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Title: Tenting on the Plains - or General Custer in Kansas and Texas
Author: Custer, Elizabeth B.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: SMOKING THE PIPE OF PEACE.]



TENTING ON THE PLAINS

OR

GENERAL CUSTER IN KANSAS AND TEXAS

BY

ELIZABETH B. CUSTER

    AUTHOR OF "FOLLOWING THE GUIDON"
    "BOOTS AND SADDLES" ETC.

    ILLUSTRATED

[Illustration]

    NEW YORK
    HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
    1895



OTHER WORKS BY MRS. CUSTER.


      "BOOTS AND SADDLES"; or, Life in Dakota with General
      Custer. Portrait and Map.

      FOLLOWING THE GUIDON. Illustrated.

_Post 8vo, Cloth, $1 50 each._

PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK.

[Illustration: Pointing hand]_Either of the above works will be sent by
mail, postage prepaid, to any part of the United States, Canada, or
Mexico, on receipt of the price._

    Copyright, 1887, by CHARLES L. WEBSTER & CO.

    _All rights reserved._



    TO HIM
    WHOSE BRAVE AND BLITHE ENDURANCE
    MADE THOSE WHO FOLLOWED
    HIM FORGET,
    IN HIS SUNSHINY PRESENCE,
    HALF THE HARDSHIP AND THE DANGER



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER I                                                 PAGE
  GOOD-BY TO THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC                          17

  CHAPTER II
  NEW ORLEANS AFTER THE WAR                                   41

  CHAPTER III
  A MILITARY EXECUTION                                        59

  CHAPTER IV
  MARCHES THROUGH PINE FORESTS                                83

  CHAPTER V
  OUT OF THE WILDERNESS                                       95

  CHAPTER VI
  A TEXAS NORTHER                                            113

  CHAPTER VII
  LIFE IN A TEXAS TOWN                                       132

  CHAPTER VIII
  LETTERS HOME                                               150

  CHAPTER IX
  DISTURBED CONDITION OF TEXAS                               165

  CHAPTER X
  GENERAL CUSTER PARTS WITH HIS STAFF AT CAIRO AND DETROIT   185

  CHAPTER XI
  ORDERS TO REPORT AT FORT RILEY, KANSAS                     205

  CHAPTER XII
  WESTWARD HO!--FIGHTING DISSIPATION IN THE SEVENTH
      CAVALRY--GENERAL CUSTER'S TEMPTATIONS                  222

  CHAPTER XIII
  A MEDLEY OF OFFICERS AND MEN                               256

  CHAPTER XIV
  THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE                                    279

  CHAPTER XV
  A PRAIRIE FIRE                                             310

  CHAPTER XVI
  SACRIFICES AND SELF-DENIAL OF PIONEER DUTY--CAPTAIN
      ROBBINS AND COLONEL COOK ATTACKED, AND FIGHT
      FOR THREE HOURS                                        327

  CHAPTER XVII
  A FLOOD AT FORT HAYS                                       356

  CHAPTER XVIII
  ORDERED BACK TO FORT HARKER                                373

  CHAPTER XIX
  THE FIRST FIGHT OF THE SEVENTH CAVALRY                     387



ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                            PAGE
  Smoking the Pipe of Peace                         FRONTISPIECE

  Texas in 1866 and in 1886                                   19

  Eliza Cooking Under Fire                                    28

  A Mule Lunching from a Pillow                               78

  General Custer as a Cadet                                   87

  "O Golly! what am dat?"                                    108

  Measuring an Alligator                                     125

  General Custer at the Close of the War--Aged 25            168

  "Stand there, cowards, will you, and see an old man
        robbed?"                                             188

  General Custer with his Horse Vic, Stag Hounds and
        Deer Hounds                                          212

  Kansas in 1866 and Kansas To-day                           221

  Conestoga Wagon, or Prairie-Schooner                       223

  The Officer's Dress--A New-comer for a Call                239

  A Suspended Equestrienne                                   246

  General Custer at his Desk in his Library                  259

  Gun-stand in General Custer's Library                      287

  Trophies of the Chase in General Custer's Library          297

  Whipping Horses to Keep them from Freezing                 316

  A Match Buffalo Hunt                                       341

  Gathering and Counting the Tongues                         343

  Supper Given by the Vanquished to the Victors of
      the Match Buffalo Hunt                                 345

  A Buffalo Undecided as to an Attack on General Custer      368

  A Buffalo at Bay                                           377

  The Addled Letter-Carrier                                  385

  Negroes Form their own Picket-line                         389

  An Attack on a Stage-coach                                 392



TENTING ON THE PLAINS.



