I MARRIED A SOLDIER (part 9)

Our tents were pitched just outside of it, when we found there was nothing better to be done. It was not until night, after the children had gone to bed, that the storm broke upon us in all its fury.  The tent shook violently with the wind, and in a little while the outside was covered with a sheet of snow and ice. With all that was going on outside, you may imagine the inside was neither too warm nor comfortable, and the colonel thought no better time could be found to open a bottle of fine champagne than then.  It was done, and the wine poured into two tin cups, one for each.  No ice was needed to cool it that night. It was the best champagne I ever tasted in my life, I think.

The storm grew worse, and it seemed as if the tent must fall upon us. The colonel decided to go again into the restaurant and ask if they could not in some way accommodate us, as it was really unsafe to remain where we were. The family occupying the building insisted it was impossible to do anything for us. Husband after that took matters into his own hands, and carried the children in, I followed. As soon as I caught my breath, after my rush through the gale and sleet, I took in an amazing picture.

On what had been the stage of the theater, with the rough scenery all about her, sat a pleasant-looking woman placidly sewing beside a bright light, and with her foot rocking a cradle in which was a young baby. She seemed perfectly at home amid the indigo­ blue clouds, frowning castles, and vivid green daubs supposed to resemble trees.

When we were actually in the place there was nothing more to be said, and the woman, who did not seem at all disconcerted by our abrupt entrance, began at once to see what arrangements she could make for us.

Below the stage, and off to one side of it, was a bedstead standing on a platform just large enough to hold it. I suppose there was no floor in the building, and that is why the bed stood on a few boards.  All was surrounded by canvas, painted to represent a red-brick wall, with a massive door, also painted, on the side.  One bed was all the could give us; likely it was usually occupied by several members of the family. Even had we brought in our own, there was no place to put it. Some fur robes and blankets were laid under the bedstead for the children, the only spot there was.

I took the youngest with me, and the other two crawled into their uncomfortable furry nest, not the least disturbed by their peculiar resting-place. The colonel remained in the tent, on guard, all night. Ail attempt was made to steal the mules, and had he not been on the spot it would have been successful.

We remained in the restaurant some days before leaving Cheyenne. Although the badly-built shanty was not much protection against the intensely cold weather, we could get our meals there, which was better than having to look after the cooking of them myself.

Our next move was from Cheyenne to the end of the railroad, where we parted with the escort, ambulance, etc., and took passage on a freight-train, occupying the caboose, which was to take us to Julesburg, where we would find the regular train and a Pullman car.

The night we passed in the caboose was an uneasy one. We came to a halt for hours, and I overheard a man ask another what caused the detention. His Job’s comforter told him the Indians had torn up the track some miles ahead, which turned out to be untrue; but that trouble was always apprehended was apparent from the stacks of firearms on all trains.

The sight of a passenger-train was delightful, and in the sleeper we found Lieutenant John W. Bubb and wife, just from Fort Fetterman, and going East on leave. Their experiences at that extremely isolated fort were thrilling, with hostile Indians always so close it was scarcely safe to go out of doors.

We traveled to Omaha together, and no back­ woodsman ever enjoyed a first car-ride more than we did the one we were then taking in the comfortable Pullman, after our late camping in the cold. At Omaha we rested several days, Colonel Lane being quite broken down.

Mrs. Bubb and I, woman-like, went out to see the fashions, and took a look at some bonnets “just from the East, very latest styles,” we were told.  It had been so long since we needed a bonnet, or had seen one of the ” latest,” we were, of course, very interested. We took up one, but could not tell front from back. The Fanchon was worn then, and was a puzzle to an uneducated mind. After what we saw, we decided that we did not care for a bonnet until we reached home.

