I MARRIED A SOLDIER (part 10)

As the summer went by, the rooms in the house were finished one by one, so that we had a place to put any visitors who came that way; but they did not seem to have much business at Selden, for I only remember having two guests, Colonels Bridgeman and Carey, paymasters. I never objected to entertaining men; they were easily pleased, and willing to make due allowance for the lack of variety of dainties in the larder. I must confess to a feeling of uneasiness when the wives came too, lest they might not be satisfied with our very plain style of housekeeping.

We had very little furniture, and those things which the quartermaster could not supply we tried to make ourselves, or used something that answered the same purpose. For instance, one of our washstands was made of a small hogshead, in which some c;hina had been packed. It was turned upside down, and round it I tacked a white muslin drapery; then, with a large towel spread over the top, the effect was good, especially when the pretty toilet articles were placed upon it.  We made a table in the same way, and this kind of simplicity answered for ourselves, but I think some of the lady visitors might not have been quite pleased with such primitive arrangements.

Fort Seldon New Mexico circa 1875. I have colorized this image for effect, but you can see the original source by clicking on the image.

At the end of four months, the colonel’s health failed so rapidly the doctor told him he must not only leave Fort Selden, but New Mexico, and he must lose no time in going. We arranged our affairs to start immediately, and had an auction of the furniture, etc., we did not care to keep; in fact, we retained only such things as were absolutely necessary. The high prices realized at our sale were absurd, and I was actually ashamed when articles were bid up far beyond their value. Our cook-stove, which cost us about forty-five dollars, sold for eighty.

My sewing-machine, for which I paid less than forty, brought one hundred dollars, and everything went at the same rate. A large tin can, which was full of lard when we left San Antonio, had a few pounds still in it, and it sold for more than the original cost. You see those were the days when freight was carried from the States in wagons, and sent all over New Mexico; and the cost of transportation, added to the price of the article you wished to purchase, made it very expensive, so that what was paid to us was much less than the merchants would have charged for the same thing. Our freight was taken from the coast to New Mexico in government wagons, so that it cost us no more than the original price and the transportation from Philadelphia to Texas by sea.

After Isaac became our cook we bought his pony. It was sold also, and as it brought more than we paid for it, we divided the surplus with him, which pleased him greatly. We were much relieved to find that we not only had not lost our auction, but made money; and, as another expensive expedition was before us, we were glad to have enough for our wants.  We had just begun to recover financially from our last journey to New Mexico, via Texas, and if our sale had failed to supply part of the sum required for the one about to be taken, we would have been forced to borrow money to pay expenses. To have a debt hanging over us long would have driven me insane, I believe.

I think only two officers who were at Fort Selden at that time are now in the army, Captains Russell and Elting. Dr. Seguin, one of the physicians stationed there, is now living in New York, and very eminent and skillful. I suppose he has forgotten the experiments he delighted to make with toads and ravens, feeding deadly poisons to them, some of which had no effect whatsoever. Selden was a fine field for one who desired to test the efficacy of certain drugs on toads, for the place was swarming with them, so that I disliked going out of doors at night, at which time they took possession of every walk and road about the place. You were sure, almost, if you stepped outside your door, to feel a soft, wriggling  mass under your foot.  With a screech you jumped to the other side, only to land on a second toad ; by that time you were ready to go home.

One beautiful July morning we drove away from Fort Selden with not one pang of regret, and dry­ eyes. We were bound for Santa Fe, and our faithful Isaac was with us, as overseer in general and in charge of the culinary department in particular. There was sorrow in our first camp. Our beautiful buggy horse fell sick, and died in a few hours. The tears we failed to shed that morning when leaving Selden flowed freely for him at night.

Science and human energy had wrought a wonderful change in the “Jornado del Muerto” since we made that anxious and exciting night march across it in July, 1861.

About in the center of it an artesian well had been sunk, and an abundance of good water was the result.

A comfortable ranch was built, with a high stockade about it for protection, and strangers who desired to remain were given accommodations. It was really an oasis in the desert. All government animals and employees used the water without charge, but it was sold to citizen travelers.

