I MARRIED A SOLDIER (part 2)

Fort Inge was begun as Camp Leona in 1845, with the entry of Texas as the 28th state of the Union. It was located in present day Uvalde County close to the Leona River. The 2nd Dragoons were station here in 1849. In December 1849 the post was renamed Fort Inge in honor of Lt. Zebulon M. P. Inge, United States Second Dragoons, a West Point officer killed at the Mexican War battle of Resaca de la Palma

Fort Inge was a one-company post, commanded by Captain Thomas Duncan, Mounted Rifles. Later in the winter, Colonel George B. Crittenden, Mounted Rifles, took command, and Doctor Howard, of San Antonio, was sent to look after the sick. Mrs. Duncan and myself were the only ladies at the post. [link to Lt. Inge’s bio]

IN February husband was granted a short leave of absence, and we made a visit to San Antonio, and Austin, where Dr. R. N. Lane, my brother-in-law, was practicing medicine, and well known to many army people. We left Fort Inge in an ambulance, with no escort; Mr. Lane and the driver were supposed to be a sufficient guard through a country where there were some small settlements and a house to sleep in every night.

At the end of the first day’s ride, we found Dhanis, a small German settlement, where one Mr. Finger kept a house for wayfarers. The ladies’ bedroom­ there seemed to be but one-was small, with a low ceiling, stone floor, and large, open fireplace. The furniture consisted of a bed, wash-stand, some extremely uncomfortable chairs, and a small table, on which our meals were served. With a big fire of dry logs, we felt quite content, after being in the cold wind all day. The fare was simple, but not bad, and, with healthy appetites, we enjoyed the novelty of the situation.

In all my wanderings I have never come across another such bed as that 1. It was shaped just like an egg, and we had to cling like bats to stay in it at all, and had very little rest. I am sure Mr. Finger would have been surprised had we told him the bed was uncomfortable. The ladies’ chamber was, I think, the pride of the house. Men were put to sleep in a room that opened into the stable, and an army officer told me he awoke suddenly one morning, and, on looking up, saw a horse’s head just above his own.

The next stop we made was at Castroville, where we found quite a nice house kept by a quaint old French woman, Madam Tardee, well patronized by army people at that time. The house was clean, and the fare was better than one would expect. The bed­ rooms, up-stairs, were divided by canvas partitions, and we had to whisper if we did not want to be heard all over the house. Later on we found canvas played a conspicuous part in the building of Texas houses. Sometimes one whole side would be made of it, the occupants intending, “some day,” to replace it with more substantial material.

On the third day we drove into San Antonio, stopping at the Plaza House, then the best hotel in the town. It was on the main Plaza, not far from the Cathedral. San Antonio was more Mexican than American then, and the foreign style of architecture interested me very much; also the gardens,

filled as they were with tropical trees and unfamiliar plants and flowers.

After resting at San Antonio, we drove to Austin, taking three or four days to make the distance. We found some very pleasant, cultivated people at Austin, among them Miss Annie Swisher, whom Dr. Lane eventually married; a brighter woman I never met anywhere. Tom Ochiltree, the celebrated, was at that time an Austin society-man.

In two weeks our leave was up, and we left for the Western frontier. We traveled two days, without incident or trouble, from San Antonio towards Fort Inge. Though the drive on the third day was long and tedious, we hoped to reach the post soon after dark. The roads were heavy from recent rains; any one at all familiar with the black and sticky Texas mud can understand the meaning of ” heavy roads.” Evening came upon us when we were still many miles from the fort. The mules showed signs of giving out, and the prospect· of reaching home that night was anything but bright

Husband and the driver held a consultation on the situation; it was certain the mules could travel no farther. The driver thought there was a_ place not far off the road, where we might be allowed to spend the night; so we turned into a dim path, following it until we came to the house. It was so dark by this time we could scarcely see where we were going; but the door was found at last, and, after thundering on it with tremendous force time and again, a voice called out, ” What do you want?” Husband answered, “To stay all night.” “You can’t do it.” ” But we must; there is a lady here, our mules are broken down, and we cannot go on.” “That makes it worse; having a lady, you can’t stay.”

