ARMY LETTERS FROM AN OFFICER'S WIFE
By Frances M. A. Roe
PERHAPS it is not necessary to say that the events mentioned in the letters are not imaginary—perhaps the letters themselves tell that! They are truthful accounts of experiences that came into my own life with the Army in the far West, whether they be about Indians, desperadoes, or hunting—not one little thing has been stolen. They are of a life that has passed—as has passed the buffalo and the antelope—yes, and the log and adobe quarters for the Army. All flowery descriptions have been omitted, as it seemed that a simple, concise narration of events as they actually occurred, was more in keeping with the life, and that which came into it. FRANCES M. A. ROE.
ARMY LETTERS FROM AN OFFICER'S WIFE
KIT CARSON, COLORADO TERRITORY, October, 1871.
IT is late, so this can be only a note—to tell you that we arrived here safely, and will take the stage for Fort Lyon to-morrow morning at six o'clock. I am thankful enough that our stay is short at this terrible place, where one feels there is danger of being murdered any minute. Not one woman have I seen here, but there are men—any number of dreadful-looking men—each one armed with big pistols, and leather belts full of cartridges. But the houses we saw as we came from the station were worse even than the men. They looked, in the moonlight, like huge cakes of clay, where spooks and creepy things might be found. The hotel is much like the houses, and appears to have been made of dirt, and a few drygoods boxes. Even the low roof is of dirt. The whole place is horrible, and dismal beyond description, and just why anyone lives here I cannot understand.
I am all upset! Faye has just been in to say that only one of my trunks can be taken on the stage with us, and of course I had to select one that has all sorts of things in it, and consequently leave my pretty dresses here, to be sent for—all but the Japanese silk which happens to be in that trunk. But imagine my mortification in having to go with Faye to his regiment, with only two dresses. And then, to make my shortcomings the more vexatious, Faye will be simply fine all the time, in his brand new uniform!
Perhaps I can send a long letter soon—if I live to reach that army post that still seems so far away.
FORT LYON, COLORADO TERRITORY, October, 1871.
AFTER months of anticipation and days of weary travel we have at last got to our army home! As you know, Fort Lyon is fifty miles from Kit Carson, and we came all that distance in a funny looking stage coach called a "jerkey," and a good name for it, too, for at times it seesawed back and forth and then sideways, in an awful breakneck way. The day was glorious, and the atmosphere so clear, we could see miles and miles in every direction. But there was not one object to be seen on the vast rolling plains—not a tree nor a house, except the wretched ranch and stockade where we got fresh horses and a perfectly uneatable dinner.
It was dark when we reached the post, so of course we could see nothing that night. General and Mrs. Phillips gave us a most cordial welcome—just as though they had known us always. Dinner was served soon after we arrived, and the cheerful dining room, and the table with its dainty china and bright silver, was such a surprise—so much nicer than anything we had expected to find here, and all so different from the terrible places we had seen since reaching the plains. It was apparent at once that this was not a place for spooks! General Phillips is not a real general—only so by brevet, for gallant service during the war. I was so disappointed when I was told this, but Faye says that he is very much afraid that I will have cause, sooner or later, to think that the grade of captain is quite high enough. He thinks this way because, having graduated at West Point this year, he is only a second lieutenant just now, and General Phillips is his captain and company commander.
It seems that in the Army, lieutenants are called "Mister" always, but all other officers must be addressed by their rank. At least that is what they tell me. But in Faye's company, the captain is called general, and the first lieutenant is called major, and as this is most confusing, I get things mixed sometimes. Most girls would. A soldier in uniform waited upon us at dinner, and that seemed so funny. I wanted to watch him all the time, which distracted me, I suppose, for once I called General Phillips "Mister!" It so happened, too, that just that instant there was not a sound in the room, so everyone heard the blunder. General Phillips straightened back in his chair, and his little son gave a smothered giggle—for which he should have been sent to bed at once. But that was not all! That soldier, who had been so dignified and stiff, put his hand over his mouth and fairly rushed from the room so he could laugh outright. And how I longed to run some place, too—but not to laugh, oh, no!
These soldiers are not nearly as nice as one would suppose them to be, when one sees them dressed up in their blue uniforms with bright brass buttons. And they can make mistakes, too, for yesterday, when I asked that same man a question, he answered, "Yes, sorr!" Then I smiled, of course, but he did not seem to have enough sense to see why. When I told Faye about it, he looked vexed and said I must never laugh at an enlisted man—that it was not dignified in the wife of an officer to do so. And then I told him that an officer should teach an enlisted man not to snicker at his wife, and not to call her "Sorr," which was disrespectful. I wanted to say more, but Faye suddenly left the room.
The post is not at all as you and I had imagined it to be. There is no high wall around it as there is at Fort Trumbull. It reminds one of a prim little village built around a square, in the center of which is a high flagstaff and a big cannon. The buildings are very low and broad and are made of adobe—a kind of clay and mud mixed together—and the walls are very thick. At every window are heavy wooden shutters, that can be closed during severe sand and wind storms. A little ditch—they call it acequia—runs all around the post, and brings water to the trees and lawns, but water for use in the houses is brought up in wagons from the Arkansas River, and is kept in barrels.
Yesterday morning—our first here—we were awakened by the sounds of fife and drum that became louder and louder, until finally I thought the whole Army must be marching to the house. I stumbled over everything in the room in my haste to get to one of the little dormer windows, but there was nothing to be seen, as it was still quite dark. The drumming became less loud, and then ceased altogether, when a big gun was fired that must have wasted any amount of powder, for it shook the house and made all the windows rattle. Then three or four bugles played a little air, which it was impossible to hear because of the horrible howling and crying of dogs—such howls of misery you never heard—they made me shiver. This all suddenly ceased, and immediately there were lights flashing some distance away, and dozens of men seemed to be talking all at the same time, some of them shouting, "Here!" "Here!" I began to think that perhaps Indians had come upon us, and called to Faye, who informed me in a sleepy voice that it was only reveille roll-call, and that each man was answering to his name. There was the same performance this morning, and at breakfast I asked General Phillips why soldiers required such a beating of drums, and deafening racket generally, to awaken them in the morning. But he did not tell me—said it was an old army custom to have the drums beaten along the officers' walk at reveille.
Yesterday morning, directly after guard-mounting, Faye put on his full-dress uniform—epaulets, beautiful scarlet sash, and sword—and went over to the office of the commanding officer to report officially. The officer in command of the post is lieutenant colonel of the regiment, but he, also, is a general by brevet, and one can see by his very walk that he expects this to be remembered always. So it is apparent to me that the safest thing to do is to call everyone general—there seem to be so many here. If I make a mistake, it will be on the right side, at least.
Much of the furniture in this house was made by soldier carpenters here at the post, and is not only very nice, but cost General Phillips almost nothing, and, as we have to buy everything, I said at dinner last evening that we must have some precisely like it, supposing, of course, that General Phillips would feel highly gratified because his taste was admired. But instead of the smile and gracious acquiescence I had expected, there was another straightening back in the chair, and a silence that was ominous and chilling. Finally, he recovered sufficient breath to tell me that at present, there were no good carpenters in the company. Later on, however, I learned that only captains and officers of higher rank can have such things. The captains seem to have the best of everything, and the lieutenants are expected to get along with smaller houses, much less pay, and much less everything else, and at the same time perform all of the disagreeable duties.
Faye is wonderfully amiable about it, and assures me that when he gets to be a captain I will see that it is just and fair. But I happen to remember that he told me not long ago that he might not get his captaincy for twenty years. Just think of it—a whole long lifetime—and always a Mister, too—and perhaps by that time it will be "just and fair" for the lieutenants to have everything!
We saw our house yesterday—quarters I must learn to say—and it is ever so much nicer than we had expected it to be. All of the officers' quarters are new, and this set has never been occupied. It has a hall with a pretty stairway, three rooms and a large shed downstairs, and two rooms and a very large hall closet on the second floor. A soldier is cleaning the windows and floors, and making things tidy generally. Many of the men like to cook, and do things for officers of their company, thereby adding to their pay, and these men are called strikers.
There are four companies here—three of infantry and one troop of cavalry. You must always remember that Faye is in the infantry. With the cavalry he has a classmate, and a friend, also, which will make it pleasant for both of us. In my letters to you I will disregard army etiquette, and call the lieutenants by their rank, otherwise you would not know of whom I was writing—an officer or civilian. Lieutenant Baldwin has been on the frontier many years, and is an experienced hunter of buffalo and antelope. He says that I must commence riding horseback at once, and has generously offered me the use of one of his horses. Mrs. Phillips insists upon my using her saddle until I can get one from the East, so I can ride as soon as our trunks come. And I am to learn to shoot pistols and guns, and do all sorts of things.
We are to remain with General and Mrs. Phillips several days, while our own house is being made habitable, and in the meantime our trunks and boxes will come, also the colored cook. I have not missed my dresses very much—there has been so much else to think about. There is a little store just outside the post that is named "Post Trader's," where many useful things are kept, and we have just been there to purchase some really nice furniture that an officer left to be sold when he was retired last spring. We got only enough to make ourselves comfortable during the winter, for it seems to be the general belief here that these companies of infantry will be ordered to Camp Supply, Indian Territory, in the spring. It must be a most dreadful place—with old log houses built in the hot sand hills, and surrounded by almost every tribe of hostile Indians.