We drove along the old familiar road without incident or accident, except the upsetting of one of the wagons while going down a very steep hill. I was perfectly unmoved when I saw it turn a somersault, knowing there was nothing in it that could be injured.

All the good china and small amount of furniture we had was disposed of before leaving Fort Selden, and there was nothing in our mess•chest but tin plates, cups without handles, dilapidated saucers, and dishes to match.

One evening we camped on a high bluff, not far from a Pueblo or Indian village. The inhabitants were peaceful, law-abiding citizens, who as yet had not adopted the conventional evening-dress. Our camp in their immediate neighborhood was as good as a circus to them; they were fairly crowded about the tents, where preparations for supper were going on, which they watched with intense interest.

Biscuit-dough was made up, cut out, and ready to be baked, coffee ground, etc. The air was hot; storm-clouds lowered in the sky; the Indians wore heavy blankets, at which I wondered, but I was only a short time finding out there was not a vestige of clothing beneath them. While watching everything intently, the wearers were overcome with  the  heat, and away went the blankets until they cooled off sufficiently to replace them.

Soon the wind began to blow in little ominous puffs, and the board with the unbaked biscuit upon it was carried into the tent, while all the articles lying around were hastily gathered up and put in a safe place,-none too soon, for the storm burst upon us suddenly, scattering the light red dust over everything inside and outside of the tent, ornamenting our ‘pretty white unbaked biscuit with a coating of the finest red sand.

My uninvited guests left hurriedly to seek shelter from the abundant showers that fell, and we were glad to have them go, though the cause of their hasty departure deprived us of our supper that night. Everything prepared was ruined, and had to be thrown away, so that we had nothing but stale bread to eat, which at least kept us from starving.

XXXI

As there were several Mexican and Indian settlements along the Rio Grande, the journey was much less tiresome than many we had made, where for hundreds of miles there was not a house to be seen in the early days.

Socorro was one of the towns through which we passed, and where we had stopped at the house of an American living there very comfortably. I remember an incident that happened once when going down the country. Some miles before we reached Socorro, the road ran over what was called the ” Sand-Hills,” where the traveling was slow and difficult, and the wagons fell behind the ambulance some little distance.

I was riding with the colonel in the buggy, when our attention was attracted to the maneuvers of some men on ponies, who were circling round and round on the low sand-hills, about six hundred yards to the right of us. There were, I suppose, twelve in all, and in true Indian fashion they wrapped their blankets about their bodies in thick folds before dashing up the road to meet us. Everyone was certain they were Navajos from their actions. When I went back into the ambulance the driver assured me. “

Them was Navajos, because he had just been in their country and knowed ’em,” and he took his rifle in hand for business. The two or three soldiers with us had their rifles ready and cocked. The colonel was on the ground by the head of the horse, with his arm through the bridle and a revolver in his hand. For a few moments the suspense was awful; no one in the ambulance spoke, as we watched the supposed Indians galloping, with arms and legs working, to the top of the hill.

When they saw our warlike attitude they shouted “Amigos” (friends), and were very surprised that they were mistaken for Indians. They were ” Mexi­canos,” and meant no harm,-so they said. Probably, if they had not found us as well prepared as we were to receive them, they would have attacked us for plunder or murder, as the case might be.

When the matter was mentioned to the American in Socorro, he was very indignant, and said it had been done intentionally; that the escort should have fired upon them, as they undoubtedly had designs upon us.

So you see I was always anxious when traveling with small parties, and I am certain I had enough of “sudden fears” to turn my hair gray in a ‘1 single night;” but in my case something more was required, for it has not changed color to this day, although I have had shocks sufficient to ruin my nervous system and whiten my locks.

On another occasion we were going from Santa Fe to Fort Union, when we came to a place where the road forked. Just at that point was a burro (or don­ key), seemingly just killed.  I wondered that it was lying there, but could get no explanation from the colonel, or the escort, how it came to be dead on the road, although they knew all the circumstances from a traveler whom he had met.· He said a party of Indians had crossed the road a little while before, and meeting a Mexican, murdered him and killed the burro, leaving its body on the spot to show others what might be their fate. I do not know what had been done with the body of the man; we only saw the little dead burro. Everyone was on the watch, until we were miles away from the place where the poor wretch had been murdered; then I was told of it.