CHAPTER I.

GOOD-BY TO THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC.


GENERAL CUSTER was given scant time, after the last gun of the war was
fired, to realize the blessings of peace. While others hastened to
discard the well-worn uniforms, and don again the dress of civilians,
hurrying to the cars, and groaning over the slowness of the fast-flying
trains that bore them to their homes, my husband was almost breathlessly
preparing for a long journey to Texas. He did not even see the last of
that grand review of the 23d and 24th of May, 1865. On the first day he
was permitted to doff his hat and bow low, as he proudly led that superb
body of men, the Third Division of Cavalry, in front of the grand stand,
where sat the "powers that be." Along the line of the division, each
soldier straightened himself in the saddle, and felt the proud blood
fill his veins, as he realized that he was one of those who, in six
months, had taken 111 of the enemy's guns, sixty-five battle-flags, and
upward of 10,000 prisoners of war, while they had never lost a flag, or
failed to capture a gun for which they fought.

In the afternoon of that memorable day General Custer and his staff rode
to the outskirts of Washington, where his beloved Third Cavalry Division
had encamped after returning from taking part in the review. The trumpet
was sounded, and the call brought these war-worn veterans out once
more, not for a charge, not for duty, but to say that word which we,
who have been compelled to live in its mournful sound so many years,
dread even to write. Down the line rode their yellow-haired "boy
general," waving his hat, but setting his teeth and trying to hold with
iron nerve the quivering muscles of his speaking face; keeping his eyes
wide open, that the moisture dimming their vision might not gather and
fall. Cheer after cheer rose on that soft spring air. Some enthusiastic
voice started up afresh, before the hurrahs were done, "A tiger for old
Curley!" Off came the hats again, and up went hundreds of arms, waving
the good-by and wafting innumerable blessings after the man who was
sending them home in a blaze of glory, with a record of which they might
boast around their firesides. I began to realize, as I watched this sad
parting, the truth of what the General had been telling me; he held that
no friendship was like that cemented by mutual danger on the
battle-field.

The soldiers, accustomed to suppression through strict military
discipline, now vehemently expressed their feelings; and though it
gladdened the General's heart, it was still the hardest sort of work to
endure it all without show of emotion. As he rode up to where I was
waiting, he could not, dared not, trust himself to speak to me. To those
intrepid men he was indebted for his success. Their unfailing trust in
his judgment, their willingness to follow where he led--ah! he knew well
that one looks upon such men but once in a lifetime. Some of the
soldiers called out for the General's wife. The staff urged me to ride
forward to the troops, as it was but a little thing thus to respond to
their good-by. I tried to do so, but after a few steps, I begged those
beside whom I rode to take me back to where we had been standing. I was
too overcome, from having seen the suffering on my husband's face, to
endure any more sorrow.

[Illustration: TEXAS IN 1866 AND IN 1886.]

As the officers gathered about the General and wrung his hand in
parting, to my surprise the soldiers gave me a cheer. Though very
grateful for the tribute to me as their acknowledged comrade, I did not
feel that I deserved it. Hardships such as they had suffered for a
principle require a far higher order of character than the same
hardships endured when the motive is devotion individualized.

Once more the General leaped into the saddle, and we rode rapidly out of
sight. How glad I was, as I watched the set features of my husband's
face, saw his eyes fixed immovably in front of him, listened in vain for
one word from his overburdened heart, that I, being a woman, need not
tax every nerve to suppress emotion, but could let the tears stream down
my face, on all our silent way back to the city.