It may not be possible for me to write again for several days, as I will be very busy getting settled in the house. I must get things arranged just as soon as I can, so I will be able to go out on horseback with Faye and Lieutenant Baldwin.
FORT LYON, COLORADO TERRITORY, October, 1871.
WHEN a very small girl, I was told many wonderful tales about a grand Indian chief called Red Jacket, by my great-grandmother, who, you will remember, saw him a number of times when she, also, was a small girl. And since then—almost all my life—I have wanted to see with my very own eyes an Indian—a real noble red man—dressed in beautiful skins embroidered with beads, and on his head long, waving feathers.
Well, I have seen an Indian—a number of Indians—but they were not Red Jackets, neither were they noble red men. They were simply, and only, painted, dirty, and nauseous-smelling savages! Mrs. Phillips says that Indians are all alike—that when you have seen one you have seen all. And she must know, for she has lived on the frontier a long time, and has seen many Indians of many tribes.
We went to Las Animas yesterday, Mrs. Phillips, Mrs. Cole, and I, to do a little shopping. There are several small stores in the half-Mexican village, where curious little things from Mexico can often be found, if one does not mind poking about underneath the trash and dirt that is everywhere. While we were in the largest of these shops, ten or twelve Indians dashed up to the door on their ponies, and four of them, slipping down, came in the store and passed on quickly to the counter farthest back, where the ammunition is kept. As they came toward us in their imperious way, never once looking to the right or to the left, they seemed like giants, and to increase in size and numbers with every step.
Their coming was so sudden we did not have a chance to get out of their way, and it so happened that Mrs. Phillips and I were in their line of march, and when the one in the lead got to us, we were pushed aside with such impatient force that we both fell over on the counter. The others passed on just the same, however, and if we had fallen to the floor, I presume they would have stepped over us, and otherwise been oblivious to our existence. This was my introduction to an Indian—the noble red man!
As soon as they got to the counter they demanded powder, balls, and percussion caps, and as these things were given them, they were stuffed down their muzzle-loading rifles, and what could not be rammed down the barrels was put in greasy skin bags and hidden under their blankets. I saw one test the sharp edge of a long, wicked-looking knife, and then it, also, disappeared under his blanket. All this time the other Indians were on their ponies in front, watching every move that was being made around them.
There was only the one small door to the little adobe shop, and into this an Indian had ridden his piebald pony; its forefeet were up a step on the sill and its head and shoulders were in the room, which made it quite impossible for us three frightened women to run out in the street. So we got back of a counter, and, as Mrs. Phillips expressed it, "midway between the devil and the deep sea." There certainly could be no mistake about the "devil" side of it!
It was an awful situation to be in, and one to terrify anybody. We were actually prisoners—penned in with all those savages, who were evidently in an ugly mood, with quantities of ammunition within their reach, and only two white men to protect us. Even the few small windows had iron bars across. They could have killed every one of us, and ridden far away before anyone in the sleepy town found it out.
Well, when those inside had been given, or had helped themselves to, whatever they wanted, out they all marched again, quickly and silently, just as they had come in. They instantly mounted their ponies, and all rode down the street and out of sight at race speed, some leaning so far over on their little beasts that one could hardly see the Indian at all. The pony that was ridden into the store door was without a bridle, and was guided by a long strip of buffalo skin which was fastened around his lower jaw by a slipknot. It is amazing to see how tractable the Indians can make their ponies with only that one rein.
The storekeeper told us that those Indians were Utes, and were greatly excited because they had just heard there was a small party of Cheyennes down the river two or three miles. The Utes and Cheyennes are bitter enemies. He said that the Utes were very cross—ready for the blood of Indian or white man—therefore he had permitted them to do about as they pleased while in the store, particularly as we were there, and he saw that we were frightened. That young man did not know that his own swarthy face was a greenish white all the time those Indians were in the store! Not one penny did they pay for the things they carried off. Only two years ago the entire Ute nation was on the warpath, killing every white person they came across, and one must have much faith in Indians to believe that their "change of heart" has been so complete that these Utes have learned to love the white man in so short a time.
No! There was hatred in their eyes as they approached us in that store, and there was restrained murder in the hand that pushed Mrs. Phillips and me over. They were all hideous—with streaks of red or green paint on their faces that made them look like fiends. Their hair was roped with strips of bright-colored stuff, and hung down on each side of their shoulders in front, and on the crown of each black head was a small, tightly plaited lock, ornamented at the top with a feather, a piece of tin, or something fantastic. These were their scalp locks. They wore blankets over dirty old shirts, and of course had on long, trouserlike leggings of skin and moccasins. They were not tall, but rather short and stocky. The odor of those skins, and of the Indians themselves, in that stuffy little shop, I expect to smell the rest of my life!
We heard this morning that those very savages rode out on the plains in a roundabout way, so as to get in advance of the Cheyennes, and then had hidden themselves on the top of a bluff overlooking the trail they knew the Cheyennes to be following, and had fired upon them as they passed below, killing two and wounding a number of others. You can see how treacherous these Indians are, and how very far from noble is their method of warfare! They are so disappointing, too—so wholly unlike Cooper's red men.
We were glad enough to get in the ambulance and start on our way to the post, but alas! our troubles were not over. The mules must have felt the excitement in the air, for as soon as their heads were turned toward home they proceeded to run away with us. We had the four little mules that are the special pets of the quartermaster, and are known throughout the garrison as the "shaved-tails," because the hair on their tails is kept closely cut down to the very tips, where it is left in a square brush of three or four inches. They are perfectly matched—coal-black all over, except their little noses, and are quite small. They are full of mischief, and full of wisdom, too, even for government mules, and when one says, "Let's take a sprint," the others always agree—about that there is never the slightest hesitation.
Therefore, when we first heard the scraping of the brake, and saw that the driver was pulling and sawing at the tough mouths with all his strength, no one was surprised, but we said that we wished they had waited until after we had crossed the Arkansas River. But we got over the narrow bridge without meeting more than one man, who climbed over the railing and seemed less anxious to meet us than we were to meet him. As soon as we got on the road again, those mules, with preliminary kicks and shakes of their big heads, began to demonstrate how fast they could go. We had the best driver at the post, and the road was good and without sharp turns, but the ambulance was high and swayed, and the pace was too fast for comfort.
The little mules ran and ran, and we held ourselves on our seats the best we could, expecting to be tipped over any minute. When we reached the post they made a wonderful turn and took us safely to the government corral, where they stopped, just when they got ready. One leader looked around at us and commenced to bray, but the driver was in no mood for such insolence, and jerked the poor thing almost down.
Three tired, disheveled women walked from the corral to their homes; and very glad one of them was to get home, too! Hereafter I shall confine myself to horseback riding—for, even if John is frisky at times, I prefer to take my chances with the one horse, to four little long-eared government mules! But I have learned to ride very well, and have a secure seat now. My teachers, Faye and Lieutenant Baldwin, have been most exacting, but that I wanted. Of course I ride the army way, tight in the saddle, which is more difficult to learn. Any attempt to "rise" when on a trot is ridiculed at once here, and it does look absurd after seeing the splendid and graceful riding of the officers. I am learning to jump the cavalry hurdles and ditches, too. I must confess, however, that taking a ditch the first time was more exciting than enjoyable. John seemed to like it better than I did.
FORT LYON, COLORADO TERRITORY, November, 1871.
IN many of my letters I have written about learning to ride and to shoot, and have told you, also, of having followed the greyhounds after coyotes and rabbits with Faye and Lieutenant Baldwin. These hunts exact the very best of riding and a fast horse, for coyotes are very swift, and so are jack-rabbits, too, and one look at a greyhound will tell anyone that he can run—and about twice as fast as the big-eared foxhounds in the East. But I started to write you about something quite different from all this—to tell you of a really grand hunt I have been on—a splendid chase after buffalo!
A week or so ago it was decided that a party of enlisted men should be sent out to get buffalo meat for Thanksgiving dinner for everybody—officers and enlisted men—and that Lieutenant Baldwin, who is an experienced hunter, should command the detail. You can imagine how proud and delighted I was when asked to go with them. Lieutenant Baldwin saying that the hunt would be worth seeing, and well repay one for the fatigue of the hard ride.
So, one morning after an early breakfast, the horses were led up from the stables, each one having on a strong halter, and a coiled picket rope with an iron pin fastened to the saddle. These were carried so that if it should be found necessary to secure the horses on the plains, they could be picketed out. The bachelors' set of quarters is next to ours, so we all got ready together, and I must say that the deliberate way in which each girth was examined, bridles fixed, rifles fastened to saddles, and other things done, was most exasperating. But we finally started, about seven o'clock, Lieutenant Baldwin and I taking the lead, and Faye and Lieutenant Alden following.
The day was very cold, with a strong wind blowing, so I wore one of Faye's citizen caps, with tabs tied down over my ears, and a large silk handkerchief around my neck, all of which did not improve my looks in the least, but it was quite in keeping with the dressing of the officers, who had on buckskin shirts, with handkerchiefs, leggings, and moccasins. Two large army wagons followed us, each drawn by four mules, and carrying several enlisted men. Mounted orderlies led extra horses that officers and men were to ride when they struck the herd.