This is a photo of Fort Marcy New Mexico. The image is linked to a more in-depth examination of the history of the fort.

When we reached Santa Fe in the summer of 1869, we obtained permission to occupy some empty quarters at Fort Marcy, where we decided to remain for a few months. The weather was perfect, very different from that we had left at Fort Selden. Our scant allowance of furniture was arranged in the rooms in a few moments, and assuredly did not strike our visitors as being luxurious.  Many no doubt thought we were not even comfortable, but were quite content and very happy, although our only carpet was an old tent-fly, our beds four cots, making the room look like a ward in the hospital, Dr. Huntington said. At the window I tacked up a red army blanket for a curtain, and with two or three camp chairs you have the contents of the apartment.

Army people were not surprised at the meager display of adornment, but I thought civilians were rather startled; however, I took no trouble to explain, nor to apologize for appearances. I was not afraid of robbers, having nothing anybody would carry off. Our quarters were left to the mercy of any one who chose to enter. Isaac still presided in the kitchen, and kept the house in good order.

Early in the fall (I believe it was), Annie, daughter of General Getty, U.S.A. was married to Charles McClure, U.S.A. The wedding was as brilliant as it was possible to have at that time; there was no railroad to bring flowers and dainties from “the States;” but the supper was very handsome and everybody was there to enjoy it.

In 1869 we found the mail facilities much improved since our former visits to Santa Fe. There was a daily stage running to and from the end of the railroad then being built towards New Mexico, a wonderful change from the monthly mail of yore. While on the frontier we received a great deal of our clothing through the mails, as express charges were very high, often amounting to more than the cost of the article received.

When we were stationed at Fort Union I ordered a melodeon from Philadelphia, and on the box was marked distinctly, “to be sent by first wagon-train from Fort Riley, Kansas, to Fort Union, New Mexico.”  By some blunder it was sent out on the stage as express matter, and the charges were ” fifty-three dollars.” The melodeon cost fifty.

The pleasure it gave me more than compensated for the large amount paid for getting it out. There was not then a piano at the post, and, although a melodeon is a mournful, grunty, wheezy instrument, a cross between an accordion and an indifferent organ, it was much better than nothing.

When we left New Mexico it was bought from us for one hundred dollars, to be used in a Protestant church in Santa Fe, then struggling for a foothold, which it secured at last, after great perseverance.  In it there is now a good organ.  What has become of the melodeon since the advent of its more pretentious relation, I never heard.

Brigadier General Asa B. Carey. You can read more about “Colonel” Carey by clicking on the image.

There were many pleasant army families in Santa Fe between the years 1866 and 1869. These, with the citizens, made a large circle of refined and cultivated people. Among them were Governor and Mrs. Mitchell, Judge and Mrs. Slough, Judge and Mrs. Houghton, General Getty and family, Colonel and Mrs. A. B. Carey, Colonel and Mrs. Bridgman, Major Rucker, the Rochesters, Kobbes, Bells, Watts, Dr. Huntington and wife, Dr. McKee, Charles McClure and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Griffin, Mr. and Mrs. Elkins, Mr. and Mrs. Edgar, and many others whose names I cannot now recall. Altogether we had a charming society.

I have scarcely more than mentioned that most important beast of burden in New Mexico,-the burro, or donkey. No load is too heavy nor awkward for him to carry, it seemed. Wood was brought from the hills to the towns, cut and ready for the fire, fastened on his back and sides by raw-hide thongs. He was loaded down with masses of fodder, which left nothing to be seen of him but eyes, ears, and hoofs. Indeed, there was nothing to be transported that a Mexican did not strap to a burro; very frequently two men rode the same little beast, guiding him by punches in the head and neck with a sharp stick.

