I MARRIED A SOLDIER (part 4)

Once husband was in a town where a fiesta (or festival) was held, and he became interested in a game going on in the street, taking no notice of his surroundings, until, just at his feet, a Mexican woman, sitting on the ground, unrolled a bundle on her lap, which proved to be a baby covered with small-pox. He did not wait to see the end of the game.

In the same town lived an American merchant, with whom we dealt occasionally. One day he asked me to go into his house to see his wife, who was a Spanish woman, and I went, though I only knew enough of her language to ask her how she was, nor could she speak English.  So we sat smiling and bowing to each other, looking very silly, no doubt, when I remembered there was a baby, and I managed to ask, in Spanish, how it was. Her face changed at once, and she tried her best to make me understand it was not well, pointing her finger to her forehead and cheeks in such a significant way I was certain the child had small-pox.  I did not feel very comfortable, but thought I would sit a little longer.

In a few moments the lady opened a door and called the nurse, who came in with the baby in her arms. One glance, and I fled. Its little yellow face was spotted all over with what I took to be smallpox; but I did not stop to ask any questions, running through the store and into the street to our carriage before I drew breath. I have no doubt my rapid flight amazed the polite little Spanish woman, and that she thought the Senora Americano had gone suddenly crazy. That was coming a little too close to such a loathsome disease for comfort, and after that experience I made no visits unless I knew more about the people on whom I was calling.

We had been but a short time at Fort Bliss when Captain Elliott’s servants, a man, his wife, and daughter, all slaves, were induced against their own inclinations to secure their freedom by crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico. Their departure upset our domestic arrangements very materially, as all were good, capable servants, apparently happy and satisfied with their treatment. They found out the mistake in leaving, too late. They returned of their own accord, wretched and penitent, but the once pleasant and comfortable home was theirs no longer. Captain Elliott had always told them if they left him he would never have them again, and he kept his word, sorry as we all were to part with them, and, heart-broken as they were, he sold them to a rich man near Fort Bliss. They realized too late what they had lost.

Our second daughter was born at Fort Bliss early in the fall, and as she had more comfortable surroundings and better care than her sister, she took a more cheerful view of life, and behaved quite well. A little, old Irish camp-woman took care of her. She had much true Irish wit, and her small, withered face was full of fun. A thick, close-fitting white muslin cap with a deep ruffle hanging from it added to her comical expression.

Kit, the little black child, was extremely ill that summer, and we thought she would die; but she lived to return to the bosom of her family, marry, and kill herself at last by falling down stairs.

In the fall, the husband applied for a year’s leave of absence. He had been on the frontier for five years, and thought he would like a change. The leave was granted, and we made preparations to go East about the middle of October. Mrs. Elliott and baby, her two step-children, and Mexican nurse were to go with us, leaving Captain Elliott at Fort Bliss.

We disliked giving up our pleasant station, where we had been so comfortable and happy. The quarters were tolerably good, and there were fewer insects and snakes than at some other places where we had lived. I only remember seeing one snake, and that was on the bedroom floor. When I awoke one morning I saw what I took to be a curiously striped piece of ribbon. My suspicions were aroused, however, and we soon found out what it was and killed it. We supposed it fell from the thatched roof to the floor. There was no ceiling in the rooms, so that the rafters and thatching were distinctly visible, and there was nothing to prevent a snake dropping in on us when­ ever he felt inclined.

We left Fort Bliss for San Antonio on the 13th of October with an escort and enough men to pitch our tents. Mrs. Elliott and her family had an ambulance for themselves, while we used one belonging to an army officer who wanted it sent to San Antonio, so we were mutually accommodated.

We had four mules in our team whose husband was to drive the whole six hundred miles, and he did it in a very creditable manner.  Many anxious days and nights we spent on that journey.  The Indians were ever on the lookout for small parties, and eternal vigilance was required to keep them at bay, and “the lieutenant” was always on the alert.

Our camps were kept as dark s possible at night, no fires or candles were allowed, but such precautions were often useless, for, just when everything should have been quiet, one or other baby was sure to set up such a roar “as might have been heard ten miles or more.”

I quake now, when I think about the risks we ran traveling with small escorts. Nothing but constant watchfulness on the part of Lieutenant Lane and his few men kept us from being attacked. Indians were more afraid of soldiers then, and had more respect for them than now, and travelers with a military escort, when careful, were not often molested, unless the Indians far outnumbered them and were sure of the result.  A bow with poisoned arrows was the Indians’ principal weapon, and it was seldom that a good gun was found among them; hence their respect for a well-armed soldier.

