my head against the side of that post, until it seemed as though it would kill me. I thought when I got off that boat I was ruined for life. My head felt so bad. And when I got off the boat, when I walked up through the streets, it seemed to me as though I was still on the boat, and I would step so high that people must have thought I was drunk. I said to Elder Van Horn, “I will not go on the street again.” 3LtMs, Ms 4, 1878, par. 2

(Marian to W. C. White:) “How wide did you say those rafts were?” I have seen rafts over 120 feet wide. They looked just like a floating township. 3LtMs, Ms 4, 1878, par. 3

It was on the 4th of July that I sat upon the platform [in Salem, Oregon] with quite a number of prominent men. I did not go up the river that night because they said that it was not safe on account of Indians. Just at the entrance to the campground was a large tree, and they told us that that tree had been the place of the Indians’ burying ground. Here they would lay their dead until they could take them away to some other spot. That camp meeting was a large one. It was the first one they had ever had and the representatives of the church were there. 3LtMs, Ms 4, 1878, par. 4

Visit to State Prison, Salem, Oregon

It was a very interesting meeting, that was. What kind of a chapel room was it? It was a very pleasant room. We entered, and then there was a great iron gate behind us. We stopped awhile in the superintendent’s house. At the right hand of me was where the prisoners came out. Was the room like an ordinary meetinghouse? Yes. All the prisoners had their hymn books with them. These men were of fine appearance. There were doctors, ministers, and lawyers among them. And there were one or two of them that had been mayors. 3LtMs, Ms 4, 1878, par. 5

I went on and I told them what a man might be if he would try. How that he could be almost anything—a little lower than the angels. God had given us these commandments that we might obey them. I told them what it cost to sow wild oats—that they were now reaping their harvest. There was one man of whom they told me. He was the hardest man to control. They said that he did not believe anything in the Bible. When any one would come to speak to the prisoners, he would sit there and make faces. Well, he sat there and he began. I saw the motions. He would twist around, and then he would pull out his handkerchief. Finally down went his face, and he buried it in his hands, and he did not raise it again. The superintendent said to me, “That beats anything that I have ever seen.” When we sang the tears rolled down his face. The superintendent said to me, “Come again, come again.” 3LtMs, Ms 4, 1878, par. 6

Right before me sat a feeble-looking woman about fifty years of age. Right by her side sat a younger woman, the daughter of the other. The mother came there to see her son and her brother, and to try to get a reprieve for them. These young men were sentenced for joining in a stage robbery. They were educated men, but they had gone up to Oregon and got into wild company, and they had drunk wine and lost their senses. Seven years was their term of imprisonment. The women were trying to get them both out, but the young man said to the mother, “Don’t try to get me out, but try to get uncle out. I can stand it to serve out the term, but it will kill him.” 3LtMs, Ms 4, 1878, par. 7

This young man said to me, “If I had heard that sermon before I committed that crime, I would not have done it and would not have been here. I never had such things as these placed before my mind.” 3LtMs, Ms 4, 1878, par. 8

I was very free. Sister Jordan was provoked. “To think you should talk that way to these prisoners,” she said, “and not talk the same things to the churches. It should be talked to the churches, and here you are talking it to the prisoners.” I said to her, “Do you begrudge these few crumbs that fall from the master’s table?” “Yes, I do,” she said. “I do. You have never talked like that at any of the camp meetings.” 3LtMs, Ms 4, 1878, par. 9

After we got through we had to stop there until every prisoner had gone into his cell. After they had gone out, they stood and looked through the bars at me, so earnestly. 3LtMs, Ms 4, 1878, par. 10

Afterwards I saw the judge on the boat, and I fell into conversation with him. I did not know that he was a judge at all. I told him what had taken place, and I said to him that the mother had some hope of getting him out, that she thought that the sentence was unjust and that she could get him out on that ground. 3LtMs, Ms 4, 1878, par. 11

“I guess not,” he said, “I was the judge that sentenced them; I guess not. The case was as clear a case as I ever saw.” We sat down and talked of several things. 3LtMs, Ms 4, 1878, par. 12