Nothing caused such agonizing fear in a mule as the sight of a loaded burro; they did not recognize each other as brothers. Sometimes, when riding quietly along the road, we would come suddenly upon a drove of burros with their packs ; instantly the mules were terror-stricken, trying to push to the side of the road, or even to turn round,-anything to get away from those moving masses, the locomotive power of which they could not understand; even the sight of the burro himself was not reassuring. It was a happy day for the children when wood was brought to the house on a burrow.    He was driven into the corral, where, by a dexterous pull at a rawhide string, his load fell to the ground, and the patient little animal was relieved for a moment.

But as soon as the wood was off his back the children were on it, and round and round they rode as long as the polite, lazy Mexican would stay, and he never seemed to be in a hurry. The burro’s feelings were not consulted; his labors were arduous, his pleasures few. Six years ago the burro was still carrying the same heavy loads as of old, in Santa Fe, droves of them appearing in the narrow streets, closely followed by their owners, Mexicans and Indians, who seemed to have a wonderful faculty for keeping them in the path

Did one wander to the right or left, tempted by the sight of a morsel of paper or handful of shavings, off of which he hoped to lunch, he was soon made aware of his indiscretion by a punch from the sharp stick, and a vigorous ” Shoo !” from his master, when he would again meekly join his companions, fully convinced of the folly, on his part, of trying to enjoy himself even in a mild way.

As the fall arrived we decided to push on to Fort Union, where we were to make final preparations to cross the Northern Plains for the seventh time. When our trunks and mess-chest were packed and beds rolled up we were ready to start, and I said farewell to Santa Fe, not dreaming of seeing it and ” Old Baldy’s’ ‘ hoary head ever again, but we have been to the ancient city several times since.

We remained at Fort Union some days. Before we left we were serenaded by the band of the Third Cavalry, formerly Mounted Rifles.vAfter the music was over the soldiers drank to the health of their old officer and, as they expressed it, “his lady.”

The weather was delightful for traveling, though the nights were more than cool. Just as soon as Colonel Lane was well enough to go we were off. We remained a night and part of a day at Max­ well’s Ranch in the Ute country, the Indians coming and going about the house, evidently without restriction, so that they did not hesitate to walk right into our room when they saw the door open. One of them, a great tall chief, I offended mortally ; with majestic mien he strode into the house, rolled in his blanket and wore on his head a tall black felt hat with a feather in it. After he had shaken hands with the colonel, but taking no notice of me whatsoever,­ I walked up to him and said, “Soldier,” in Spanish.

Staring at me with the utmost scorn, he sailed out of the room without a word. Whether he did not like to be called a soldier, or was indignant that a white squaw had spoken to him, I could not tell, but he did not return.

A round piece of tin cut from a tomato-can, and thrown out of doors, afforded the greatest satisfaction to the fortunate finder, and he and a friend gravely discussed the question as to where it would show the best advantage, on scalp-lock, necklace, or bracelet.

At Trinidad we found quite a village had sprung up, and a small tavern, where travelers were entertained. Like all new far Western towns, its reputation was most unsavory, and it was a question whether to stay in the house and run the risk of being robbed and murdered, or camp in the cold away from the town. We concluded we liked the shelter of four stout walls more than the airy ones of the tent, and went to the tavern.

Every man you met wore, as a matter of course, a revolver and knife to be ready for all emergencies, quarrels being frequently brought about for the mere pleasure of fighting. One of the first things that always struck me when we reached civilization was the absence of the belt from a man’s waist, in which he carried all kinds of weapons ; we were so accustomed to the sight on the frontier, I missed it.  It was pleasant, though, to feel one might go half a mile from his home without running the risk of being murdered, and that it was not necessary to always be armed. Our road ran through (or near) Fort Lyon, Colorado, where we spent a day at Colonel W. H. Penrose’s pleasant home and enjoyed the change and rest.

At our first halting-place after leaving that post, we were overtaken by Captain Yates and his troop of Seventh Cavalry. We stayed all night at the small board shanty used as a mail-station, occupying the state apartment, I suppose, for the walls were papered with illustrations from various pictorials. I had a suspicion the pictures were put there more to keep out the wind, of which there is an undue allowance of kind and quality in Colorado, than to embellish the room. A bright and cheery little place it was, with windows that commanded a view of the country for miles in every direction, and the road along which traveled those brave cavalrymen with their much-loved captain at the head of the column. They were going our way for several days, and we were glad of the addition to our small escort, and sorry when the time came to separate. I never met Captain Yates again. He and his gallant soldiers were massacred with Custer and his command, none returning to tell the tale.