Woe to the hapless party that fell into the devilish hands of a band of Indians! Men were generally put to death by slow torture, but they were allowed to live long enough to witness the atrocities practiced on their wives and children, such things as only fiends could devise. Babies had their brains dashed out before the eyes of father and mother, powerless to help them. Lucky would the latter have been, had they treated her’ in the same way; but what she was forced to endure would have wrung tears from anything but an Indian. Do you wonder at our dread of them ?

The country between Fort Bliss and Fort Davis’ was particularly adapted to Indian warfare. Numerous trains of wagons and bands of emigrants had been attacked ·and destroyed some of the water-holes on that road. Van Horn’s Well, Eagle Spring, and Dead Man’s Hole were favorite watering-places and camp-grounds. Dreary, desolate spots they were, as many an army officer and soldier, and women not a few, can testify. Our little camp of four or five tents, two ambulances, and possibly three wagons, looked lonesome enough, with but a handful of men and two or three women and some little children; not another living thing to be seen, except the mules.

It was a pleasure to us when we reached an army post where we were safe, and for that day, at least, could relax our vigilance. We met with kind friends everywhere, who supplied us with many comforts which could not be purchased.

We stayed over at Fort Davis, where wagons, etc., were repaired and everything put to rights that required attention. The people whom we met in 1856, when the Rifle Regiment passed there, en route to New Mexico, were all gone; but those who replaced them were equally kind, and anxious to help us in any way.

We had a funny time at Camp (now Fort) Stockton, our next halting-place; at least it is funny now to remember. As there were some quarters vacant, we went into them, while we remained, as we had more room than in the tents to examine our camping ” outfit,” mend clothes, etc.

The first thing we did was to make inquiries for a laundress, as we had been without one for some time. Unfortunately for us, the day to “lie over” was Sunday, and not a camp-woman at the post would do anything for us, which might speak well for their piety;’but I am inclined to think they had something more entertaining on hand for the day, and, having worked hard all week, did not care to put themselves out to accommodate us. Here was an unlooked-for dilemma; we were obliged to leave the next day, and must find a laundress somewhere.

After a consultation it became very evident that if there was to be any washing done that Sunday morning, the ladies must do it themselves; and we went to work, borrowed tubs and boards, rolled up our sleeves in true laundress style, and did our best. The results were far from satisfactory; though we used all our energy and strength, the articles looked rather worse than before they had passed through our unskilful hands. We were not much elated at our first attempt at washing clothes, and did not try to iron them.

XIII

WE left Camp Stockton the next day with a large train of empty wagons, returning to San Antonio, and Lieutenant Lane took control of it, to the evident disgust of the wagon-master, who hoped to have matters all his own way, halting and leaving camp as suited his own convenience. He was a small, lame man, with a villainous countenance, who never obeyed an order without a protest. His conduct was almost mutinous, and I feared trouble from him and his teamsters, as he had influence with them, and turned them against “the lieutenant.” All this, added to my anxiety about Indians, made the journey anything but pleasant.

The man gave in at last, knowing he must obey or fight; but he was always sullen and disagreeable. Again I saw Camp Lancaster, the worst o{ all the posts in Texas. The road to it led over a hill, which was even worse than those we crossed going to Burgwin, and exceeds my descriptive powers.   

I had laughed when told of this dreadful hill, and my friend said she knew I would not ride down it; I replied I never got out of the ambulance, no matter how bad the road might be.  When I came to the top of it and saw what was before me, I pulled open the door of the ambulance, and was on the ground in a second and walked to the bottom of the hill. How ambulances and wagons ever went up and down such a place without being dashed to pieces I cannot imagine, but then nothing ever seemed to happen to army wagons.

We found Fort Clark much improved since we had lived there, in the little shanty in the chaparral. General French was in command, and entertained us most kindly.

Five or six days later we readied San Antonio, and were thankful the most dangerous part of the road was passed.

The quartermaster at once discharged the insubordinate wagon-master when the case was laid before him, whereupon the man sent word to Lieutenant Lane he was going to kill him, but he changed his mind.

As the yellow fever was epidemic in some of the towns through which we must pass to reach the coast, we were obliged to delay our departure for the North, and decided to visit Austin until the weather became cold enough for frost or until the fever abated. An addition of ten people, large and small, made a material change in the household of Dr. and Mrs. Lane; but, with true Southern hospi­tality, they would not hear of our going anywhere else to stay.