Well, we rode twelve miles without seeing one living thing, and then we came to a little adobe ranch where we dismounted to rest a while. By this time our feet and hands were almost frozen, and Faye suggested that I should remain at the ranch until they returned; but that I refused to do—to give up the hunt was not to be thought of, particularly as a ranchman had just told us that a small herd of buffalo had been seen that very morning only two miles farther on. So, when the horses were a little rested, we started, and, after riding a mile or more, we came to a small ravine, where we found one poor buffalo, too old and emaciated to keep up with his companions, and who, therefore, had been abandoned by them, to die alone. He had eaten the grass as far as he could reach, and had turned around and around until the ground looked as though it had been spaded.
He got up on his old legs as we approached him, and tried to show fight by dropping his head and throwing his horns to the front, but a child could have pushed him over. One of the officers tried to persuade me to shoot him, saying it would be a humane act, and at the same time give me the prestige of having killed a buffalo! But the very thought of pointing a pistol at anything so weak and utterly helpless was revolting in the extreme. He was such an object of pity, too, left there all alone to die of starvation, when perhaps at one time he may have been leader of his herd. He was very tall, had a fine head, with an uncommonly long beard, and showed every indication of having been a grand specimen of his kind.
We left him undisturbed, but only a few minutes later we heard the sharp report of a rifle, and at once suspected, what we learned to be a fact the next day, that one of the men with the wagons had killed him. Possibly this was the most merciful thing to do, but to me that shot meant murder. The pitiful bleary eyes of the helpless old beast have haunted me ever since we saw him.
We must have gone at least two miles farther before we saw the herd we were looking for, making fifteen or sixteen miles altogether that we had ridden. The buffalo were grazing quietly along a meadow in between low, rolling hills. We immediately fell back a short distance and waited for the wagons, and when they came up there was great activity, I assure you. The officers' saddles were transferred to their hunters, and the men who were to join in the chase got their horses and rifles ready. Lieutenant Baldwin gave his instructions to everybody, and all started off, each one going in a different direction so as to form a cordon, Faye said, around the whole herd. Faye would not join in the hunt, but remained with me the entire day. He and I rode over the hill, stopping when we got where we could command a good view of the valley and watch the run.
It seemed only a few minutes when we saw the buffalo start, going from some of the men, of course, who at once began to chase them. This kept them running straight ahead, and, fortunately, in Lieutenant Baldwin's direction, who apparently was holding his horse in, waiting for them to come. We saw through our field glasses that as soon as they got near enough he made a quick dash for the herd, and cutting one out, had turned it so it was headed straight for us.
Now, being on a buffalo hunt a safe distance off, was one thing, but to have one of those huge animals come thundering along like a steam engine directly upon you, was quite another. I was on one of Lieutenant Baldwin's horses, too, and I felt that there might be danger of his bolting to his companion, Tom, when he saw him dashing by, and as I was not anxious to join in a buffalo chase just at that time, I begged Faye to go with me farther up the hill. But he would not go back one step, assuring me that my horse was a trained hunter and accustomed to such sights.
Lieutenant Baldwin gained steadily on the buffalo, and in a wonderfully short time both passed directly in front of us—within a hundred feet, Faye said. Lieutenant Baldwin was close upon him then, his horse looking very small and slender by the side of the grand animal that was taking easy, swinging strides, apparently without effort and without speed, his tongue lolling at one side. But we could see that the pace was really terrific—that Lieutenant Baldwin was freely using the spur, and that his swift thoroughbred was stretched out like a greyhound, straining every muscle in his effort to keep up. He was riding close to the buffalo on his left, with revolver in his right hand, and I wondered why he did not shoot, but Faye said it would be useless to fire then—that Lieutenant Baldwin must get up nearer the shoulder, as a buffalo is vulnerable only in certain parts of his body, and that a hunter of experience like Lieutenant Baldwin would never think of shooting unless he could aim at heart or lungs.
My horse behaved very well—just whirling around a few times—but Faye was kept busy a minute or two by his, for the poor horse was awfully frightened, and lunged and reared and snorted; but I knew that he could not unseat Faye, so I rather enjoyed it, for you know I had wanted to go back a little!
Lieutenant Baldwin and the buffalo were soon far away, and when our horses had quieted down we recalled that shots had been fired in another direction, and looking about, we saw a pathetic sight. Lieutenant Alden was on his horse, and facing him was an immense buffalo, standing perfectly still with chin drawn in and horns to the front, ready for battle. It was plain to be seen that the poor horse was not enjoying the meeting, for every now and then he would try to back away, or give a jump sideways. The buffalo was wounded and unable to run, but he could still turn around fast enough to keep his head toward the horse, and this he did every time Lieutenant Alden tried to get an aim at his side.
There was no possibility of his killing him without assistance, and of course the poor beast could not be abandoned in such a helpless condition, so Faye decided to go over and worry him, while Lieutenant Alden got in the fatal shot. As soon as Faye got there I put my fingers over my ears so that I would not hear the report of the pistol. After a while I looked across, and there was the buffalo still standing, and both Faye and Lieutenant Alden were beckoning for me to come to them. At first I could not understand what they wanted, and I started to go over, but it finally dawned upon me that they were actually waiting for me to come and kill that buffalo! I saw no glory in shooting a wounded animal, so I turned my horse back again, but had not gone far before I heard the pistol shot.
Then I rode over to see the huge animal, and found Faye and Lieutenant Alden in a state of great excitement. They said he was a magnificent specimen—unusually large, and very black—what they call a blue skin—with a splendid head and beard. I had been exposed to a bitterly cold wind, without the warming exercise of riding, for over an hour, and my hands were so cold and stiff that I could scarcely hold the reins, so they jumped me up on the shoulders of the warm body, and I buried my hands in the long fur on his neck. He fell on his wounded side, and looked precisely as though he was asleep—-so much so that I half expected him to spring up and resent the indignity he was being subjected to.
Very soon after that Faye and I came on home, reaching the post about seven o'clock. We had been in our saddles most of the time for twelve hours, on a cold day, and were tired and stiff, and when Faye tried to assist me from my horse I fell to the ground in a heap. But I got through the day very well, considering the very short time I have been riding—that is, really riding. The hunt was a grand sight, and something that probably I will never have a chance of seeing again—and, to be honest, I do not want to see another, for the sight of one of those splendid animals running for his life is not a pleasant one.
The rest of the party did not come in until several hours later; but they brought the meat and skins of four buffalo, and the head of Lieutenant Alden's, which he will send East to be mounted. The skin he intends to take to an Indian camp, to be tanned by the squaws. Lieutenant Baldwin followed his buffalo until he got in the position he wanted, and then killed him with one shot. Faye says that only a cool head and experience could have done that. Much depends upon the horse, too, for so many horses are afraid of a buffalo, and lunge sideways just at the critical moment.
Several experienced hunters tell marvelous tales of how they have stood within a few yards of a buffalo and fired shot after shot from a Springfield rifle, straight at his head, the balls producing no effect whatever, except, perhaps, a toss of the head and the flying out of a tuft of hair. Every time the ball would glance off from the thick skull. The wonderful mat of curly hair must break the force some, too. This mat, or cushion, in between the horns of the buffalo Lieutenant Alden killed, was so thick and tangled that I could not begin to get my fingers in it.
FORT LYON, COLORADO TERRITORY, December, 1871.
OUR first Christmas on the frontier was ever so pleasant, but it certainly was most vexatious not to have that box from home. And I expect that it has been at Kit Carson for days, waiting to be brought down. We had quite a little Christmas without it, however, for a number of things came from the girls, and several women of the garrison sent pretty little gifts to me. It was so kind and thoughtful of them to remember that I might be a bit homesick just now. All the little presents were spread out on a table, and in a way to make them present as fine an appearance as possible. Then I printed in large letters, on a piece of cardboard, "One box—contents unknown!" and stood it up on the back of the table. I did this to let everyone know that we had not been forgotten by home people. My beautiful new saddle was brought in, also, for although I had had it several weeks, it was really one of Faye's Christmas gifts to me.
They have such a charming custom in the Army of going along the line Christmas morning and giving each other pleasant greetings and looking at the pretty things everyone has received. This is a rare treat out here, where we are so far from shops and beautiful Christmas displays. We all went to the bachelors' quarters, almost everyone taking over some little remembrance—homemade candy, cakes, or something of that sort.
I had a splendid cake to send over that morning, and I will tell you just what happened to it. At home we always had a large fruit cake made for the holidays, long in advance, and I thought I would have one this year as near like it as possible. But it seemed that the only way to get it was to make it. So, about four weeks ago, I commenced. It was quite an undertaking for me, as I had never done anything of the kind, and perhaps I did not go about it the easiest way, but I knew how it should look when done, and of course I knew precisely how it should taste. Eliza makes delicious every-day cake, but was no assistance whatever with the fruit cake, beyond encouraging me with the assurance that it would not matter in the least if it should be heavy.