Then began the gathering of our "traps," a hasty collection of a few
suitable things for a Southern climate, orders about shipping the
horses, a wild tearing around of the improvident, thoughtless
staff--good fighters, but poor providers for themselves. Most of them
were young men, for whom my husband had applied when he was made a
brigadier. His first step after his promotion was to write home for his
schoolmates, or select aides from his early friends then in service. It
was a comfort, when I found myself grieving over the parting with my
husband's Division, that our military family were to go with us. At dark
we were on the cars, with our faces turned southward. To General Custer
this move had been unexpected. General Sheridan knew that he needed
little time to decide, so he sent for him as soon as we encamped at
Arlington, after our march up from Richmond, and asked if he would like
to take command of a division of cavalry on the Red River in Louisiana,
and march throughout Texas, with the possibility of eventually entering
Mexico. Our Government was just then thinking it was high time the
French knew that if there was any invasion of Mexico, with an idea of a
complete "gobbling up" of that country, the one to do the seizure and
gather in the spoils was Brother Jonathan. Very wisely, General Custer
kept this latter part of the understanding why he was sent South from
the "weepy" part of his family. He preferred transportation by steamer,
rather than to be floated southward by floods of feminine tears. All I
knew was, that Texas, having been so outside of the limit where the
armies marched and fought, was unhappily unaware that the war was over,
and continued a career of bushwhacking and lawlessness that was only
tolerated from necessity before the surrender, and must now cease. It
was considered expedient to fit out two detachments of cavalry, and
start them on a march through the northern and southern portions of
Texas, as a means of informing that isolated State that depredations and
raids might come to an end. In my mind, Texas then seemed the
stepping-off place; but I was indifferent to the points of the compass,
so long as I was not left behind.

The train in which we set out was crowded with a joyous, rollicking,
irrepressible throng of discharged officers and soldiers, going home to
make their swords into ploughshares. Everybody talked with everybody,
and all spoke at once. The Babel was unceasing night and day; there was
not a vein that was not bursting with joy. The swift blood rushed into
the heart and out again, laden with one glad thought, "The war is over!"
At the stations, soldiers tumbled out and rushed into some woman's
waiting arms, while bands tooted excited welcomes, no one instrument
according with another, because of throats overcharged already with
bursting notes of patriotism that would not be set music. The customary
train of street gamins, who imitate all parades and promptly copy the
pomp of the circus and other processions, stepped off in a mimic march,
following the conquering heroes as they were lost to our sight down the
street, going home.

Sometimes the voices of the hilarious crowd at the station were stilled,
and a hush of reverent silence preceded the careful lifting from the car
of a stretcher bearing a form broken and bleeding from wounds, willingly
borne, that the home to which he was coming might be unharmed. Tender
women received and hovered lovingly over the precious freight, strong
arms carried him away; and we contrasted the devoted care, the love that
would teach new ways to heal, with the condition of the poor fellows we
had left in the crowded Washington hospitals, attended only by
strangers. Some of the broken-to-pieces soldiers were on our train, so
deftly mended that they stumped their way down the platform, and began
their one-legged tramp through life, amidst the loud huzzas that a
maimed hero then received. They even joked about their misfortunes. I
remember one undaunted fellow, with the fresh color of buoyant youth
beginning again to dye his cheek, even after the amputation of a leg,
which so depletes the system. He said some grave words of wisdom to me
in such a roguish way, and followed up his counsel by adding, "You ought
to heed such advice from a man with one foot in the grave."

We missed all the home-coming, all the glorification awarded to the
hero. General Custer said no word of regret. He had accepted the offer
for further active service, and gratefully thanked his chief for giving
him the opportunity. I, however, should have liked to have him get some
of the celebrations that our country was then showering on its
defenders. I missed the bonfires, the processions, the public meeting of
distinguished citizens, who eloquently thanked the veterans, the
editorials that lauded each townsman's deed, the poetry in the corner of
the newspaper that was dedicated to a hero, the overflow of a woman's
heart singing praise to her military idol. But the cannon were fired,
the drums beat, the music sounded for all but us. Offices of trust were
offered at once to men coming home to private life, and towns and cities
felt themselves honored because some one of their number had gone out
and made himself so glorious a name that his very home became
celebrated. He was made the mayor, or the Congressman, and given a home
which it would have taken him many years of hard work to earn. Song,
story and history have long recounted what a hero is to a woman.
Imagination pictured to my eye troops of beautiful women gathering
around each gallant soldier on his return. The adoring eyes spoke
admiration, while the tongue subtly wove, in many a sentence, its meed
of praise. The General and his staff of boys, loving and reverencing
women, missed what men wisely count the sweetest of adulation. One
weather-beaten slip of a girl had to do all their banqueting,
cannonading, bonfiring, brass-banding, and general hallelujahs all the
way to Texas, and--yes, even after we got there; for the Southern women,
true to their idea of patriotism, turned their pretty faces away from
our handsome fellows, and resisted, for a long time, even the mildest
flirtation.