More parlaying followed, when finally a reluctant consent was given for me to go into the house, and the door was opened. As the driver turned the ambulance into the corral, a voice called to him “to be careful, as there was a bit of a bank near,” which in the morning we found to be a sheer descent of at least two hundred feet to the river below, and we had gone close to the edge in the night, never dreaming of its vicinity!

We were taken into a small room, where a fire or’ big logs burned brightly. By the light of it I studied the owner of the voice who had talked in the darkness to us. It was a superb-looking old man I saw, with snow-white beard to his waist. His mild, benevolent face gave me confidence at once, and his manner was kind and gentle.

There were several awkward girls and young men in the room, who were his children, he told us. Without asking permission, the old man mixed me a drink of whiskey and honey, which I declined; but he insisted so much on my tasting it, I did so, rather than hurt his feelings. One of the girls was preparing supper for us, of which we were much in need, and when ready we did full justice to it, simple as it was,–corn-bread, bacon, and coffee, but no butter nor milk.

In the course of the evening, one of the sons, recently married, came in, leading his bride by the hand. Her appearance was so ludicrous I could not repress a smile. Her frock came about to her knees, and below it appeared pantalettes to her heels. A large sun-bonnet, entirely concealing her face, completed her costume.

When time came to retire, we found we were to share the common sleeping-room of the family, there being no other. Indeed, we were fortunate to have a bed to ourselves ! Besides the one given to us were several others, which were filled by two old men, two young men, two girls, and two boys,-ten people in one small room; only three were women, of whom I was one!

There was no sleep for me that night. It turned out the old men had been to a horse-race the day before, and they were going over it in their dreams, shouting and swearing incessantly. My faith in the patriarchal-looking old man was destroyed as I listened to his loud and angry voice while he slept. I lay watching for the dawn, and could plainly see the stars through the cracks in the roof. As they disappeared and morning broke, we got up and made hasty preparations for departure, and, after paying for our night’s lodging, we left, very thankful to escape from such a place.

We heard, afterwards, the true character of these people. They were outlaws of the worst description; but while we were under their roof they treated us well.

Shortly before we stayed at their house one of the boys accidentally shot and killed his brother. Throwing down his gun, he exclaimed, ” I have the damnedest luck of any fellow I know!”

Vje were happy to reach Fort Inge and home the next day, and made no more expeditions until we left for Fort Clark.

VI

THE officers and soldiers stationed at Fort Inge were ordered to Fort Clark in the spring, and Inge was abandoned for several years. Fort Clark was a pleasant post, on the Las Moras River, within a day’s drive of our old station. The change was very agreeable to us all, the garrison being a large one, with a number of officers and ladies.

A funny little house had been put up for us before we arrived, all the quarters for officers being occupied. The walls were built of green logs with the bark left on them, and they were set up on end,­ not like the usual log-cabin. The Mexicans call a house of that kind a “jacal” (pronounced hackal). The walls were seven or eight feet high, and supported a slanting roof. There was really but one room in the house, with an enormous chimney, built of stone, in the middle of it. The spaces between the logs were chinked with mud, or plaster, perhaps, but that was all the plaster there was about it. We had no ceiling,-nothing but the shingles over our heads through the long, hot summer.

On one side of the big chimney was the bedroom, on the other, a sitting-room. We had a porch at one end of the house, with a shelter of bushes to protect us from the sun, and we had also a room, some distance off, for a kitchen, where Mike set up his stove, and we were housekeeping again. The kitchen floor was nothing but the ground, so there was no scrubbing to be done,-it could only be sprinkled and swept.

In the summer Mike left us to work for the quartermaster. No one could be found to take his place but” French Josephine,” a poor exchange, but we were glad to have any one. ‘ She gave us very little of her society or anything else, only coming home in time to prepare our very frugal meals. She knew the time of day by the bugle-calls, and often asked me, ” Did stable-call went yet?”

Our little house was so far from the other quarters, I think the Indians could have crept in upon us, taken our scalps, and ridden away, without being molested. Nothing troubled us, however, but the field-rats and mice, which were there in numbers when we first occupied the house. They came into the room round the walls, where the boards of the floor were scooped out to fit the upright logs of which the house was built. All being green at first, they dried during the intensely hot summer, and very soon the floor and walls were far apart, so that the rats and mice came and went without ceremony. We saw a rat drag a small bottle of sweet-oil from one side of the room all the way across, and down under the floor on the other side.