Well, for two long, tiresome days I worked over that cake, preparing with my own fingers every bit of the fruit, which I consider was a fine test of perseverance and staying qualities. After the ingredients were all mixed together there seemed to be enough for a whole regiment, so we decided to make two cakes of it. They looked lovely when baked, and just right, and smelled so good, too! I wrapped them in nice white paper that had been wet with brandy, and put them carefully away—one in a stone jar, the other in a tin box—and felt that I had done a remarkably fine bit of housekeeping. The bachelors have been exceedingly kind to me, and I rejoiced at having a nice cake to send them Christmas morning. But alas! I forgot that the little house was fragrant with the odor of spice and fruit, and that there was a man about who was ever on the lookout for good things to eat. It is a shame that those cadets at West Point are so starved. They seem to be simply famished for months after they graduate.
It so happened that there was choir practice that very evening, and that I was at the chapel an hour or so. When I returned, I found the three bachelors sitting around the open fire, smoking, and looking very comfortable indeed. Before I was quite in the room they all stood up and began to praise the cake. I think Faye was the first to mention it, saying it was a "great success"; then the others said "perfectly delicious," and so on, but at the same time assuring me that a large piece had been left for me.
For one minute I stood still, not in the least grasping their meaning; but finally I suspected mischief, they all looked so serenely contented. So I passed on to the dining room, and there, on the table, was one of the precious cakes—-at least what was left of it, the very small piece that had been so generously saved for me. And there were plates with crumbs, and napkins, that told the rest of the sad tale—and there was wine and empty glasses, also. Oh, yes! Their early Christmas had been a fine one. There was nothing for me to say or do—at least not just then—so I went back to the little living-room and forced myself to be halfway pleasant to the four men who were there, each one looking precisely like the cat after it had eaten the canary! The cake was scarcely cold, and must have been horribly sticky—and I remember wondering, as I sat there, which one would need the doctor first, and what the doctor would do if they were all seized with cramps at the same time. But they were not ill—not in the least—which proved that the cake was well baked. If they had discovered the other one, however, there is no telling what might have happened.
At half after ten yesterday the chaplain held service, and the little chapel was crowded—so many of the enlisted men were present. We sang our Christmas music, and received many compliments. Our little choir is really very good. Both General Phillips and Major Pierce have fine voices. One of the infantry sergeants plays the organ now, for it was quite too hard for me to sing and work those old pedals. Once I forgot them entirely, and everybody smiled—even the chaplain!
From the chapel we—that is, the company officers and their wives—went to the company barracks to see the men's dinner tables. When we entered the dining hall we found the entire company standing in two lines, one down each side, every man in his best inspection uniform, and every button shining. With eyes to the front and hands down their sides they looked absurdly like wax figures waiting to be "wound up," and I did want so much to tell the little son of General Phillips to pinch one and make him jump. He would have done it, too, and then put all the blame upon me, without loss of time.
The first sergeant came to meet us, and went around with us. There were three long tables, fairly groaning with things upon them: buffalo, antelope, boiled ham, several kinds of vegetables, pies, cakes, quantities of pickles, dried "apple-duff," and coffee, and in the center of each table, high up, was a huge cake thickly covered with icing. These were the cakes that Mrs. Phillips, Mrs. Barker, and I had sent over that morning. It is the custom in the regiment for the wives of the officers every Christmas to send the enlisted men of their husbands' companies large plum cakes, rich with fruit and sugar. Eliza made the cake I sent over, a fact I made known from its very beginning, to keep it from being devoured by those it was not intended for.
The hall was very prettily decorated with flags and accoutrements, but one missed the greens. There are no evergreen trees here, only cottonwood. Before coming out, General Phillips said a few pleasant words to the men, wishing them a "Merry Christmas" for all of us. Judging from the laughing and shuffling of feet as soon as we got outside, the men were glad to be allowed to relax once more.
At six o'clock Faye and I, Lieutenant Baldwin, and Lieutenant Alden dined with Doctor and Mrs. Wilder. It was a beautiful little dinner, very delicious, and served in the daintiest manner possible. But out here one is never quite sure of what one is eating, for sometimes the most tempting dishes are made of almost nothing. At holiday time, however, it seems that the post trader sends to St. Louis for turkeys, celery, canned oysters, and other things. We have no fresh vegetables here, except potatoes, and have to depend upon canned stores in the commissary for a variety, and our meat consists entirely of beef, except now and then, when we may have a treat to buffalo or antelope.
The commanding officer gave a dancing party Friday evening that was most enjoyable. He is a widower, you know. His house is large, and the rooms of good size, so that dancing was comfortable. The music consisted of one violin with accordion accompaniment. This would seem absurd in the East, but I can assure you that one accordion, when played well by a German, is an orchestra in itself. And Doos plays very well. The girls East may have better music to dance by, and polished waxed floors to slip down upon, but they cannot have the excellent partners one has at an army post, and I choose the partners!
The officers are excellent dancers—every one of them—and when you are gliding around, your chin, or perhaps your nose, getting a scratch now and then from a gorgeous gold epaulet, you feel as light as a feather, and imagine yourself with a fairy prince. Of course the officers were in full-dress uniform Friday night, so I know just what I am talking about, scratches and all. Every woman appeared in her finest gown. I wore my nile-green silk, which I am afraid showed off my splendid coat of tan only too well.
The party was given for Doctor and Mrs. Anderson, who are guests of General Bourke for a few days. They are en route to Fort Union, New Mexico. Mrs. Anderson was very handsome in an elegant gown of London-smoke silk. I am to assist Mrs. Phillips in receiving New Year's day, and shall wear my pearl-colored Irish poplin. We are going out now for a little ride.
FORT LYON, COLORADO TERRITORY, January, 1872.
WHEN we came over on the stage from Kit Carson last fall, I sat on top with the driver, who told me of many terrible experiences he had passed through during the years he had been driving a stage on the plains, and some of the most thrilling were of sand storms, when he had, with great difficulty, saved the stage and perhaps his own life. There have been ever so many storms, since we have been here, that covered everything in the houses with dust and sand, but nothing at all like those the driver described. But yesterday one came—a terrific storm—and it so happened that I was caught out in the fiercest part of it.
As Faye was officer of the day, he could not leave the garrison, so I rode with Lieutenant Baldwin and Lieutenant Alden. The day was glorious—sunny, and quite warm—one of Colorado's very best, without a cloud to be seen in any direction. We went up the river to the mouth of a pretty little stream commonly called "The Picket Wire," but the real name of which is La Purgatoire. It is about five miles from the post and makes a nice objective point for a short ride, for the clear water gurgling over the stones, and the trees and bushes along its banks, are always attractive in this treeless country.
The canter up was brisk, and after giving our horses the drink from the running stream they always beg for, we started back on the road to the post in unusually fine spirits. Almost immediately, however, Lieutenant Baldwin said, "I do not like the looks of that cloud over there!" We glanced back in the direction he pointed, and seeing only a streak of dark gray low on the horizon, Lieutenant Alden and I paid no more attention to it. But Lieutenant Baldwin was very silent, and ever looking back at the queer gray cloud. Once I looked at it, too, and was amazed at the wonderfully fast way it had spread out, but just then John shied at something, and in managing the horse I forgot the cloud.
When about two miles from the post, Lieutenant Baldwin, who had fallen back a little, called to us, "Put your horses to their best pace—a sand storm is coming!" Then we knew there was a possibility of much danger, for Lieutenant Baldwin is known to be a keen observer, and our confidence in his judgment was great, so, without once looking back to see what was coming after us, Lieutenant Alden and I started our horses on a full run.
Well, that cloud increased in size with a rapidity you could never imagine, and soon the sun was obscured as if by an eclipse. It became darker and darker, and by the time we got opposite the post trader's there could be heard a loud, continuous roar, resembling that of a heavy waterfall.
Just then Lieutenant Baldwin grasped my bridle rein on the right and told Lieutenant Alden to ride close on my left, which was done not a second too soon, for as we reached the officers' line the storm struck us, and with such force that I was almost swept from my saddle. The wind was terrific and going at hurricane speed, and the air so thick with sand and dirt we could not see the ears of our own horses. The world seemed to have narrowed to a space that was appalling! You will think that this could never have been—that I was made blind by terror—but I can assure you that the absolute truth is being written.
Lieutenant Baldwin's voice sounded strange and far, far away when he called to me, "Sit tight in your saddle and do not jump!" And then again he fairly yelled, "We must stay together—and keep the horses from stampeding to the stables!" He was afraid they would break away and dash us against the iron supports to the flagstaff in the center of the parade ground. How he could say one word, or even open his mouth, I do not understand, for the air was thick with gritty dirt. The horses were frantic, of course, whirling around each other, rearing and pulling, in their efforts to get free.
We must have stayed in about the same place twenty minutes or longer, when, just for one instant, there was a lull in the storm, and I caught a glimpse of the white pickets of a fence! Without stopping to think of horse's hoofs and, alas! without calling one word to the two officers who were doing everything possible to protect me, I shut my eyes tight, freed my foot from the stirrup, and, sliding down from my horse, started for those pickets! How I missed Lieutenant Alden's horse, and how I got to that fence, I do not know. The force of the wind was terrific, and besides, I was obliged to cross the little acequia. But I did get over the fifteen or sixteen feet of ground without falling, and oh, the joy of getting my arms around those pickets!