The drawing-room car was then unthought of in the minds of those who
plan new luxuries as our race demand more ease and elegance. There was a
ladies' car, to which no men unaccompanied by women were admitted. It
was never so full as the other coaches, and was much cleaner and better
ventilated.

This was at first a damper to the enjoyment of a military family, who
lost no opportunity of being together, for it compelled the men to
remain in the other cars. The scamp among us devised a plan to outwit
the brakemen; he borrowed my bag just before we were obliged to change
cars, and after waiting till the General and I were safely seated,
boldly walked up and demanded entrance, on the plea that he had a lady
inside. This scheme worked so well that the others took up the cue, and
my cloak, bag, umbrella, lunch-basket, and parcel of books and papers
were distributed among the rest before we stopped, and were used to
obtain entrance into the better car. Even our faithful servant, Eliza,
was unexpectedly overwhelmed with urgent offers of assistance; for she
always went with us, and sat by the door. This plan was a great success,
in so far as it kept our party together, but it proved disastrous to me,
as the scamp forgot my bag at some station, and I was minus all those
hundred-and-one articles that seem indispensable to a traveler's
comfort. In that plight I had to journey until, in some merciful
detention, we had an hour in which to seek out a shop, and hastily make
the necessary purchases.

At one of our stops for dinner we all made the usual rush for the
dining-hall, as in the confusion of over-laden trains at that excited
time it was necessary to hurry, and, besides, as there were delays and
irregularities in traveling, on account of the home-coming of the
troops, we never knew how long it might be before the next eating-house
was reached. The General insisted upon Eliza's going right with us, as
no other table was provided. The proprietor, already rendered
indifferent to people's comfort by his extraordinary gains, said there
was no table for servants. Eliza, the best-bred of maids, begged to go
back dinnerless into the car, but the General insisted on her sitting
down between us at the crowded table. A position so unusual, and to her
so totally out of place, made her appetite waver, and it vanished
entirely when the proprietor came, and told the General that no colored
folks could be allowed at his table. My husband quietly replied that he
had been obliged to give the woman that place, as the house had provided
no other. The determined man still stood threateningly over us,
demanding her removal, and Eliza uneasily and nervously tried to go. I
trembled, and the fork failed to carry the food, owing to a very wobbly
arm. The General firmly refused, the staff rose about us, and all along
the table up sprang men we had supposed to be citizens, as they were in
the dress of civilians. "General, stand your ground; we'll back you; the
woman shall have food." How little we realize in these piping times of
peace, how great a flame a little fire kindled in those agitating days.
The proprietor slunk back to his desk; the General and his hungry staff
went on eating as calmly as ever; Eliza hung her embarrassed head, and
her mistress idly twirled her useless fork--while the proprietor made
$1.50 clear gain on two women that were too frightened to swallow a
mouthful. I spread a sandwich for Eliza, while the General, mindful of
the returning hunger of the terrified woman, and perfectly indifferent
as to making himself ridiculous with parcels, marched by the infuriated
but subdued bully, with either a whole pie or some such modest capture
in his hand. We had put some hours of travel between ourselves and the
"twenty-minutes-for-dinner" place which came so near being a
battle-ground, before Eliza could eat what we had brought for her.

I wonder if any one is waiting for me to say that this incident happened
south of the Mason and Dixon line. It did not. It was in Ohio--I don't
remember the place. After all, the memory over which one complains, when
he finds how little he can recall, has its advantages. It hopelessly
buries the names of persons and places, when one starts to tell tales
out of school. It is like extracting the fangs from a rattlesnake; the
reptile, like the story, may be very disagreeable, but I can only hope
that a tale unadorned with names or places is as harmless as a snake
with its poison withdrawn.