From Fort Lyon, we traveled through a part of the country we had never seen before to Fort Wallace, of which post we had heard frequently, and generally disagreeably.

A friend I had known well at Fort Union, New Mexico, and for whom I had a most tender regard, died of cholera at Fort Wallace, while on her way to New York. The fearful disease broke out among the soldiers going East; she went about doing everything in her power to relieve the sick, until she became a victim herself, and died in a short time. She was the wife of Colonel Henry Bankhead, U.S.A., and a daughter of the late Bishop Wainwright, of New York.

Her heart was light when she left us at Fort Union at the prospect of so soon seeing her home and friends. In a few weeks came the news that she had died in a tent at (or not far from) Fort Wallace. So my ideas of the place were not pleasant, and were unchanged when we saw it. The kindness extended to us by Major Butler and his wife, of an infantry regiment, we cannot forget, they took care of us almost hospitably. We were sorry that he and his family were obliged to live at such a dreary frontier post.

When we left Fort Wallace, we went as straight as we could travel to the end of the railroad, where we found a small settlement named after a big man, Sheridan. The hotel was a good-sized weather-board shell, in which were two stories of stalls called “rooms.” The partitions were only seven or eight feet high, and privacy was out of the question. Had “Peeping Tom” been there, he could have plied his trade and satisfied his curiosity without any attempt at secrecy, the cracks in the boards being wide enough to admit the boldest stare.

Our “stall” was quite large, having two beds in it, but the supply of water for bathing purposes was extremely limited; a quart pitcher would have held all which we found in the room, and which we used recklessly, calling loudly for “more water.” We were told we could have no more until the next day, the spring being a great distance from the house. As we were to leave the following morning, we wondered where the water was to come from for our early ablutions. It was soon made clear to us that if we were so very particular as to require water every day, we must use over again that which we were about to discard; so I placed the basin with the soap-suds in it on the floor for safe-keeping. When retiring, I put my shoes and stockings not far away from the precious water. By some means, it was upset, and the only foot-covering I had at hand was saturated. The colonel, having caused the disaster, meekly gathered everything up, repaired to the hotel parlor, and dried them before the fire, regardless of the assembled guests. It was useless in that house to try to do anything secretly. The sounds from the bar-room and kitchen, not to mention odors, were distinctly audible and apparent in every part of the establishment, and an odd mixture of conversation reached us from the rooms around us. Dr. Alexander, U.S.A., and family were at the hotel that same night, on their way to New Mexico, going East.

What a pleasure it was to be on a train of cars and hear the conductor shout to the tardy ones, “All aboard!” and to feel ourselves rattling over the country to Kansas City. We did not realize that when we reached Sheridan, the old army-life for us was ended. Had I known, I would have lingered fondly about our last camp and have said good-by to the faithful, sturdy little mules that had brought us so safely over many weary miles.

Our last long march began at Fort Selden, New Mexico, and ended at Sheridan, Kansas. We went East, fully expecting to return to the frontier in a few months, but it was not to be.

At Kansas City, we parted with our faithful Isaac, to the deep distress of the children. He secured a situation from the quartermaster at Fort Leavenworth, and passed out of our knowledge.

Our daughter, whom we had left at school, waited anxiously for our arrival, and we were happy to be all together once more.

As I mentioned before, we never returned to our old frontier life again. We have been in New Mexico, California, and Texas several times since, but only as visitors. Colonel Lane was retired from active service in 1870, to my great grief.

It seemed impossible at the time that I could ever settle down to quiet, civilized, respectable life, and remain in the same place year after year. I had become so accustomed to changing station every few months, I liked it, and was always ready and glad to go when an order came to move. We had never lived more than six months at one post, and three or four in the same place gave us the feeling of old inhabitants. We made nine moves in eighteen months in New Mexico, and I did not object at all. I soon fell into the habit of putting very few tacks in curtains and carpets, so that but little force was required to haul down one and pull up the other, and in a short time everything was packed and ready for a march.