The storm continued for some time; but finally the atmosphere began to clear, and I could see objects around me. And then out of the dust loomed up Lieutenant Baldwin. He was about halfway down the line and riding close to the fence, evidently looking for me. When he came up, leading my horse, his face was black with more than dirt. He reminded me of having told me positively not to jump from my horse, and asked if I realized that I might have been knocked down and killed by the crazy animals. Of course I had perceived all that as soon as I reached safety, but I could not admit my mistake at that time without breaking down and making a scene. I was nervous and exhausted, and in no condition to be scolded by anyone, so I said: "If you were not an old bachelor you would have known better than to have told a woman not to do a thing—you would have known that, in all probability, that would be the very thing she would do first!" That mollified him a little, but we did not laugh—life had just been too serious for that.
The chaplain had joined us, and so had Lieutenant Alden. The fence I had run to was the chaplain's, and when the good man saw us he came out and assisted me to his house, where I received the kindest care from Mrs. Lawton. I knew that Faye would be greatly worried about me, so as soon as I had rested a little—enough to walk—and had got some of the dust out of my eyes, the chaplain and I hurried down to our house to let him know that I was safe.
At every house along the line the heavy shutters were closed, and not one living thing was to be seen, and the post looked as though it might have been long abandoned. There was a peculiar light, too, that made the most familiar objects seem strange. Yes, we saw a squad of enlisted men across the parade ground, trying with immense ropes to get back in place the heavy roof of the long commissary building which had been partly blown off.
We met Faye at our gate, just starting out to look for us. He said that when the storm first came up he was frightened about me, but when the broad adobe house began to rock he came to the conclusion that I was about as safe out on the plains as I would be in a house, particularly as I was on a good horse, and with two splendid horsemen who would take the very best care of me. My plait of hair was one mass of dirt and was cut and torn, and is still in a deplorable condition, and my face looks as though I had just recovered from smallpox. As it was Monday, the washing of almost every family was out on lines, about every article of which has gone to regions unknown. The few pieces that were Caught by the high fences were torn to shreds.
FORT LYON, COLORADO TERRITORY, January, 1872.
OUR little party was a grand success, but I am still wondering how it came about that Mrs. Barker and I gave it together, for, although we are all in the same company and next-door neighbors, we have seen very little of each other. She is very quiet, and seldom goes out, even for a walk. It was an easy matter to arrange things so the two houses could, in a way, be connected, as they are under the same long roof, and the porches divided by a railing only, that was removed for the one evening. The dancing was in our house, and the supper was served at the Barkers'. And that supper was a marvel of culinary art, I assure you, even if it was a fraud in one or two things, We were complimented quite graciously by some of the older housekeepers, who pride themselves upon knowing how to make more delicious little dishes out of nothing than anyone else. But this time it was North and South combined, for you will remember that Mrs. Barker is from Virginia.
The chicken salad—and it was delicious—was made of tender veal, but the celery in it was the genuine article, for we sent to Kansas City for that and a few other things. The turkey galantine was perfect, and the product of a resourceful brain from the North, and was composed almost entirely of wild goose! There was no April fool about the delicate Maryland biscuits, however, and other nice things that were set forth. We fixed up cozily the back part of our hall with comfortable chairs and cushions, and there punch was served during the evening. Major Barker and Faye made the punch. The orchestra might have been better, but the two violins and the accordion gave us music that was inspiring, and gave us noise, too, and then Doos, who played the accordion, kept us merry by the ever-pounding down of one government-shod foot.
Everyone in the garrison came—even the chaplain was here during the supper. The officers Were in full-dress uniform, and the only man in plain evening dress was Mr. Dunn, the post trader, and in comparison to the gay uniforms of the officers he did look so sleek, from his shiny black hair down to the toes of his shiny black pumps! Mrs. Barker and I received, of course, and she was very pretty in a pink silk gown entirely covered with white net, that was caught up at many places by artificial pink roses. The color was most becoming, and made very pronounced the rich tint of her dark skin and her big black eyes.
Well, we danced before supper and we danced after supper, and when we were beginning to feel just a wee bit tired, there suddenly appeared in our midst a colored woman—a real old-time black mammy—in a dress of faded, old-fashioned plaids, with kerchief, white apron, and a red-and-yellow turban tied around her head. We were dancing at the time she came in, but everyone stopped at once, completely lost in amazement, and she had the floor to herself. This was what she wanted, and she immediately commenced to dance wildly and furiously, as though she was possessed, rolling her big eyes and laughing to show the white teeth. Gradually she quieted down to a smooth, rhythmic motion, slowly swaying from side to side, sometimes whirling around, but with feet always flat on the floor, often turning on her heels. All the time her arms were extended and her fingers snapping, and snapping also were the black eyes. She was the personification of grace, but the dance was weird—made the more so by the setting of bright evening dresses and glittering uniforms. One never sees a dance of this sort these days, even in the South, any more than one sees the bright-colored turban. Both have passed with the old-time darky.
Of course we recognized Mrs. Barker, more because there was no one else in our small community who could personify a darky so perfectly, than because there was any resemblance to her in looks or gesture. The make-up was artistic, and how she managed the quick transformation from ball dress to that of the plantation, with all its black paint and rouge, Mrs. Barker alone knows, and where on this earth she got that dress and turban, she alone knows. But I imagine she sent to Virginia for the whole costume. At all events, it was very bright in her to think of this unusual divertissement for our guests when dancing was beginning to lag a little. The dance she must have learned from a mammy when a child. I forgot to say that during the time she was dancing our fine orchestra played old Southern melodies. And all this was arranged and done by the quietest woman in the garrison!
Our house was upset from one end to the other to make room for the dancing, but the putting of things in order again did not take long, as the house has so very little in it. Still, I always feel rebellious when anything comes up to interfere with my rides, no matter how pleasant it may be. There have been a great many antelope near the post of late, and we have been on ever so many hunts for them. The greyhounds have not been with us, however, for following the hounds when chasing those fleet animals not only requires the fastest kind of a horse and very good riding, but is exceedingly dangerous to both horse and rider because of the many prairie-dog holes, which are terrible death traps. And besides, the dogs invariably get their feet full of cactus needles, which cause much suffering for days.
So we have been flagging the antelope, that is, taking a shameful advantage of their wonderful curiosity, and enticing them within rifle range. On these hunts I usually hold the horses of the three officers and my own, and so far they have not given me much trouble, for each one is a troop-trained animal.
The antelope are shy and wary little creatures, and possess an abnormal sense of smell that makes it absolutely necessary for hunters to move cautiously to leeward the instant they discover them. It is always an easy matter to find a little hill that will partly screen them—the country is so rolling—as they creep and crawl to position, ever mindful of the dreadful cactus. When they reach the highest point the flag is put up, and this is usually made on the spot, of a red silk handkerchief, one corner run through the rammer of a Springfield rifle. Then everyone lies down flat on the ground, resting on his elbows, with rifle in position for firing.
Antelope always graze against the wind, and even a novice can tell when they discover the flag, for they instantly stop feeding, and the entire band will whirl around to face it, with big round ears standing straight up, and in this way they will remain a second or two, constantly sniffing the air. Failing to discover anything dangerous, they will take a few steps forward, perhaps run around a little, giving quick tossings of the head, and sniffing with almost every breath, but whatever they do the stop is always in the same position—facing the flag, the strange object they cannot understand. Often they will approach very slowly, making frequent halts after little runs, and give many tossings of the head as if they were actually coquetting with death itself! Waiting for them to come within range of the rifle requires great patience, for the approach is always more or less slow, and frequently just as they are at the right distance and the finger is on the trigger, off the whole band will streak, looking like horizontal bars of brown and white! I am always so glad when they do this, for it seems so wicked to kill such graceful creatures. It is very seldom that I watch the approach, but when I do happen to see them come up, the temptation to do something to frighten them away from those murderous guns is almost irresistible.
But never once are they killed for mere pleasure! Their meat is tender and most delicious after one has learned to like the "gamey" flavor. And a change in meat we certainly do need here, for unless we can have buffalo or antelope now and then, it is beef every day in the month—not only one month, but every month.
The prairie-dog holes are great obstacles to following hounds on the plains, for while running so fast it is impossible for a horse to see the holes in time to avoid them, and if a foot slips down in one it means a broken leg for the horse and a hard throw for the rider, and perhaps broken bones also. Following these English greyhounds—which have such wonderful speed and keenness of sight—after big game on vast plains, is very different from running after the slow hounds and foxes in the East, and requires a very much faster horse and quite superior riding. One has to learn to ride a horse—to get a perfect balance that makes it a matter of indifference which-way the horse may jump, at any speed—in fact, one must become a part of one's mount before these hunts can be attempted.
Chasing wolves and rabbits is not as dangerous, for they cannot begin to run as fast as antelope. And it is great fun to chase the big jack-rabbits. They know their own speed perfectly and have great confidence in it. When the hounds start one he will give one or two jumps high up in the air to take a look at things, and then he commences to run with great bounds, with his enormously long ears straight up like sails on a boat, and almost challenges the dogs to follow. But the poor hunted thing soon finds out that he must do better than that if he wishes to keep ahead, so down go the ears, flat along his back, and stretching himself out very straight, goes his very fastest, and then the real chase is on.
But Mr. Jack-Rabbit is cunning, and when he sees that the long-legged dogs are steadily gaining upon him and getting closer with every jump, he will invariably make a quick turn and run back on his own tracks, often going right underneath the fast-running dogs that cannot stop themselves, and can only give vicious snaps as they jump over him. Their stride—often fifteen and twenty feet—covers so much more ground than the rabbit's, it is impossible for them to make as quick turns, therefore it is generally the slow dog of the pack that catches the rabbit. And frequently a wise old rabbit will make many turns and finally reach a hole in safety.