The rats and mice were bad, but we found a tremendous snake on the mantel-piece, and that was much worse. I was just about to retire one _night, when we heard a suspicious rustling among some papers, and there he was, moving cautiously among them; how it ever got up there we could not imagine. I fled out of doors, while my husband killed it with his saber. Another large one was killed in the brush at the end of the porch. Sometimes a skunk would pass the house, but never very close. He is a beautiful little animal to see,· but distance lends enchantment in his case.

I must not forget to tell of the chicken-coop, built by the “lieutenant,” at a great outlay, not of money, but of patience and temper. The material was oak barrel-staves, hard and dry, into which it was almost impossible to drive a nail. The builder started to work in the morning cheerfully, and anxious to complete the job. For a few moments the hammering went on vigorously; then the hatchet could be seen flying through the air into the chaparral. Much time was spent hunting for it, but it seemed a relief to the wounded feelings (or fingers) to send the hatchet spinning into space, when it had come in contact with a thumb or finger. By the time the coop was finished there was not a sound one on either hand.

In the fall our first daughter was born. I had no one to take care of her and me but husband and the doctor. The ladies of the garrison took turns dressing the baby every day, as I could not trust the French girl to touch her. When she was three days old there was a violent storm, and the rain poured into the house through the crevices between the logs, out of which the plaster had long since fallen. We were covered over with blankets, to keep us dry, and did not suffer at all; but the situation was not pleasant for the mother of a three-days’-old baby.

If that poor child had known of how many comforts, she was deprived by coming into the world on the Western frontier, she would have been· much aggrieved, and, if it were possible, would have yelled louder than she did. My own experience was extremely limited regarding the needs of a young baby; but in the after-years I knew the poor thing had been starved and half frozen, in consequence of which she cried for six months, and hardly slept day or night, the only means she had of showing she was badly treated.

The day before Christmas we left Fort Clark for a second visit to San Antonio and Austin. The weather was like summer, and the evening was so warm in camp we were glad to get out of the tent for the air. By morning a stiff norther was blowing, and water in a bucket in the tent froze to the bottom. It was bitter cold, and we were so anxious about the baby, fearing she might freeze to death.

Our ambulance was better calculated for a summer ride than a journey on a freezing winter’s day. Our driver, Biles by name, had begun very early in the morning to celebrate Christmas by taking a great deal more whiskey than was good for him, which he procured from some unknown source. As it was a warm day when we left Fort Clark, he, soldier-like, “took no thought for the morrow,” and forgot his overcoat. We found out as soon as we started from camp that the man was too drunk to drive, and we had not gone far before he became unconscious. He was propped up on the front seat beside husband, who drove, and who occasionally administered a sharp crack over his head with the whip, to rouse him and keep him from freezing to death. I sat behind, with the baby on my lap, completely covered with blankets to protect her from the wind, and an anxious peep I took to see how she fared, lest, while keeping her warm and excluding the cold air, I might smother her.

There we were, traveling, over the prairie, far from any settlement, with no escort, and a young baby and a helpless drunken soldier to be cared for. It was an anxious day for us, and we were much relieved when, late in the afternoon, we could see the little town of Dhanis in the distance, where we would find a fire and the assistance we needed.

A new house of entertainment had been built since our last visit. We were given a large, bare-looking-, carpetless room, with an open fireplace, which, from some defect in the chimney, smoked dreadfully, and all the doors and windows had to be left open in consequence, so that we really regretted old Finger’s guest-chamber, with the stone floor and egg-shaped bed. Biles recovered by the time we reached the house, and when the blankets were removed from the baby she was found to be as cheerful as possible, and seemed to enjoy the numerous volunteer nurses who came to my relief. One especially she liked extremely,-a girl with one leg shorter than the other, who held her in her arms and rose on the long leg, and then came down on the short one, all the time making a humming, grunting noise in her throat that seemed to charm the baby. We would have liked to keep her as a nurse, but she could not leave her home.

The next day we continued our travels, which were uneventful to the end. We were tired when we reached Austin, and glad to rest, and we remained some time with our kind friends at their pleasant home. When we returned to San Antonio, husband, much to our delight (or my delight, at least), was ordered to remain there on duty. We rented a small house, or rather two three-roomed houses together, where we lived until May.