Such rapid preparations cannot be made nowadays, nor is there any necessity for it, as there was years ago. Time is required to dismantle and break up the beautiful home even the youngest lieutenant now occupies. Professional packers are needed to insure the safe transportation of the lovely glass, china, and exquisite pictures found in so many army quarters today. Then, when everything is ready, it is stowed away in a freight-car, chartered most probably by the said lieutenant at his own expense, to carry his “traps” to a new station.

Army quarters are better, distance is annihilated by steam, transportation is excellent, even to remote stations; but yet, with all these advantages and so-called modern improvements, are army officers and their families happier than those of thirty or more years ago? I tell you, nay!

I was much impressed at the time of the late Sioux outbreak with the contrast between an old-time “scout” and the modern way of going to war with Indians. Our heroes mounted their horses and away they rode into the wilderness, to be gone for weeks or months, as the case might be, while all the news we had of them was brought by a guide or soldier, mounted on a swift horse, and who very often risked his life to bring news to the post. This mode of carrying dispatches was called an “express.” Imagine the excitement when we heard “an express” from the scout had arrived. We did not dare to think how long a time had elapsed since the man had left it with his letters, private and official, and what might be the fate of the party since his departure.

All this is changed now, and an Indian war is carried on differently. The troops and horses are loaded on steam-cars, howitzers and ammunition sent to “the front” in the same way, while the telegraph is in constant operation noting the arrival and departure of regiments, asking for supplies, and sending the news of the last brush with the enemy far and wide over the land. And, strangest of all, the ladies at one of the posts in Nebraska, by going to a village three miles away, could actually talk to their husbands, then at the seat of war, through the telephone!

This seemed to bring the matter right into their own homes. It was something I could scarcely believe or understand, this fighting Indians with all the modern improvements, so different from the old slow way. And the savages, too, have changed somewhat their methods of warfare. The scions of the various tribes have been educated by the government and well drilled in military tactics at schools in the East, so that when they return to the tepees in the far West they are quite capable of teaching the ways of the white man to their fathers and brothers, and the proper and most advantageous use of their guns of newest pattern.

Years have passed since the events in this simple history occurred; many more have been forgotten. No notes nor journal of much importance were ever kept of our wanderings, which in after-years we regretted exceedingly. In the roving life we led, traveling at least eight thousand miles in an ambulance, we saw much that was novel and interesting, had thrilling adventures frequently, but I cannot recall them with sufficient distinctness to tell of them, and, besides, your patience must now be waning after following me thus far in these reminded.

My experience was that of hundreds of other women, many of whom are far more capable than I of telling the story; but few, if any, have done it, and only the younger ones, with no knowledge of antebellum days. Our daughters have followed in the footsteps of grandmother and mother, and married army officers, cavalry officers.

The relics of our “old army” days are few now; but occasionally in unpacking our chests and trunks, stowed away in a garret, I find something that brings bygone years vividly before me; it may be a tarnished shoulder-strap, a spur, or a big knife in its leather sheath. Each has its history, and I dream while holding them in my hand; the lapse of time is forgotten. I am young again, wandering through the old familiar scenes.

Not long ago, I came across the battered tin box in which our daily luncheon was carried when traveling from camp to camp. The paint was worn off the top, reminding me of a hoary-headed veteran, “grown gray in the service.”

As I raised the lid, a faint odor seemed to rise from its depths, and in a second, memory was busy with the past, traveling back to the old happy days when the little tired, hungry children with eager outstretched hands stood by my side waiting to be served. With a sigh, I closed the box, putting it aside as worthless, to be thrown away. But the tender recollections awakened by the sight of the old friend were too strong. Hurriedly seizing it, I cleared a comfortable corner in a chest and carefully replaced the worn-out box, retiring it, like an old soldier, from active service forever!

And, lest you weary of this o’er-true tale, I will “retire” too.

The End.

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