The tail of a greyhound is his rudder and his brake, and the sight is most laughable when a whole pack of them are trying to stop, each tail whirling around like a Dutch windmill. Sometimes, in their frantic efforts to stop quickly, they will turn complete somersaults and roll over in a cloud of dust and dirt. But give up they never do, and once on their feet they start back after that rabbit with whines of disappointment and rage. Many, many times, also, I have heard the dogs howl and whine from the pain caused by the cactus spines in their feet, but not once have I ever seen any one of them lag in the chase.
But the pack here is a notoriously fine one. The leader. Magic, is a splendid dog, dark brindle in color, very swift and very plucky, also most intelligent. He is a sly rascal, too. He loves to sleep on Lieutenant Baldwin's bed above all things, and he sneaks up on it whenever he can, but the instant he hears Lieutenant Baldwin's step on the walk outside, down he jumps, and stretching himself out full length in front of the fire, he shuts his eyes tight, pretends to be fast asleep, and the personification of an innocent, well-behaved dog! But Lieutenant Baldwin knows his tricks now, and sometimes, going to the bed, he can feel the warmth from his body that is still there, and if he says, "Magic, you old villain," Magic will wag his tail a little, which in dog language means, "You are pretty smart, but I'm smart, too!"
With all this outdoor exercise, one can readily perceive that the days are not long and tiresome. Of course there are a few who yawn and complain of the monotony of frontier life, but these are the stay-at-homes who sit by their own fires day after day and let cobwebs gather in brain and lungs. And these, too, are the ones who have time to discover so many faults in others, and become our garrison gossips! If they would take brisk rides on spirited horses in this wonderful air, and learn to shoot all sorts of guns in all sorts of positions, they would soon discover that a frontier post can furnish plenty of excitement. At least, I have found that it can.
Faye was very anxious for me to become a good shot, considering it most essential in this Indian country, and to please him I commenced practicing soon after we got here. It was hard work at first, and I had many a bad headache from the noise of the guns. It was all done in a systematic way, too, as though I was a soldier at target practice. They taught me to use a pistol in various positions while standing; then I learned to use it from the saddle. After that a little four-inch bull's-eye was often tacked to a tree seventy-five paces away, and I was given a Spencer carbine to shoot (a short magazine rifle used by the cavalry), and many a time I have fired three rounds, twenty-one shots in all, at the bull's-eye, which I was expected to hit every time, too.
Well, I obligingly furnished amusement for Faye and Lieutenant Baldwin until they asked me to fire a heavy Springfield rifle—an infantry gun. After one shot I politely refused to touch the thing again. The noise came near making me deaf for life; the big thing rudely "kicked" me over on my back, and the bullet—I expect that ball is still on its way to Mars or perhaps the moon. This earth it certainly did not hit! Faye is with the company almost every morning, but after luncheon we usually go out for two or three hours, and always come back refreshed by the exercise. And the little house looks more cozy, and the snapping of the blazing logs sounds more cheerful because of our having been away from them.
FORT LYON, COLORADO TERRITORY, April, 1872.
SOME of the most dreadful things have occurred since I wrote you last, and this letter will make you unhappy, I know. To begin with, orders have actually come from Department Headquarters at Leavenworth for two companies of infantry here—General Phillips' and Captain Giddings'—to go to Camp Supply! So that is settled, and we will probably leave this post in about ten days, and during that time we are expected to sell, give away, smash up, or burn about everything we possess, for we have already been told that very few things can be taken with us. I do not see how we can possibly do with less than we have had since we came here.
Eliza announced at once that she could not be induced to go where there are so many Indians—said she had seen enough of them while in New Mexico. I am more than sorry to lose her, but at the same time I cannot help admiring her common sense. I would not go either if I could avoid it.
You will remember that not long ago I said that Lieutenant Baldwin was urging me to ride Tom, his splendid thoroughbred, as soon as he could be quieted down a little so I could control him. Well, I was to have ridden him to-day for the first time! Yesterday morning Lieutenant Baldwin had him out for a long, hard run, but even after that the horse was nervous when he came in, and danced sideways along the officers' drive in his usual graceful way. Just as they got opposite the chaplain's house, two big St. Bernard dogs bounded over the fence and landed directly under the horse, entangling themselves with his legs so completely that when he tried to jump away from them he was thrown down on his knees with great force, and Lieutenant Baldwin was pitched over the horse's head and along the ground several feet.
He is a tall, muscular man and went down heavily, breaking three ribs and his collar bone on both sides! He is doing very well, and is as comfortable to-day as can be expected, except that he is grieving piteously over his horse, for the poor horse—beautiful Tom—is utterly ruined! Both knees have been sprung, and he is bandaged almost as much as his master.
The whole occurrence is most deplorable and distressing. It seems so dreadful that a strong man should be almost killed and a grand horse completely ruined by two clumsy, ill-mannered dogs. One belongs to the chaplain, too, who is expected to set a model example for the rest of us. Many, many times during the winter I have ridden by the side of Tom, and had learned to love every one of his pretty ways, from the working of his expressive ears to the graceful movement of his slender legs. He was a horse for anyone to be proud of, not only for his beauty but as a hunter, too, and he was Lieutenant Baldwin's delight and joy.
It does seem as if everything horrible had come all at once. The order we have been expecting, of course, as so many rumors have reached us that we were to go, but all the time there has been hidden away a little hope that we might be left here another year.
I shall take the greyhound puppy, of course. He is with Blue, his mother, at Captain Richardson's quarters, but he is brought over every day for me to see. His coat is brindled, dark brown and black—just like Magic's—and fine as the softest satin. One foot is white, and there is a little white tip to his tail, which, it seems, is considered a mark of great beauty in a greyhound. We have named him Harold.
Nothing has been done about packing yet, as the orders have just been received. The carpenters in the company will not be permitted to do one thing for us until the captain and first lieutenant have had made every box and crate they want for the move. I am beginning to think that it must be nice to be even a first lieutenant. But never mind, perhaps Faye will get his captaincy in twenty years or so, and then it will be all "fair and square."
FORT LYON, COLORADO TERRITORY, May, 1872.
EVERYTHING is packed or disposed of, and we are ready to start to-morrow on the long march to Camp Supply. Two large army wagons have been allowed to each company for the officers' baggage, but as all three officers are present with the company Faye is in, and the captain has taken one of the wagons for his own use, we can have just one half of one of those wagons to take our household goods to a country where it is absolutely impossible to purchase one thing! We have given away almost all of our furniture, and were glad that we had bought so little when we came here. Our trunks and several boxes are to be sent by freight to Hays City at our own expense, and from there down to the post by wagon, and if we ever see them again I will be surprised, as Camp Supply is about one hundred and fifty miles from the railroad. We are taking only one barrel of china—just a few pieces we considered the most necessary—and this morning Faye discovered that the first lieutenant had ordered that one barrel to be taken from the wagon to make more room for his own things. Faye ordered it to be put back at once, and says it will stay there, too, and I fancy it will! Surely we are entitled to all of our one half of the wagon—second choice at that.
I am to ride in an ambulance with Mrs. Phillips, her little son and her cook, Mrs. Barker and her small son. There will be seats for only four, as the middle seat has been taken out to make room for a comfortable rocking-chair that will be for Mrs. Phillips's exclusive use! The dear little greyhound puppy I have to leave here. Faye says I must not take him with so many in the ambulance, as he would undoubtedly be in the way. But I am sure the puppy would not be as troublesome as one small boy, and there will be two small boys with us. It would be quite bad enough to be sent to such a terrible place as Camp Supply has been represented to us, without having all this misery and mortification added, and all because Faye happens to be a second lieutenant!
I have cried and cried over all these things until I am simply hideous, but I have to go just the same, and I have made up my mind never again to make myself so wholly disagreeable about a move, no matter where we may have to go. I happened to recall yesterday what grandmother said to me when saying good-by: "It is a dreadful thing not to become a woman when one ceases to be a girl!" I am no longer a girl, I suppose, so I must try to be a woman, as there seems to be nothing in between. One can find a little comfort, too, in the thought that there is no worse place possible for us to be sent to, and when once there we can look forward to better things sometime in the future. I do not mind the move as much as the unpleasant experiences connected with it.
But I shall miss the kind friends, the grand hunts and delightful rides, and shall long for dear old John, who has carried me safely so many, many miles.
Lieutenant Baldwin is still ill and very depressed, and Doctor Wilder is becoming anxious about him. It is so dreadful for such a powerful man as he has been to be so really broken in pieces. He insists upon being up and around, which is bad, very bad, for the many broken bones.
I will write whenever I find an opportunity.
OLD FORT ZARAH, KANSAS, April, 1872.
OUR camp to-night is near the ruins of a very old fort, and ever since we got here, the men have been hunting rattlesnakes that have undoubtedly been holding possession of the tumble-down buildings, many snake generations. Dozens and dozens have been killed, of all sizes, some of them being very large. The old quarters were evidently made of sods and dirt, and must have been dreadful places to live in even when new.