By the 4th of December it was thought safe for us to begin our travels towards the coast through the country where the fever had recently raged.

When we left Austin, on the stage, the day was very hot.  There had been enough frost before that time, however, to put an end to the epidemic for that season. As night drew on, an unmistakable puff of cool wind announced the coming of a norther, and by the time the town was reached where we were to change horses we were suffering with the cold. We were tired out from our day’s ride, and still had the prospect of an all-night journey before us.

It took some time to get the weary, sleepy children out of the stage and into the house, where the warmth of a bright wood-fire comforted us all wonderfully. By this time it was blowing and raining hard, the rain freezing as it fell. The stage only stopped at this place long enough to change horses usually, but the ice-cold norther paralyzed the negro hostlers, and it was hours before all were ready to leave.

Instead of the regular coach, a” mud-wagon” had been substituted, on account of the dangerous condition of the roads, which were frozen and very slippery. What a fearful night we passed !  There were ten in our party, including the baby, a very important member of it, as she ran equal chances of freezing or smothering.• How we all managed to pack in the wagon, with several other passengers, I do not know. I remember my shawl had slipped off my shoulders, and I was utterly powerless and unable to get it around me again, and no one could assist me unless I stood up.  I managed to stagger to my feet, holding the baby in my arms.

Then I found I could neither stand nor get back to my seat.  I cried out for help, that the baby would freeze to death, and someone, finally, was able to plant me in the half dozen inches of seat again. I made no more attempts to rise. The male passengers spent most of the night walking; the roads were in such a state the horses could not pull the heavy load. Mr. Lane walked, too, rolled in a Navajo blanket to protect himself from the sleet; by morning it was frozen stiff on him. The driver had to frequently ask for help from the men, and when we reached the stopping­ place, the next morning, the poor fellows were almost exhausted, and we were so cramped and tired we were hardly able to walk.

The house seemed delightfully comfortable after our cold night-ride, and we were not much distressed when told we would not be able to leave the town for several days. There was a rope-ferry over the river, and as soon as the northern came all hands struck work and could not be induced to do anything.  No use to grumble; there the passengers must wait until the north blows itself out.

The house was small and pretty well filled, when we arrived, with storm-stayed people from various points. There was but one room left for all of us, and beds were put on the floor.  There was plenty to eat, and we were satisfied, or, at least, we accepted the situation cheerfully.

We were glad, however, when it was announced the stage would leave “that day.” Being the earliest arrivals from Austin, we were entitled to seats in the first coach that left. We could have sold our privilege for a high price, but we were anxious to get on, and paid no attention to hints thrown out by those quite as desirous of leaving as we were.

We found the men at the ferry sufficiently thawed to get us across the river safely, and we said good­ by gladly to Chappell Hill, Texas, though it had been a haven of rest to us after that ride in the bitter cold storm.

Several of the small towns through which we passed were almost depopulated by yellow fever; in some of them there were scarcely enough people left to bury the dead. In Houston we were obliged to stay half a day at the hotel, which had just been reopened, after having been closed some time on account of the fever. This seemed to bring us rather too close to it, but there was no danger of catching the disease after the frost.

We had a ride on the only railroad at that time in Texas; the best thing I can say of it was, it was very short. From the cars we went aboard a steam­ boat, which passed through bayous so narrow she frequently scraped the banks and was shoved off with long poles. No outlet was visible, so numerous were the twists and turns. But the boat kept on her winding way until she entered a broad sheet of water, and soon after Galveston was reached. We were obliged to remain there a day or two, waiting for a steamer to cross the Gulf of Mexico for New Orleans. We did not particularly crave the three days’ voyage, but as no other route was then open to us, we were soon on board the big ship and steaming out of the Galveston harbor. As has always been my experience in traveling, the domestics were useless.

Kit and Marie, the Mexican nurse, were at once overcome and unable to do anything.  None of us suffered at all from sea-sickness, nor did the children, although the passage was not particularly smooth. I remember the ship gave a lurch one day while husband was dressing in the state-room, and his head went through a looking-glass which hung over the wash-stand. We were not superstitious, and, as no cuts or bruises resulted, we did not give it another thought. Not all of our fellow-passengers fared as well as we did, however, regarding sea-sickness. One was a bright_boy, about twelve years old, whom I noticed when we left Galveston and not again until we were going off the ship. I asked if he had been sea-sick. He said, ” Yes, very; too ill to eat anything, although he had paid for his passage and meals before leaving Galveston.” He spoke in an injured tone and felt badly treated.