When Colonel Lane was better we started again. At the time of which I write there were no “buffet cars,” nor even regular eating-houses on our route. Sometimes notice was given that at the next station ” twenty minutes for dinner” would be allowed. We always carried our camp lunchbox with us, full of provisions, not particularly good, but well enough to quiet the pangs of hunger. We found it useless and, expensive to try to take the children to a twenty­ minute meal; by the time they had looked about them, it was too late to eat anything, so we gave it

  1. The colonel, usually, was the only one who left the cars to get a meal, but he went armed with a towel and tin coffee-pot, and, after hurrying through his dinner, brought us more provisions than we could possibly dispose of. He, poor man, never had a “square meal” when we traveled, but we could supply all deficiencies from what he provided for us.

When everything was ready for our luncheon, spread out as it was on the seats of the car, we ate it comfortably, utterly indifferent as to what other passengers thought or said. They stared at us, and no doubt took us for foreign emigrants. I dare say our appearance was singular, our clothes unfashionable, and faces weather-beaten.

We remained a year in the East, and before returning to the frontier placed our eldest daughter at school, there being no good ones in New Mexico, except the convent in Santa Fe, where we did not care to send her. So our little family circle was broken. It was dreadful to put a whole month between her and us, but it had to be done.

In November, 1868, we left for New Mexico, via Texas. It was the only route practicable just then, for the Indians on the Plains were very hostile, and too late in the year, besides, to attempt to travel with children in the latitude where snow came so early. We halted a day in Louisville, Kentucky, then took a sleeper through to New Orleans, hoping to catch a steamer for Galveston the morning after our arrival.

But no one seemed to be in a hurry but us, and several cars loaded with mules were attached to our train, in consequence of which we were nineteen hours late, and had to wait in New Orleans two days before another ship left for Texas. We stayed at the St. Charles Hotel until she sailed, when we went aboard, and I crossed the Gulf of Mexico for the third time.

Not being at all fond of “bounding over the glad waters of the dark blue sea,” I was pleased to reach Galveston, then a pretty town of many white houses with green ” blinds,” the gardens filled with oleanders and orange-trees. As one of the children was disposed of, we remained there for several days. From Galveston to Houston we traveled by boat, and from Houston to Brenham on a wretched railroad, the only one in Texas.

We met a gentleman and his wife from Philadelphia, enroute to San Antonio, seeking health ; but they found so much discomfort at the stopping­ places, there were no “hotels,”-that they almost decided to give up the trip. But at Brenham we were able to charter a stage, so that we need not travel at night, and were more comfortable.

The roads were in a dreadful condition, as much rain had fallen recently, and it was often late at night when we stopped. The houses were so open to the winds that blew, we had to protect ourselves as well as we could from them by tacking up shawls and blankets around the beds.

At a small lodging-place we found one room with fire. There were two beds in it, and as that was all to be had, we took one, and our friends the other.  Imagine their horror when told we must share the same apartment I As it was by no means our first experience at being so situated, we were not shocked in the least. We had many a quiet laugh over the evident unhappiness of the Philadelphians at such very close quarters.

Next day, hen we drove up to a house of entertainment, we found the host and his family cowering over a fire, doors open and windows broken, although it was raining and cold. Not a place about the house had been put to rights since having been occupied the night before, and only when we arrived and wanted rooms did they make an effort to put them in order.  We were so exhausted by the time everything was ready, we had no spirit left to cavil at small discomforts.

XXVIII

The following day we landed at the “Avenue Hotel,” in Austin, the best there was at that time, but our room was cheerless,-no carpet, two beds, wash-stand, stove, table without a cover, and a few hide-bottom chairs. The fare was good and clean, and prices were very high.

A wet norther struck the town in a day or two, and everything was flooded. The water leaked through the ceiling of our room, falling on the beds, and we were awakened in the night by the baby calling for “a rumella, ’cause it was wainin’.” The storm ceased next morning, and the waters subsided, which was fortunate; the town was inundated, roads impassable from washouts, and the streets torn up by the mighty deluge that rushed through them, losing itself in the river below the town.

We met many army people stationed in Texas that winter; some of the ladies knew everything there was to be learned about military matters. They made us smile at the extent of their wisdom. I felt old foggy among them, and concluded I was the one who knew nothing. Many women spoke of “our regiment” and “our troop” (or company), as if they had command. I found I was far behind the times, believing, as I always had, that the less a woman knew of military affairs, and what went on in garrison, the better for all

General and Mrs. Canby was there also ; I had not seen them since we left Santa Fe in 1861. She was a lovely, cultivated woman, with plenty of good common sense, and admired by all.