I must tell you at once that I have the little greyhound. I simply took matters in my own hands and got him! We came only five miles our first day out, and after the tents had been pitched that night and the various dinners commenced, it was discovered that many little things had been left behind, so General Phillips decided to send an ambulance and two or three men back to the post for them, and to get the mail at the same time. It so happened that Burt, our own striker, was one of the men detailed to go, and when I heard this I at once thought of the puppy I wanted so much. I managed to see Burt before he started, and when asked if he could bring the little dog to me he answered so heartily, "That I can, mum," I felt that the battle was half won, for I knew that if I could once get the dog in camp he would take care of him, even if I could not.
Burt brought him and kept him in his tent that night, and the little fellow seemed to know that he should be good, for Burt told me that he did not whimper once, notwithstanding it was his first night from his mother and little companions. The next morning, when he was brought to me, Faye's face was funny, and after one look of astonishment at the puppy he hurried out of the tent—so I could not see him laugh, I think. He is quite as pleased as I am, now, to have the dog, for he gives no trouble whatever. He is fed condensed milk, and I take care of him during the day and Burt has him at night. He is certainly much better behaved in the ambulance than either of the small boys who step upon our feet, get into fierce fights, and keep up a racket generally. The mothers have been called upon to settle so many quarrels between their sons, that the atmosphere in the ambulance has become quite frigid.
The day we came from the post, while I was grieving for the little greyhound and many other things I had not been permitted to bring with me, and the rocking-chair was bruising my ankles, I felt that it was not dignified in me to submit to the treatment I was being subjected to, and I decided to rebel. Mrs. Barker and her small son had been riding on the back seat, and I felt that I was as much entitled to a seat here as the boy, nevertheless I had been sitting on the seat with Mrs. Phillips's servant and riding backward. This was the only place that had been left for me at the post that morning. After thinking it all over I made up my mind to take the small boy's seat, but just where he would sit I did not know.
When I returned to the ambulance after the next rest—I was careful to get there first—I sat down on the back seat and made myself comfortable, but I must admit that my heart was giving awful thumps, for Mrs. Barker's sharp tongue and spitfire temper are well known. My head was aching because of my having ridden backward, and I was really cross, and this Mrs. Barker may have noticed, for not one word did she say directly to me, but she said much to her son—much that I might have resented had I felt inclined. The small boy sat on his mother's lap and expressed his disapproval by giving me vicious kicks every few minutes.
Not one word was said the next morning when I boldly carried the puppy to that seat. Mrs. Barker looked at the dog, then at me, with great scorn, but she knew that if she said anything disagreeable Mrs. Phillips would side with me, so she wisely kept still. I think that even Faye has come to the conclusion that I might as well have the dog—who lies so quietly in my lap—now that he sees how I am sandwiched in with rocking-chairs, small boys, and servants. The men march fifty minutes and halt ten, each hour, and during every ten minutes' rest Harold and I take a little run, and this makes him ready for a nap when we return to the ambulance. From this place on I am to ride with Mrs. Cole, who has her own ambulance. This will be most agreeable, and I am so delighted that she should have thought of inviting me.
Camping out is really very nice when the weather is pleasant, but the long marches are tiresome for everybody. The ambulances and wagons are driven directly back of the troops, consequently the mules can never go faster than a slow walk, and sometimes the dust is enough to choke us. We have to keep together, for we are in an Indian country, of course. I feel sorry for the men, but they always march "rout" step and seem to have a good time, for we often hear them laughing and joking with each other.
We are following the Arkansas River, and so far the scenery has been monotonous—just the same rolling plains day after day. Leaving our first army home was distressing, and I doubt if other homes and other friends will ever be quite the same to me. Lieutenant Baldwin was assisted to the porch by his faithful Mexican boy, so he could see us start, and he looked white and pitifully helpless, with both arms bandaged tight to his sides. One of those dreadful dogs is in camp and going to Camp Supply with us, and is as frisky as though he had done something to be proud of.
This cannot be posted until we reach Fort Dodge, but I intend to write to you again while there, of course, if I have an opportunity.
FORT DODGE, KANSAS, May, 1872.
IT was nearly two o'clock yesterday when we arrived at this post, and we go on again to-day about eleven. The length of all marches has to be regulated by water and wood, and as the first stream on the road to Camp Supply is at Bluff Creek, only ten miles from here, there was no necessity for an early start. This gives us an opportunity to get fresh supplies for our mess chests, and to dry things also.
There was a terrific rain and electric storm last evening, and this morning we present anything but a military appearance, for around each tent is a fine array of bedding and clothing hung out to dry. Our camp is at the foot of a hill a short distance back of the post, and during the storm the water rushed down with such force that it seemed as though we were in danger of being carried on to the Arkansas River.
We had just returned from a delightful dinner with Major and Mrs. Tilden, of the cavalry, and Faye had gone out to mount the guard for the night, when, without a moment's warning, the storm burst upon us. The lightning was fierce, and the white canvas made it appear even worse than it really was, for at each flash the walls of the tent seemed to be on fire. There was no dark closet for me to run into this time, but there was a bed, and on that I got, taking the little dog with me for company and to get him out of the wet. He seemed very restless and constantly gave little whines, and at the time I thought it was because he, too, was afraid of the storm. The water was soon two and three inches deep on the ground under the tent, rushing along like a mill race, giving little gurgles as it went through the grass and against the tent pins. The roar of the rain on the tent was deafening.
The guard is always mounted with the long steel bayonets on the rifles, and I knew that Faye had on his sword, and remembering these things made me almost scream at each wicked flash of lightning, fearing that he and the men had been killed. But he came to the tent on a hard run, and giving me a long waterproof coat to wrap myself in, gathered me in his arms and started for Mrs. Tilden's, where I had been urged to remain overnight. When we reached a narrow board walk that was supposed to run along by her side fence, Faye stood me down upon it, and I started to do some running on my own account. Before I had taken two steps, however, down went the walk and down I went in water almost to my knees, and then splash—down went the greyhound puppy! Up to that instant I had not been conscious of having the little dog with me, and in all that rain and water Faye had been carrying me and a fat puppy also.
The walk had been moved by the rushing water, and was floating, which we had no way of knowing, of course. I dragged the dog out of the water, and we finally reached the house, where we received a true army welcome—a dry one, too—and there I remained until after breakfast this morning. But sleep during the night I did not, for until long after midnight I sat in front of a blazing fire holding a very sick puppy. Hal was desperately ill and we all expected him to die at any moment, and I was doubly sorrowful, because I had been the innocent cause of it. Ever since I have had him he has been fed condensed milk only—perhaps a little bread now and then; so when we got here I sent for some fresh milk, to give him a treat. He drank of it greedily and seemed to enjoy it so much, that I let him have all he wanted during the afternoon. And it was the effect of the milk that made him whine during the storm, and not because he was afraid of the lightning. He would have died, I do believe, had it not been for the kindness of Major Tilden who knows all about greyhounds. They are very delicate and most difficult to raise. The little dog is a limp bunch of brindled satin this morning, wrapped in flannel, but we hope he will soon be well.
A third company joined us here and will go on to Camp Supply. Major Hunt, the captain, has his wife and three children with him, and they seem to be cultured and very charming people. Mrs. Hunt this moment brought a plate of delicious spice cake for our luncheon. There is a first lieutenant with the company, but he is not married.
There is only one mail from here each week, so of course there will be only one from Camp Supply, as that mail is brought here and then carried up to the railroad with the Dodge mail. It is almost time for the tents to be struck, and I must be getting ready for the march.
CAMP SUPPLY, INDIAN TERRITORY, May, 1872.
THIS place is quite as dreadful as it has been represented to us. There are more troops here than at Fort Lyon, and of course the post is very much larger. There are two troops of colored cavalry, one of white cavalry, and three companies of infantry. The infantry companies that have been stationed here, and which our three companies have come to relieve, will start in the morning for their new station, and will use the transportation that brought us down. Consequently, it was necessary to unload all the things from our wagons early this morning, so they could be turned over to the outgoing troops. I am a little curious to know if there is a second lieutenant who will be so unfortunate as to be allowed only one half of a wagon in which to carry his household goods.
Their going will leave vacant a number of officers' quarters, therefore there will be no selection of quarters by our officers until to-morrow. Faye is next to the junior, so there will be very little left to select from by the time his turn comes. The quarters are really nothing more than huts built of vertical logs plastered in between with mud, and the roofs are of poles and mud! Many of the rooms have only sand floors. We dined last evening with Captain and Mrs. Vincent, of the cavalry, and were amazed to find that such wretched buildings could be made so attractive inside. But of course they have one of the very best houses on the line, and as company commander, Captain Vincent can have done about what he wants. And then, again, they are but recently married, and all their furnishings are new and handsome. There is one advantage in being with colored troops—one can always have good servants. Mrs. Vincent has an excellent colored soldier cook, and her butler was thoroughly trained as such before he enlisted. It did look so funny, however, to see such a black man in a blue Uniform.
The march down from Fort Dodge was most uncomfortable the first two days. It poured and poured rain, and then poured more rain, until finally everybody and everything was soaked through. I felt so sorry for the men who had to march in the sticky mud. Their shoes filled fast with water, and they were compelled constantly to stop, take them off, and pour out the water. It cleared at last and the sun shone warm and bright, and then there was another exhibition in camp one afternoon, of clothing and bedding drying on guy ropes.