From New Orleans to Carlisle it was a series of staging and railroading; tedious delays were frequent. It did not seem of the least consequence whether trains were run on time or not. There were no Pullman cars then, and we had to do the best we could when traveling at night. Sometimes changes had to be made after we had gone to sleep, and great confusion was the result, to collect the children, bundles, etc. If we had not been so interested we would have found it amusing to watch the Mexican girl getting out of the cars. She never had seen one before, and was not used to going up- and down-stairs in the adobe shanties at home. She would stand on the platform of the car, put one foot on the step and bring the other down beside it, standing still for a second or two, trying to hold her dress closely around her ankles; then she would go through the same thing until she reached the ground, and we were ready to shake her for her delay.

She almost had a convulsion the first time she heard a steam-engine whistle. In Mississippi we had another tedious stage-ride of a day and part of the night. The coach was packed full, of course, and the poor children had to sit on any lap that would accommodate them. The mud was two feet deep, and the men passengers had to assist in digging the stage out of the mire with fence-rails several times during the day. It was midnight when we reached the railroad again. There was not a house anywhere about, in which we could get a room to rest, and we were in despair.  After a while, some men connected with the railroad took compassion on the poor tired children, and let us go into a baggage-car, filled with mail-bags, over which we spread some shawls, lay down, and slept soundly until the cars were ready to leave next morning.

When we arrived at Washington a question arose about allowing Kit to be taken from a slave State into a free one without certain papers, although she was born free. • We were delayed some time while the matter was discussed, and at last” the lieutenant’s” patience became exhausted, and he told the man they could keep her, which made the child almost white from fright. Finally, consent was given for her to leave, the authorities being satisfied she was not a slave.

XIV

We finished our travels just before Christmas. What a comfort it was to find a good nurse ready for the baby, and be able to rest after having been on the road since the middle of October, two months.

Notwithstanding a whole year’s leave had been granted when the application was made, husband was ordered back to New Mexico the next summer. He went on to New York and laid his case before ” the powers,” all to no purpose. Lorenzo Thomas was then adjutant-general to General Winfield Scott, and not noted for his suave manner nor kindly feeling towards young officers. The interview between the two gentlemen was stormy, which, perhaps, did “the lieutenant’s” cause more harm than good; but he had the satisfaction of expressing his opinion on his own case as well as some others.

My sister, Mrs. Elliott never returned to the frontier. She went to housekeeping in Carlisle, where Captain Elliott joined her some time afterwards. When we found we must go back to New Mexico, we made hasty preparations, and were most fortunate in securing two excellent colored women to take with us.

The nurse, a faithful, honest, trustworthy woman, and good-tempered besides, was always to be de- pended upon and a great comfort to us. She still lives with members of my family.

The cook was an excellent one ; but her temper was fearful, and I was dreadfully afraid of her. She is dead now, or I would not make such a confession. In July, 186o, we were again at Fort Leavenworth, en route to New Mexico.

“Prince John” Magruder was in command at Leavenworth that summer.   I dined once with him at Fort Clark, Texas. The dinner was of necessity as plain as it could be; but it was served in courses and in grand style. John was always magnificent.

We found the usual large body of recruits and a number of officers, married and single, outward bound. My brother, then living in St. Louis, was anxious for a buffalo hunt, and went with us some distance on the plains.  Although it was to be the third time I had crossed them, I was not sorry. I really enjoyed it, although the scenery was monotonous; for weeks at a time not a tree was in sight, nothing but the green rolling prairies as far as the eye could reach.

When we left Fort Leavenworth for New Mexico, each ambulance was given its position in line according to the rank of the officer whose family occupied it; consequently, the wives and children of the lieutenants suffered much from the dust made by a long line of vehicles ahead of theirs. Meek little Mrs. Blank took it all as a matter of course, and submitted without a murmur. Not so, however, with saucy Mrs. Dash, who aired her opinions as to “rank among army women” on all occasions, and could not be made to see why the families of second lieutenants should swallow more than their allotted “peck,” in a shorter time than was necessary. She thought it would be pleasant to have a day without dust, and that she would enjoy riding in front, where the carriage of the colonel was always to be seen.

It seemed to me only fair that the ambulances should change place, each taking its turn at the head of the column; but those in command did not look at it that way, and the position taken the first day out was to continue to the end.

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