We remained a month in Austin, waiting for news of our carriage and furniture, shipped from Philadelphia to Indianola, Texas. At the end of that time we heard the vessel had arrived, and that our goods had been sent to San Antonio. So we said good-by to our friends, and in a broken-down ambulance, with a team of four miles to correspond, we left for San Antonio. A weary, dismal drive we had for four days, through oceans of water and rivers of mud.

Perhaps some of you have ridden all day in a leaky ambulance through the cold rain, the tired mules ready to give out at any moment while making desperate efforts to pull you through mud up to the wheel-hubs. Did you like it?

The driver had no overcoat, and suffered in consequence. The colonel was too sick to assist with the mules as he usually did, so he kept the man warm internally with frequent doses of brandy, to which he did not object, nor did he once make a wry face at the medicine.

When at last we caught a glimpse of San Antonio we were much relieved, and more so when we were comfortably fixed at the Menger Hotel. It was some time before the wagon-train arrived from the coast with our property, and we had ample time to advertise for servants who would go with us to New Mexico. A colored man and woman applied for the place, and we were obliged to take them. Could we have read the future, he and she would have remained in San Antonio until this day, as far as we were concerned.

February 3, 1869, we left San Antonio for Fort Bliss, where Colonel Lane expected to find orders assigning him to a post in New Mexico. Our route was over a part of Texas we had not traveled before. One hundred and fifteen miles from San Antonio was Fort Mason, a small but pretty post, not then garrisoned. Fort Concho came next, a new post, still unfinished. It was built on the prairie and struck me as gloomy in the extreme. Here we were fortunate enough to meet that good fellow” Jakey Gordon,” whose quarters were immediately turned over to us. They were of canvas, but larger than ordinary wall-tents, stretched over a frame, roomy and comfortable. The water at the fort was bad, and the heat in summer was almost insupportable.

Between Fort Concho and Fort Stockton we crossed a part of ” Llano Estacado,” or ” Staked Plain,” inexpressibly dreary, and, but for the buffalo hunts, desolate and uninteresting; but we had plenty of excitement when the horsemen went out after the huge, awkward animals, driving them close to the road, so that we saw the chase and were almost in at the death. I preferred to be safely in the carriage when a herd of buffalo was at hand, and saw all I cared to from my coin of vantage. After the buffalo was killed the great carcass was cut up and stowed in one of the wagons until camp was reached, when all who wanted fresh meat were supplied.

To me it was tough as leather and uninviting. They told me I did not have a good piece and that I must try the hump, which was said to be very tender. I had eaten some of the hump, or attempted to do so, with no better success; the more I chewed the larger it grew. The children and colonel managed to get rid of their portion and professed to enjoy it, but my opinion never changed. The tongue was tender, but no other part that I ever tried.

The Pecos River was between us and Fort Stockton, and, on account of the quicksands, dangerous to ford. When we reached ” Horsehead Crossing” one Sunday morning, it was thought safest for the children and me, and my valuable maid, to ride over in one of the wagons, as the ambulance, being comparatively light, was likely to upset or float downstream, either of which would have been disagreeable. Ropes were tied to the wheels and held by mounted men, but even then it rolled from side to side, so that I did not care to look at it until it was safely on the other bank.

The sheet on one of the heavy wagons was thrown back, and we mounted to the top of the load. The colonel disposed of all surplus clothing and his boots, taking up a position on the tongue of the wagon, to be ready in case of emergency.

Then came the plunge into the treacherous, rapid stream, and the wagon trembled and careened as it struck the quicksand. The teamsters coaxed and scolded, urged and swore at the mules, to prevent them stopping short of the opposite side of the river.

I shut my eyes, and ears too. In the same team some of the mules were almost out of the water while others were nearly under it, caused by the quicksand shifting and changing position, thus making the crossing unsafe.