There were no communicating doors, so we had to go into the street to reach the sitting-room from our bedroom. The kitchen was by itself, in the yard; but these inconveniences were mere trifles. When we left Austin we took with us two black servants, a cook, and a small girl as nurse, who announced to me that her name was “Miss Indiana Maria Jane Walton;” but whether she adopted the name, or it was given by her sponsors, I do not know. Her resources for amusement were wonderful, and she talked all day to the baby, who seemed to understand and admire her black face very much. She tied strings to the door-mat, put the baby on it, and took her to pay imaginary visits, the mat serving as a carriage, while Miss Walton herself, with long shaving curls hanging from her ears, was horse and chaperon at the same time, looking entirely serious and very important.

VII

In May Lieutenant Lane was ordered to proceed to Fort McIntosh, a twelve days’ journey from San Antonio by wagons. It is now. made in less than that many hours by the cars. We knew what to expect in the way of quarters, etc., as we had been there a few days when traveling from the coast to Fort Inge. The friends whom we left at McIntosh were all gone, and their places filled by strangers, but they received us kindly, and we were soon quite at home.

The heat was dreadful. The houses were mere shells, entirely exposed to the baking sun all day long. Not a green thing was to be seen but a few ragged mesquite-trees. Here and there a blade of grass attempted to grow in the scorching, sandy soil, but it was soon burned up by the hot sun.

Back of our quarters was quite a large yard, but there was not a living thing in it, except tarantulas, scorpions, and centipedes, with an occasional rattle­ snake for variety. As long as we left them undisturbed they were harmless. I found a large tarantula by the house one day, and teased it with a stick. He stood up immediately on his great hairy hind legs and showed fight, when I left him to amuse himself with the piece of wood, and got out of his way.

During that summer-1856-the regiment of Mounted Rifles was ordered to New Mexico, and we were soon on the move again, after having been about two months at McIntosh. We left July 16, to join the troops at Fort Clark, from which point they were to begin a march of nearly one thousand miles, which would take them· far ‘into the fall to accomplish, being obliged to travel slowly to save the animals as much as possible through the hot weather.

We arrived at Fort Clark on the 22d of July, and remained until the 27th, when, everything being ready, we left with one of the three columns’ into which the regiment was divided, and which were two or three days’ travel apart. We had quite a comfortable “outfit” for a lieutenant and family, owning a pretty little ambulance and as fine a pair of large gray mules as one would wish to see. They could travel all day without-in sporting parlance­ “turning a hair.” On the first day out from Clark they fully demonstrated there was plenty of life in them. I was sitting on the front seat of the carriage, holding the reins, while my husband was on the back with the baby, when a riderless horse came rushing by. Away. went the lively grays across the prairie, when the baby was quickly deposited on my lap, and a stronger hand than mine seized the reins and brought the frisky fellows round to the road, after a good run and looking none the worse for it.

There were several ladies besides myself with the command, but we saw very little of each other on those awful hot days. We broke camp, usually, at daylight every morning, and tents were again pitched at noon, when we had little desire for anything but to get under shelter and stay there until the sun went down. Then, after enjoying the cool breeze, which nearly always came with the night in Texas, we were ready to retire. How well I remember the sweet evening air, laden, as it often was, with the fragrance of a little plant that covered the camp ground, and which bore a tiny yellow flower. As the wagons rolled over and bruised it, the air was filled with the delicious odor, ,which was the same as the lemon, verbena, or balm. I have often wondered why it was not utilized for making perfumery; perhaps it has been by this time.

Bedtime came early in camp. By ten o’clock, or even before, lights were out, and nothing could be heard but the tramp of the sentinel, the rattle of the chains by which the mules were fastened to the wagons, and the steady munching noise made by the animals while chewing their corn. Frequently the coyotes came outside the camp and serenaded us with their dreary, melancholy howls and barks, but we were too weary to be disturbed by them. All was peaceful, and it was hard to believe that behind that little rise, or clump of grass, Indians could easily watch what was going on, and be ready to run off any stray mule or horse that chanced to wander their way.

