Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sung, The Land Pirate - A Love Story

Some of the most famous hoboes were not actually hoboes at all.  Many others were hoboes in addition to being something else - singers, carpenters, bankers, haberdashers and so forth.  Two were pirates.  One of those was Robert Louis Stevenson, The Pirate.  Nothing is known of him.  The other was Sung, The Land Pirate.  His short life was the stuff of legend.

Tricky thing, legend.  At best, it is a collection of facts warped to varying degrees.  Often, facts are utterly bent, extending in a line perpendicular to the truth.  How close to reality was the legend of Sung, The Land Pirate?

Legend has it, Sung's mother left him in a basket behind the livestock pens in Topeka, Kansas when he was three hours old, and that he climbed out and began riding the rails that very night.   

This is not true.  In reality, he was born on a dank, leaky boat en route from China to San Francisco.  His parents were part of the last wave of Chinese near-slaves to come to the western U.S. to build railroads.  So, technically he had been around the rails since his infancy, but he didn't start riding and wandering until he was ten years old.

It is rumored that the reason he left the labor camp at age ten was that he had murdered the daughter of his father's foreman, and his parents had sent him away for his own (relative) safety.  

This is not at all what happened.  Sung had been desperately jealous of his younger sister, who had come along when he was seven years old.  On his tenth birthday, he was informed that his mother was again pregnant.  He became enraged and cut her stomach open in an attempt to kill the baby.  While she bled to death, his father came at him with a meat cleaver, but Sung snatched it from him, swung once and struck the man's leg near the groin, severing his femoral artery.  With his parents quickly dying, Sung stuffed his meager belongings, all the money from the mattress, the cleaver and a hunting knife into a pillowcase, muttered something hateful to his traumatized sister and started running.

It is said that over the next two years, he assembled a small band of skilled young burglars, pickpockets and murderers, forming his crew of land pirates.  

Again, not so.  He spent his first few hobo/pirate years on the run.  He made no friends and killed hardly anyone until his late teens.  During those years, he taught himself to hunt, to steal, to evade the authorities, to ride trains without detection - to survive.

Legend has it that during his peak land pirate years - from age nineteen until his death at twenty-four - he only killed with his bare hands.

Wrong.  In the midst of one of his first train robberies in California, he found a beautiful fourteen-year old girl with long, golden curls, cowering in a Pullman sleeper and clutching her long-dead grandfather's Union Army sword.  He had no trouble taking it from her, and when he finished brutally beating and raping her, he used it to cut off her hands, then pushed it into her eye and through her head.  From that night on, that sword was his murder weapon of choice, although he did occasionally shoot people, when the need arose.

There were little details of his land piracy that got twisted over time, as well.  He did not carry his possessions in a rickshaw.  He pulled a child's wagon, taken from one of the paltry few he robbed and left alive.  He did not have gold teeth.  He had homemade implants, fashioned from balsa wood and the teeth of several of his victims.  He did not lop off the head of one of his band of pirates for asking for a day off, but he did in fact quietly kill all of them, one by one, as they drunkenly slept one New Year's night.

Finally, he did not die all Bonnie-and-Clyde-style in a hail of police bullets.  He got scratched by a raccoon and died a week later from the ensuing infection.

But the part about him drinking rum was true.  It was hard to come by, but he loved it so much that, on occasion, he actually paid for it.        

No comments:

Post a Comment