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That is what the boys called him. His real Christian name was Zachariah. The way he got the name he went by was this: He was a Methodist, and prayed in public. He was excitable, and his lungs were of extraordinary power. When fully aroused, his voice sounded, it was said, like the bellowing of a whole herd of buffaloes. It had peculiar reverberations - rumbling, roaring, shaking the very roof of the sanctuary, or echoing among the hills when let out at its utmost strength at a camp-meeting. This is why they called him Buffalo Jones. It was his voice. There never was such another. In Ohio he was a blacksmith and a fighting man. He had whipped every man who would fight him, in a whole tier of counties. He was converted after the old way; that is to say, he was "powerfully" converted. A circuit-rider preached the sermon that converted him. His anguish was awful. The midnight hour found him in tears. The Ohio forest resounded with his cries for mercy. When he found peace, it swelled into rapture. He joined the Church militant among the Methodists, and he stuck to them, quarreled with them, and loved them, all his life. He had many troubles, and gave much trouble to many people. The old Adam died hard in the fighting blacksmith. His pastor, his family, his friends, his fellow-members in the Church, all got a portion of his wrath in due season, if they swerved a hair-breadth from the straight-line of duty as he saw it. I was his pastor, and I never had a truer friend, or a severer censor. One Sunday morning he electrified my congregation, at the close of the sermon, by rising in his place and making a personal application of a portion of it to individuals present, and insisting on their immediate expulsion from the Church. He had another side to his character, and at times was as tender as a woman. He acted as class-leader. In his melting moods he moved every eye to tears, as he passed round among the brethren and sisters, weeping, exhorting, and rejoicing. At such times, his great voice softened into a pathos that none could resist, and swept the chords of sympathy with resistless power. But when his other mood was upon him, he was fearful. He scourged the unfaithful with a whip of fire. He would quote with a singular fluency and aptness every passage of Scripture that blasted hypocrites, reproved the lukewarm, or threatened damnation to the sinner. At such times his voice sounded like the shout of a warrior in battle, and the timid and wondering hearers looked as if they were in the midst of the thunder and lightning of a tropical storm. I remember the shock he gave a quiet and timid lady whom I had persuaded to remain for the class-meeting after service. Fixing his stern and fiery gaze upon her, and knitting his great bushy eyebrows, he thundered the question:
"Sister, do you ever pray?"
The startled woman nearly sprang from her seat in a panic as she stammered hurriedly,
"Yes, sir; yes, sir."
She did not attend his class-meeting again.
At a camp-meeting he was present, and in one of his bitterest moods. The meeting was not conducted in a way to suit him. He was grim, critical, and contemptuous, making no concealment of his dissatisfaction. The preaching displeased him particularly. He groaned, frowned, and in other ways showed his feelings. At length he could stand it no longer. A young brother had just closed a sermon of a mild and persuasive kind, and no sooner had he taken his seat than the old man arose. Looking forth upon the vast audience, and then casting a sharp and scornful glance at the preachers in and around "the stand," he said:
"You preachers of these days have no gospel in you. You remind me of a man going into his barnyard early in the morning to feed his stock. He has a basket on his arm, and here come the horses nickering, the cows lowing, the calves and sheep bleating, the hogs squealing, the turkeys gobbling, the hens clucking, and the roosters crowing. They all gather round him, expecting to be fed, and lo, his basket is empty! You take texts, and you preach, but you have no gospel. Your baskets are empty."
Here he darted a defiant glance at the astonished preachers, and then, turning to one, he added in a milder and patronizing tone:
"You, Brother Sim, do preach a little gospel in your basket there is one little nubbin!"
Down he sat, leaving the brethren to meditate on what he had said. The silence that followed was deep.
At one time his conscience became troubled about the use of tobacco, and he determined to quit. This was the second great struggle of his life. He was running a sawmill in the foothills at the time, and lodged in a little cabin near by.
Suddenly deprived of the stimulant to which it had so long been accustomed, his nervous system was wrought up to a pitch of frenzy. He would rush from the cabin, climb along the hill-side, run leaping from rock to rock, now and then screaming like a maniac. Then he would rush back to the cabin, seize a plug of tobacco, smell it, rub it against his lips, and away he would go again. He smelt, but never tasted it again.
"I was resolved to conquer, and by the grace of God I did," he said.
That was a great victory for the fighting blacksmith.
When a melodeon was introduced into the church, he was sorely grieved and furiously angry. He argued against it, he expostulated, he protested, he threatened, he staid away from church. He wrote me a letter, in which he expressed his feelings thus:
San Jose, 1860.
Dear Brother: - They have got the devil into the church now! Put your foot on its tail and it squeals.
This was his figurative way of putting it. I was told that he had, on a former occasion, dealt with the question in a more summary way, by taking his ax and splitting a melodeon to pieces.
Neutrality in politics was, of course, impossible to such a man. In the civil war his heart was with the South. He gave up when Stonewall Jackson was killed.
"It is all over - the praying man is gone," he said; and he sobbed like a child. From that day he had no hope for the Confederacy, though once or twice, when feeling ran high, he expressed a readiness to use carnal weapons in defense of his political principles. For all his opinions on the subject he found support from the Bible, which he read and studied with unwearying diligence. He took its words literally on all occasions, and the Old Testament history had a wonderful charm for him. He would have been ready to hew any modern Agag in pieces before the Lord.
He finally found his way to the Insane Asylum. The reader has already seen how abnormal was his mind, and will not be surprised that his storm-tossed soul lost its rudder at last. But mid all its veerings he never lost sight of the Star that had shed its light upon his checkered path of life. He raved, and prayed, and wept, by turns. The horrors of mental despair would be followed by gleams of seraphic joy. When one of his stormy moods was upon him, his mighty voice could be heard above all the sounds of that sad and pitiful company of broken and wrecked souls. The old class-meeting instinct and habit showed itself in his semi-lucid intervals. He would go round among the patients questioning them as to their religious feeling and behavior in true class-meeting style. Dr. Shurtleff one day overheard a colloquy between him and Dr. Rogers, a freethinker and reformer, whose vagaries had culminated in his shaving close one side of his immense whiskers, leaving the other side in all its flowing amplitude. Poor fellow! Pitiable as was his case, he made a ludicrous figure walking the streets of San Francisco half shaved, and defiant of the wonder and ridicule he excited. The ex-class-leader's voice was earnest and loud, as he said:
"Now, Rogers, you must pray. If you will get down at the feet of Jesus, and confess your sins, and ask him to bless you, he will hear you, and give you peace. But if you won't do it," he continued, with growing excitement and kindling anger at the thought, "you are the most infernal rascal that ever lived, and I'll beat you into a jelly!"
The good Doctor had to interfere at this point, for the old man was in the very act of carrying out his threat to punish Rogers bodily, on the bare possibility that he would not pray as he was told to do. And so that extemporized class-meeting came to an abrupt end.
"Pray with me," he said to me the last time I saw him at the Asylum. Closing the door of the little private office, we knelt side by side, and the poor old sufferer, bathed in tears, and docile as a little child, prayed to the once suffering, once crucified, but risen and interceding Jesus. When he arose from his knees his eyes were wet, and his face showed that there was a great calm within. We never met again. He went home to die. The storms that had swept his soul subsided, the light of reason was rekindled, and the light of faith burned brightly; and in a few weeks he died in great peace, and another glad voice joined in the anthems of the blood-washed millions in the city of God.