There were several army posts along our route, and to arrive at one was a pleasant variety in the irksomeness of the long days. Camp Lancaster was the first we passed,-August 2,- and was the

worst station I had seen in Texas, but the ladies I met at the post seemed cheerful and contented. We dined with Captain and Mrs. R. S. Granger. On the 12th we reached Fort Davis, where the quarters were bad, but the surroundings very beautiful. We met with much kindness and hospitality everywhere we stopped, receiving presents of butter, eggs, milk, etc. No one knows, who has not been deprived of these necessities, what a luxury a little milk or a pat of butter becomes when unobtainable, which was usually the case with us when traveling. Often, in Texas, when we tried to buy milk at a ranch, where there were thousands of cattle, there was not a drop to be had. The owners would not take the trouble to have it even for themselves. So you can understand how we enjoyed the numerous dainties sent us by friends as we wandered in the wilds of Texas.

We made what was called a very quick journey to Fort Bliss, from Fort Clark, arriving August 27, two days less than a month on the road. Now, one can be half around the world in that time, and we had only traveled between five and six hundred miles. Think of it!

When we struck some Mexican towns on the Rio Grande, below Fort Bliss, we were delighted; it was so pleasant to see again green trees and grass, after having had, for so long, nothing but the Spanish bayonet and soap-weed on which to rest our weary eyes.

I was constantly on the lookout for Indians, and a number of bayonet-plants together had given me many a scare, assuming in the distance almost any shape,-men on horseback and on foot. Some of them grow very tall, and the leaves, shaped much like a bayonet, stand out stiff and straight from the top of the tree. When it dies the spike-like leaves turn downward, covering the stalk to the ground. At the top of it the blossoms appear, first coming up in a solid mass, not unlike a conical­ shaped cabbage-head. As it grows the flowers come out in rows of white bells, all attached to a thick stem, which is frequently eighteen inches high, perhaps more. The pretty, dainty flowers hardly seem to belong to the stiff, prim-looking tree.

After having been deprived as long as we were of fruit and vegetables, it was delightful to find ourselves just in time for the delicious peaches and grapes, brought fresh from old Mexico, over the Rio Grande, every day to Fort Bliss.

I spent hours over the camp-fire, in the broiling sun, preserving peaches for future use. I never enjoyed anything more in my life than those twelve days in our pretty camp on the Rio Grande, at Fort Bliss, and was so sorry when the orders said” move on.” We laid in what fruit we could carry, chickens, etc., for the rest of the march. We had coops for the chickens, which were tied on behind the wagons, and after reaching camp the doors were opened and the poor things turned out. They never left the wagons, but went to roost on them at night, where they were caught and put back into the coops for an early start the next day.

Fort Fillmore, on the Rio Grande, was forty miles from Fort Bliss, and in New Mexico. Such a dreary-

looking place I have seldom seen; but there were some Mexican settlements only a few miles off, which were quite accessible, and when the officers and ladies were tired of home they could go to see their Mexican neighbors. We stayed there part of the day to have the ambulance repaired, and dined with Lieutenant an,dMrs. John D. Wilkins.

At Fort Thorn we found some of. the regiment in quarters, having been ordered to remain. We were delighted it was not to be our station, and were glad to leave. We remained in camp at the post for some time,awaiting orders. Near us were several dragoon companies(” troops,” nowadays) in camp, and among the officers we found some old friends, “Old Billy Grier” for one, whom everybody in the army knew and liked.

Our next move was towards Fort Craig. We camped one night on ground covered with grease­ wood, the roots of which are quite large and burn well, though too rapidly for comfort; it was all the fuel we had.

A severe storm of wind and rain set in that night, and by morning it was so cold I tried to stay in bed with the baby to keep warm. It was decided not to move that day, hoping by the next the weather would be clear. The baby was rather a restless young person to be shut up·within a tent, on a cold, rainy day. She did not approve at all of keeping under the covers, so we had sheet-iron pans filled with hot coals and ashes put into the tent to heat it, and, rolling up in shawls, we got up and were quite comfortable

All day, and the night following, the floods came down, and the husband concluded to move camp the next morning. There was still no sign of clearing weather. We started ahead of the wagon-train, with a company of Mounted Rifles, Lieutenant Lane having been in command of Captain Thomas Duncan’s company since leaving Fort McIntosh. Captain Duncan was on leave.

We had a miserable time that day; all our blankets and shawls in the ambulance were more than damp. When we came late in the evening to a suitable camp-ground, we sat in the ambulance waiting until we were exhausted from the rattle of the wagons; but no such sound came to us, at least not from our train.