I must stop a moment and give our Eliza, on whom this battle was waged,
a little space in this story, for she occupied no small part in the
events of the six years after; and when she left us and took an upward
step in life by marrying a colored lawyer, I could not reconcile myself
to the loss; and though she has lived through all the grandeur of a
union with a man "who gets a heap of money for his speeches in politics,
and brass bands to meet him at the stations, Miss Libbie," she came to
my little home not long since with tears of joy illuminating the bright
bronze of her expressive face. It reminded me so of the first time I
knew that the negro race regarded shades of color as a distinctive
feature, a beauty or a blemish, as it might be. Eliza stood in front of
a bronze medallion of my husband when it was first sent from the
artist's in 1865, and amused him hugely, by saying, in that partnership
manner she had in our affairs, "Why, Ginnel, it's jest my color." After
that, I noticed that she referred to her race according to the deepness
of tint, telling me, with scorn, of one of her numerous suitors: "Why,
Miss Libbie, he needent think to shine up to me; he's nothing but a
black African." I am thus introducing Eliza, color and all, that she may
not seem the vague character of other days; and whoever chances to meet
her will find in her a good war historian, a modest chronicler of a
really self-dying and courageous life. It was rather a surprise to me
that she was not an old woman when I saw her again this autumn, after so
many years, but she is not yet fifty. I imagine she did so much
mothering in those days when she comforted me in my loneliness, and
quieted me in my frights, that I counted her old even then.

Eliza requests that she be permitted to make her little bow to the
reader, and repeat a wish of hers that I take great pains in quoting
her, and not represent her as saying, "like field-hands, _whar_ and
_thar_." She says her people in Virginia, whom she reverences and loves,
always taught her not to say "them words; and if they should see what I
have told you they'd feel bad to think I forgot." If _whar_ and _thar_
appear occasionally in my efforts to transfer her literally to these
pages, it is only a _lapsus linguæ_ on her part. Besides, she has lived
North so long now, there is not that distinctive dialect peculiar to the
Southern servant. In her excitement, narrating our scenes of danger or
pleasure or merriment, she occasionally drops into expressions that
belonged to her early life. It is the fault of her historian if these
phrases get into print. To me they are charming, for they are Eliza in
undress uniform--Eliza without her company manners.

She describes her leaving the old plantation during war times: "I jined
the Ginnel at Amosville, Rappahannock County, in August, 1863. Everybody
was excited over freedom, and I wanted to see how it was. Everybody
keeps asking me why I left. I can't see why they can't recollect what
war was for, and that we was all bound to try and see for ourselves how
it was. After the 'Mancipation, everybody was a-standin' up for liberty,
and I wasent goin' to stay home when everybody else was a-goin'. The day
I came into camp, there was a good many other darkeys from all about our
place. We was a-standin' round waitin' when I first seed the Ginnel.

"He and Captain Lyon cum up to me, and the Ginnel says, 'Well, what's
_your_ name!' I told him Eliza; and he says, looking me all over fust,
'Well, Eliza, would you like to cum and live with me?' I waited a
minute, Miss Libbie. I looked _him_ all over, too, and finally I sez, 'I
reckon I would.' So the bargain was fixed up. But, oh, how awful
lonesome I was at fust, and I was afraid of everything in the shape of
war. I used to wish myself back on the old plantation with my mother. I
was mighty glad when you cum, Miss Libbie. Why, sometimes I never sot
eyes on a woman for weeks at a time."

Eliza's story of her war life is too long for these pages; but in spite
of her confession of being so "'fraid," she was a marvel of courage. She
was captured by the enemy, escaped, and found her way back after sunset
to the General's camp. She had strange and narrow escapes. She says,
quaintly: "Well, Miss Libbie, I set in to see the war, beginning and
end. There was many niggers that cut into cities and huddled up thar,
and laid around and saw hard times; but I went to see the end, and I
stuck it out. I allus thought this, that I didn't set down to wait to
have 'em all free _me_. I helped to free myself. I was all ready to step
to the front whenever I was called upon, even if I didn't shoulder the
musket. Well, I went to the end, and there's many folks says that a
woman can't follow the army without throwing themselves away, but I know
better. I went in, and I cum out with the respect of the men and the
officers."

[Illustration: ELIZA COOKING UNDER FIRE.]

Eliza often cooked under fire, and only lately one of the General's
staff, recounting war days, described her as she was preparing the
General's dinner in the field. A shell would burst near her; she would
turn her head in anger at being disturbed, unconscious that she was
observed, begin to growl to herself about being obliged to move, but
take up her kettle and frying-pan, march farther away, make a new fire,
and begin cooking as unperturbed as if it were an ordinary disturbance
instead of a sky filled with bits of falling shell. I do not repeat that
polite fiction of having been on the spot, as neither the artist nor I
had Eliza's grit or pluck; but we arranged the camp-kettle, and Eliza
fell into the exact expression, as she volubly began telling the tale of
"how mad those busting shells used to make her." It is an excellent
likeness, even though Eliza objects to the bandana, which she has
abandoned in her new position; and I must not forget that I found her
one day turning her head critically from side to side looking at her
picture; and, out of regard to her, will mention that her nose, of which
she is very proud, is, she fears, a touch too flat in the sketch. She
speaks of her dress as "completely whittled out with bullets," but she
would like me to mention that "she don't wear them rags now."