I could not help thinking what a sight we should have been that beautiful Sunday morning to our Eastern friends, then quietly seated in church, if they could have watched us fording the Pecos River. If they had not known who we were, they would never have recognized us, dressed for camping, and riding emigrant fashion, in a wagon.

We spent seven days going from Fort Concho to Fort Stockton, where we arrived cold and tired. Colonel and Mrs. Wade came to our relief, and entertained us while we stayed at the post.

One day a pet prairie-dog attacked Mrs. Wade’s young baby during the absence of the family from the room : it climbed up on the bed and scratched the little face and head. The child’s cries brought the mother and everybody from the dining-table, and there sat the small animal l:iy the baby, tearing the tender flesh with its needle-like claws. It had never seemed vicious before, and never had an opportunity to be so again. Fort Stockton had improved wonderfully since my sister and I did our washing there, on a Sunday morning, ten years before, but I did not care to stay long.

At Fort Davis we remained a day, to rest and put everything in order. Our man, the incomparable colored one who came with us from San Antonio, took that opportunity to clean and load his revolver, when, without warning, it went off, cutting a hole in the felt hat he wore.  If the ball had stopped short of the hat it might. have been bad for William, but the world would have had one rascal the less. There was a heavy snowstorm that day, which made cai:np more than unpleasant.

The Limpia Canon, or Wild Rose Pass, in the vicinity of Fort Davis, had some beautiful scenery. I cannot now remember just how far from the fort this dangerous pass was, but it had always been a noted hiding-place for Indians, and many a careless traveler had cause to repent his lack of vigilance while going through it. Indeed, the whole road from Limpia Canon to Fort Quitman had been the scene of repeated tragedies.

Only a month before we passed over it, the stage, carrying a passenger and the United States mail, had been attacked by Indians, the driver killed, and Judge Hubbell, a man well known in Texas and New Mexico, either murdered or captured ; the mail was cut to pieces and the coach destroyed. A wooden cross, with his name upon it, marked the spot where the body of the driver was found. The date “January, 1869,” was also cut upon the cross. It made me shudder to think what a short time

had elapsed since that desperate, hopeless struggle took place, two brave men fighting for life against an unknown number of devils.

I was riding in the buggy one day when the guard came up to report that a number of Indians had been seen not far away.  I was ordered into the ambulance, and hasty preparations were made to give them a proper reception, should they attempt to attack us ; but they, like ourselves, perhaps, assumed the defensive, rather than the aggressive. The Indian rarely made war unless certain of victory, which he followed up with untold atrocities.

XXIX

ON the day the Indians were seen we were to reach Eagle Spring, a spot where many bloody battles had been fought between white men and Indians. It was the usual camp-ground, as no water was found again until we reached the Rio Grande, thirty miles away.

The spring was some distance up a gorge, at the foot of a mountain; the ground was rough and rocky, so that any number of Indians could hide until an opportunity arrived to make an attack. Small parties camped on the plain, beside the road, and, with sentinels out to keep watch, drove the animals to the spring for water and then back to camp.

Our horses and mules were watered, then hitched up and driven ten miles farther, when a dry camp was made for the night, thus taking ten miles off our next day’s march of thirty miles to the Rio Grande. It was very late, and all were busy in various ways, and preparations were made to secure the camp against any attack the Indians might make.

The mules were turned out for what grazing they could find before being fastened to the wagons for the night. After a while it was discovered that they with the herders and sentinels were getting too far from camp, and orders were sent for them to come in at once.

When our tents were in order we called the children, who had a few moments before being playing close by. Only one responded; the boy was nowhere to be seen. For a little while there was great consternation; the camp was searched, but without avail; it began to look as if he had been spirited away in the darkness. Just when the excitement was becoming too intense to bear, the mules were driven in, and there, sitting in front of one of the herders, with a great whip in his hand, was the child, radiantly happy, and evidently believing he had charge of the herd. But there were no more expeditions of that kind made without our express permission. A little child in camp or garrison could always do as it pleased with the men, no matter how rough the latter might be. Had anything happened to that baby boy, every man there would have given his life for the child.