All the way down I was on the lookout for Indians, and was laughed at many a time for doing so, too. Every time something unusual was seen in the distance some bright person would immediately exclaim, "Oh, that is only one of Mrs. Rae's Indians!" I said very little about what I saw during the last day or two, for I felt that the constant teasing must have become as wearisome to the others as it had to me. But I am still positive that I saw the black heads of Indians on the top of ever so many hills we passed. When they wish to see and not be seen they crawl up a hill on the side farthest from you, but only far enough up to enable them to look over, and in this position they will remain for hours, perfectly motionless, watching your every movement. Unless you notice the hill very carefully you will never see the black dot on top, for only the eyes and upper part of the head are exposed. I had been told all this many times; also, that when in an Indian country to be most watchful when Indians are not to be seen.
Camp Supply is certainly in an Indian country, for it is surrounded by Comanches, Apaches, Kiowas, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes—each a hostile tribe, except the last. No one can go a rod from the garrison without an escort, and our weekly mail is brought down in a wagon and guarded by a corporal and several privates. Only last week two couriers—soldiers—who had been sent down with dispatches from Fort Dodge, were found dead on the road, both shot in the back, probably without having been given one chance to defend themselves.
We are in camp on low land just outside the post, and last night we were almost washed away again by the down-pouring rain, and this morning there is mud everywhere. And this is the country that is supposed never to have rain! Mrs. Vincent invited me most cordially to come to her house until we at least knew what quarters we were to have, and Captain Vincent came early to-day to insist upon my going up at once, but I really could not go. We have been in rain and mud so long I feel that I am in no way fit to go to anyone's house. Besides, it would seem selfish in me to desert Faye, and he, of course, would not leave the company as long as it is in tents. We are delighted at finding such charming people as the Vincents at this horrid place.
CAMP SUPPLY, INDIAN TERRITORY, June, 1872.
WE are in our own house now and almost settled. When one has only a few pieces of furniture it does not take long to get them in place. It is impossible to make the rooms look homelike, and I often find myself wondering where in this world I have wandered to! The house is of logs, of course, and has a pole and dirt roof, and was built originally for an officers' mess. The dining room is large and very long, a part of which we have partitioned off with a piece of canvas and converted into a storeroom. We had almost to get down on our knees to the quartermaster before he would give us the canvas. He is in the quartermaster's department and is most arrogant; seems to think that every nail and tack is his own personal property and for his exclusive use.
Our dining room has a sand floor, and almost every night little white toadstools grow up all along the base of the log walls. All of the logs are of cottonwood and have the bark on, and the army of bugs that hide underneath the bark during the day and march upon us at night is to be dreaded about as much as a whole tribe of Indians!
I wrote you how everyone laughed at me on the march down because I was positive I saw heads of Indians on the sand hills so many times. Well, all that has ceased, and the mention of "Mrs. Rae's Indians" is carefully avoided! There has been sad proof that the Indians were there, also that they were watching us closely and kept near us all the way down from Fort Dodge, hoping for a favorable opportunity to steal the animals. The battalion of the —th Infantry had made only two days' march from here, and the herders had just turned the horses and mules out to graze, when a band of Cheyenne Indians swooped down upon them and stampeded every animal, leaving the companies without even one mule! The poor things are still in camp on the prairie, waiting for something, anything, to move them on. General Phillips is mightily pleased that the Indians did not succeed in getting the animals from his command, and I am pleased that they cannot tease me any more.
My ride with Lieutenant Golden, Faye's classmate, this morning was very exciting for a time. We started directly after stable call, which is at six o'clock. Lieutenant Golden rode Dandy, his beautiful thoroughbred, that reminds me so much of Lieutenant Baldwin's Tom, and I rode a troop horse that had never been ridden by a woman before. As soon as he was led up I noticed that there was much white to be seen in his eyes, and that he was restless and ever pawing the ground. But the orderly said he was not vicious, and he was sure I could ride him. He did not object in the least to my skirt, and we started off in fine style, but before we reached the end of the line he gave two or three pulls at the bit, and then bolted! My arms are remarkably strong, but they were like a child's against that hard mouth. He turned the corner sharply and carried me along back of the laundress' quarters, where there was a perfect network of clothes lines, and where I fully expected to be swept from the saddle. But I managed to avoid them by putting my head down close to the horse's neck, Indian fashion. He was not a very large horse, and lowered himself, of course, by his terrific pace. He went like the wind, on and up the hill in front of the guard house. There a sentry was walking post, and on his big infantry rifle was a long bayonet, and the poor man, in his desire to do something for me, ran forward and held the gun horizontally right in front of my horse, which caused him to give a fearful lunge to the right and down the hill. How I managed to keep my seat I do not know, and neither do I know how that mad horse kept right side up on that down jump. But it did not seem to disturb him in the least, for he never slackened his speed, and on we went toward the stables, where the cavalry horses were tied to long picket ropes, and close together, getting their morning grooming.
All this time Lieutenant Golden had not attempted to overtake me, fearing that by doing so he might make matters worse, but when he saw that the horse was running straight for his place on the line, he pushed forward, and grasping my bridle rein, almost pulled the horse on his haunches. He said later that I might have been kicked to death by the troop horses if I had been rushed in among them. We went on to the stables, Lieutenant Golden leading my horse, and you can fancy how mortified I was over that performance, and it was really unnecessary, too. Lieutenant Golden, also the sergeant, advised me to dismount and try another horse, but I said no! I would ride that one if I could have a severer bit and my saddle girths tightened. Dismount before Lieutenant Golden, a cavalry officer and Faye's classmate, and all those staring troopers—I, the wife of an infantry officer? Never! It was my first experience with a runaway horse, but I had kept a firm seat all the time—there was some consolation in that thought.
Well, to my great relief and comfort, it was discovered that the chin chain that is on all cavalry bits had been left off, and this had made the curb simply a straight bit and wholly ineffective. The sergeant fastened the chain on and it was made tight, too, and he tightened the girths and saw that everything was right, and then Lieutenant Golden and I started on our ride the second time. I expected trouble, as the horse was then leaving his stable and companions, but when he commenced to back and shake his head I let him know that I held a nice stinging whip, and that soon stopped the balking. We had to pass three long picket lines of horses and almost two hundred troopers, every one of whom stared at me with both eyes. It was embarrassing, of course, but I was glad to let the whole line of them see that I was capable of managing my own horse, which was still very frisky. I knew very well, too, that the sergeant's angry roar when he asked, "Who bridled this horse?" had been heard by many of them. Our ride was very delightful after all its exciting beginning, and we are going again to morrow morning. I want to let those troopers see that I am not afraid to ride the horse they selected for me.
I shall be so glad when Hal is large enough to go with me. He is growing fast, but at present seems to be mostly legs. He is devoted to me, but I regret to say that he and our old soldier cook are not the dearest friends. Findlay is so stupid he cannot appreciate the cunning things the little dog does. Hal is fed mush and milk only until he gets his second teeth, and consequently he is wild about meat. The odor of a broiling beefsteak the other day was more than he could resist, so he managed to get his freedom by slipping his collar over his head, and rushing into the kitchen, snatched the sizzling steak and was out again before Findlay could collect his few wits, and get across the room to stop him. The meat was so hot it burned his mouth, and he howled from the pain, but drop it he did not until he was far from the cook. This I consider very plucky in so young a dog! Findlay ran after the little hound, yelling and swearing, and I ran after Findlay to keep him from beating my dog. Of course we did not have beefsteak that day, but, as I told Faye, it was entirely Findlay's fault. He should have kept watch of things, and not made it possible for Hal to kill himself by eating a whole big steak!
Yesterday, Lieutenant Golden came in to luncheon, and when we went in the dining room I saw at once that things were wrong, very wrong. A polished table is an unknown luxury down here, but fresh table linen we do endeavor to have. But the cloth on the table yesterday was a sight to behold, with big spots of dirt all along one side and dirt on top. Findlay came in the room just as I reached the table, and I said, "Findlay, what has happened here?" He gave one look at the cloth where I pointed, and then striking his knuckles together, almost sobbed out, "Dot tamn dog, mum!" Faye and Lieutenant Golden quickly left the room to avoid hearing any more remarks of that kind, for it was really very dreadful in Findlay to use such language. This left me alone, of course, to pacify the cook, which I found no easy task. Old Findlay had pickled a choice buffalo tongue with much care and secrecy, and had served it for luncheon yesterday as a great surprise and treat. There was the platter on the table, but there could be no doubt of its having been licked clean. Not one tiny piece of tongue could be seen any place.
The window was far up, and in vain did I try to convince everyone that a strange dog had come in and stolen the meat, that Hal was quite too small to have reached so far; but Findlay only looked cross and Faye looked hungry, so I gave that up. Before night, however, there was trouble and a very sick puppy in the house, and once again I thought he would die. And every few minutes that disagreeable old cook would come in and ask about the dog, and say he was afraid he could not get well—always with a grin on his face that was exasperating. Finally, I told him that if he had served only part of the tongue, as he should have done, the dog would not have been so ill, and we could have had some of it. That settled the matter—he did not come in again. Findlay has served several enlistments, and is regarded as an old soldier, and once upon a time he was cook for the colonel of the regiment, therefore he sometimes forgets himself and becomes aggressive. I do not wonder that Hal dislikes him.