The prospect was gloomy enough; we had nothing to eat with us, and the soldiers were hungry and wet to the skin. After watching and hoping against hope that the wagons would certainly come after a while, a man rode into camp with the information that they were ten miles behind and up to the hubs in mud t Pleasant prospect for such a night,­ pouring rain, and no provisions I We were in a grove of cotton-wood-trees, and the men soon started a big fire. It was unnecessary to be cold, even if wet and hungry. Just at the darkest moment a train of wagons was heard approaching, and it proved to be one going down the country empty. The wagon-master was able to supply the soldiers with rations for a meal, and we gladly accepted some bread, bacon, and coffee from their store, and felt wonderfully cheered after a hot supper. They furnished us with candles, also.

The prospect for a night’s rest was bad; though we were not actually out in the rain. The ambulance was too small to lie down in, so we sat up and held the baby on our laps, turn about. Suddenly she gave one of those hoarse, croupy coughs, terrifying with the most comfortable surroundings; but it was distracting, situated as we were, with every wrap more than moist, and thirty miles from a doctor or house of any kind. By some good fortune I had a few simple medicines in the ambulance. I lost no time in administering them, and the results were very gratifying. The night passed and we hailed the morning with joy.

VIII

As soon as it was daylight we decided that I with the baby and an escort, must go on to Fort Craig, thirty miles away, to see the doctor, leaving my husband to follow later with the company. The roads were bad, but we reached Craig early in the afternoon.

Several officers of the regiment were already stationed at the post, among whom were Colonel George B. Crittenden and Colonel Andrew Porter, so I was sure of meeting friends. But it never occurred to us that the fifty-seven consecutive hours of rain that had fallen might have inconvenienced the people at the fort, as well as ourselves. All we wanted was a dry, comfortable room for the baby. What was my dismay when I heard that the dirt roofs of the adobe quarters were leaking all over. Mrs. Porter was quite ill, and the water was pouring into the room where she was in bed under a tent-fly, with an umbrella over her head! Colonel Crittenden’s quarters were in the same building, and the rain streamed through the ceiling like a shower-bath; but it was all he had to offer, and, though everything was saturated in the room but the bed, we took it. The rain ceased towards night and large fires were built; but the water still ran in from the roof. I trembled for the baby when I saw where we were to stay, but under the doctor’s care she improved at once. Possibly living so long in tents had hardened us, and made us less liable to catch a cold; we were young, too, and not nervous.

The” lieutenant,” with the company, reached Craig late the day I arrived, and the soldiers went into camp just outside the fort. We remained in the quarters several days, taking our meals with Colonel and Mrs. Porter. She recovered before very long from her illness, and found plenty to do to restore order in her drowned-out apartments.

The ground and tents having soon dried in the camp, we decided to leave the still wet walls of the adobe quarters, which we did, and were pleased with the change, being much more comfortable.

Whether it was camping on the Rio Grande or the days we spent in the wet room at Craig, I do not know, but I succumbed, while in camp, to an attack of chills and fever. One night, I remember, my husband had to bring the doctor from the fort to see me. During his absence fever came on, and while lying looking up at the tent I saw a centipede five or six inches long, crawling just over my head. I watched it so intently that by the time he and the doctor came the thing had grown as large as an elephant to my fevered imagination, and I could only point to it in terror. It was quickly put out of the way.

When I was able to move we broke camp and be­ gan our travels toward Santa Fe, arriving October 9. Santa Fe, at that time, had but a small American population outside of army officers and their families. Mexicans and adobe houses were everywhere, and our surroundings could hardly have been more novel had we been dropped into Spain. We were most delightfully entertained while in the old city by Cap­ tain and Mrs. Nicholls. She was a daughter of General De Russy, U.S. Army.

Our station was to be Cantonment Burgwin, four days’ march from Santa Fe, over a frightful road, if it could be called “a road.”• You may go to the foot of any mountain in your neighborhood, start up at any point regardless of stones, holes, or other impediments, and you will have an idea of” the road” to Burgwin. In some places the wagons had to be let down with ropes, and nothing was thought of a drop of two or three feet, from one rock to another. Consequently, we were well shaken up and bruised and battered when the post was reached.

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