When we sighted the Rio Grande, five miles below Fort Quitman, a sense of relief took the place of my recent uneasiness and fear; and when we drove into the forlorn arid tumble-down adobe-built fort, I wanted to greet everybody as a friend and brother. The troops stationed there were colored, and as we passed the guard-house I noticed a sergeant in full dress, jumping rope! I felt rather shocked to see a soldier in uniform so disporting himself, but concluded if any one at Quitman could feel cheerful enough to enjoy such an innocent pastime he was to be congratulated. From Quitmarrto Fort Bliss the journey was com­paratively a safe one.

There were several Mexican settlements, and the wretched huts were objects of interest, especially when their occupants turned out to look at us ; the life about the villages, still as it was, was pleasant. We had not seen a living thing, ex­cept at the garrisons through which we passed, be­ yond a prairie-dog or an occasional crow and some Indians in the – distance, since we left the Staked Plains, where vast herds of buffalo were grazing on every side, happy in their freedom and roaming over the unsettled country for hundreds of miles.

It seemed to me I knew every stone and bush on the lonely road from Fort Davis to the Rio Grande, and I think even yet I would remember some of them. It would be a pleasure to me to travel that route now in a palace car on the railroad, dashing over those dreary camp-grounds, with whistles shrieking and )leadlights blazing, waking the echoes and illuminating the country far and wide.           For when we traveled with small parties we were afraid to speak loud, or have a fire or light, lest we attract the attention of the Indians, never far away.

That time has gone forever, and those tedious marches need not be made again. I always enjoyed them when our escort was sufficiently large to give a feeling of perfect security, but more often than not they were too small, and the risks we ran were very great, but there seemed to be no help for it, and I suffered mentally in consequence. You will think I was a dreadful coward; but put yourself in my place, you woman, and would you have felt any braver than I did?  When brought face to face with danger, as I have been on more than one occasion, I flatter myself. I behaved pretty well, being outwardly, at least, very cool and quiet. What I felt need not be mentioned here.

The Fort Bliss of 1869 was not the one we knew and enjoyed so much. Great inroads had been made by the Rio Grande : some of the buildings were washed away, so that the old post was abandoned, and the garrison moved to quarters a mile away. Our old house still stood, but the roof had fallen in. The others were masses of crumbling adobe. What changes had taken place since we were all so happy there a few years before!

We remained a day or two at Bliss, until Colonel Lane’s orders were received, to proceed to Fort Selden, New Mexico, and take command. It was a new post, since the war, not far from Fort Fillmore. We had been thirty-four days on the road from San Antonio to Fort Bliss, but we only traveled twenty-nine of them ; the other five were spent at the forts en route, for rest, repairs, etc.

On our way to Fort Selden we passed within sight of old Fort Fillmore. As far as we could discover, the adobe quarters had returned to the dust of which they were made; not one house was left standing.

Our new station was a quiet, rather unattractive place, garrisoned by one company of colored infantry and one of white cavalry. The commanding officer’s quarters were not nearly finished. I believe there were only four rooms ready when we arrived, but they were larger and better than a tent, and we were not long in getting into them. The house was square, built of adobe, with, if I remember right, four rooms on each side of a wide hall.  Our porch was of brush laid across poles, and supported by the same, a fine harbor for snakes, scorpions, and such things, but they did not annoy us much. There were four ladies there, none of who are now in the army. They were not friendly with each other, but I, coming as a stranger among them, was kindly received, and we lived most harmoniously together as long as we remained.  It was, indeed, a dull little place.

We owned horses, mules, and vehicles of various kinds, but on account of Indians it was unsafe to ride a mile from the post; and when we drove as far as we dared go, there was always a loaded revolver in the carriage. We rode a good deal, notwithstanding, in our light buggy, with a horse that could outrun any that an Indian was likely to own.

That summer I was determined to make butter and raise chickens, and I succeeded remarkably well, considering all things. I do not believe the famous butter-makers of Pennsylvania could have done any better than I did under the circumstances. There was no ice, remember, and no cool, sparkling spring at hand. I took care of the milk myself, saving all the cream I could spare for the butter. The cows were not the best, but good for that country. My churn was primitive,-only a large stone jar, which held about three gallons. A soldier-carpenter made the top and dasher of pine wood, and it was a rough job.

The water we used at Fort Selden was brought fresh every morning from the muddy Rio Grande, and emptied into barrels kept for the purpose.  It was the color of rich chocolate. To settle enough for drinking, it was pour;cl into large, porous earthen jars, holding several gallons each. By degrees the impurities sank to the bottom of the jar, and the water oozed through it, keeping the contents quite cool.

Ours were covered with pieces of blanket which retained the moisture, and they were placed on a bench in which holes were cut for the purpose of holding them. This bench was kept in the shadiest, coolest spot to be found; but the weather at Selden was very hot, so that the water was not often what one would desire.  It was the best we had, though, to wash and cool the butter, which sometimes was like oil when freshly churned.  Frequently I found it impossible to separate the butter and milk. I would then put the jar aside for the night, and next day in the cool of the morning I finished my dairy work.

Years ago I heard that all the butter procurable at army posts in Arizona had to be poured from a bottle, so it seems people there were worse off than we were in New Mexico, and had fewer advantages. In about four months, under many difficulties, I made about one hundred and fifty pounds of butter, a good deal of which I packed down for future use.

The man and woman we took with us from San Antonio were worthless; it seems there had been some love-making between them, and the opportunity offered by us to see the world and visit pastures was not to be despised. Before we reached Selden the man was discharged for theft, and the maid might have been sent off for the same reason,

but there was not another woman to be hired, so I was obliged to keep her. She was amiable, if she did break more than one of the commandments. We were obliged tq overlook many vagaries and eccentricities of deportment, if we hoped to keep a maid on the frontier at that time. A woman of any kind was thought better than none.

XXX

WHEN traveling along the road below Fort Davis, a white man, mounted on the smallest of ponies, joined us, after asking permission to do so. He was a bright fellow, and we allowed him to stay about the tents, feeding him for what he did, and he was always working at something.

When the colored man was disc.barged we put the stranger, Isaac Bloomfield, in his place, and an excellent hand he proved to be at almost everything. He was an Englishman, and had been in the English navy, where, he told me, he “got more kicks than ha’-pence.”

When we could no longer close our eyes to the delinquencies of our maid, we told her we had no further use for her valuable services, and she left; so Isaac was installed as cook. He did all the housework, except making the beds; if I had permitted it, he would have done that too. The children were devoted to him, and he to them. He was quite a good plain cook; perhaps I was not very critical, infinitely preferring his cooking to my own.

One of my pastimes on the frontier was the care of chickens, gathering the eggs, setting hens, etc. I went many times a day into the coop to look at and talk to my favorites. Before the maid left us she heard a great commotion one night in the chicken-house; though lacking in sundry virtues, she was courageous, apparently, for she went unattended to find out the cause of the disturbance.

On opening the door she was startled to see a small coyote killing the chickens right and left. She ran into the house to tell the colonel, who, 1 armed with his revolver, went with her, she went ahead, holding the candle aloft. They bearded the lion in his den ; in other words, the coyote in the chicken-coop

Mary was more afraid of the report of the pistol than of the wolf. She jumped at every shot, almost dropping the light in her excitement. It took but a few seconds to dispose of the wretched beast. Mad with hunger, he had crawled through a small opening in the main door of the coop which I had forgotten to shut that night.  He killed a number of my setting-hens, they being in nests close to the ground, while the others, roosting high, were out of reach. When discovered he had not begun his feast, but was making ready with a liberal hand.  It hurt my feelings to see so many of my precious chickens dead; but as their destroyer was dead, too, I was somewhat consoled.

Our table was well supplied with eggs and the chickens I raised, but it was always a difficult matter to kill them, the children begging that the life of this pretty white hen or that beautiful red rooster might be spared; the only way was to have it done without their knowledge.

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