When Eliza reached New York this past autumn, she told me, when I asked
her to choose where she would go, as my time was to be entirely given to
her, that she wanted first to go to the Fifth Avenue Hotel and see if it
looked just the same as it did "when you was a bride, Miss Libbie, and
the Ginnel took you and me there on leave of absence." We went through
the halls and drawing-rooms, narrowly watched by the major-domo, who
stands guard over tramps, but fortified by my voice, she "oh'd" and
"ah'd" over its grandeur to her heart's content. One day I left her in
Madison Square, to go on a business errand, and cautioned her not to
stray away. When I returned I asked anxiously, "Did any one speak to
you, Eliza?" "_Every_body, Miss Libbie," as nonchalant and as complacent
as if it were her idea of New York hospitality. Then she begged me to go
round the Square, "to hunt a lady from Avenue A, who see'd you pass with
me, Miss Libbie, and said she knowed you was a lady, though I reckon she
couldn't 'count for me and you bein' together." We found the Avenue A
lady, and I was presented, and, to her satisfaction, admired the baby
that had been brought over to that blessed breathing-place of our city.

The Elevated railroad was a surprise to Eliza. She "didn't believe it
would be so high." At that celebrated curve on the Sixth Avenue line,
where Monsieur de Lesseps, even, exclaimed, "Mon Dieu! but the Americans
are a brave people," the poor, frightened woman clung to me and
whispered, "Miss Libbie, couldn't we get down anyway? Miss Libbie, I'se
seed enough. I can tell the folks at home all about it _now_. Oh, I
never did 'spect to be so near heaven till I went up for good."

At the Brooklyn Bridge she demurred. She is so intelligent that I
wanted to have her see the shipping, the wharves, the harbor, and the
statue of Liberty; but nothing kept her from flight save her desire to
tell her townspeople that she had seen the place where the crank jumped
off. The police-man, in answer to my inquiry, commanded us in martial
tones to stay still till he said the word; and when the wagon crossing
passed the spot, and the maintainer of the peace said "Now!" Eliza
shivered and whispered, "_Now_, let's go home, Miss Libbie. I dun took
the cullud part of the town fo' I come; the white folks hain't seen what
I has, and they'll be took when I tell 'em;" and off she toddled, for
Eliza is not the slender woman I once knew her.

Her description of the Wild West exhibition was most droll. I sent her
down because we had lived through so many of the scenes depicted, and I
felt sure that nothing would recall so vividly the life on the frontier
as that most realistic and faithful representation of a Western life
that has ceased to be, with advancing civilization. She went to Mr.
Cody's tent after the exhibition, to present my card of introduction,
for he had served as General Custer's scout after Eliza left us, and she
was, therefore, unknown to him except by hearsay. They had twenty
subjects in common; for Eliza, in her way, was as deserving of praise as
was the courageous Cody. She was delighted with all she saw, and on her
return her description of it, mingled with imitations of the voices of
the hawkers and the performers, was so incoherent that it presented only
a confused jumble to my ears. The buffalo were a surprise, a wonderful
revival to her of those hunting-days when our plains were darkened by
the herds. "When the buffalo cum in, I was ready to leap up and holler,
Miss Libbie; it 'minded me of ole times. They made me think of the
fifteen the Ginnel fust struck in Kansas. He jest pushed down his ole
hat, and went after 'em linkety-clink. Well, Miss Libbie, when Mr. Cody
come up, I see at once his back and hips was built precisely like the
Ginnel, and when I come on to his tent, I jest said to him: 'Mr. Buffalo
Bill, when you cum up to the stand and wheeled round, I said to myself,
"_Well_, if he ain't the 'spress image of Ginnel Custer in battle I
never seed any one that was!"' I jest wish he'd come to my town and give
a show! He could have the hull fairground there. My! he could raise
money so fast 'twouldn't take him long to _pay_ for a church. And the
shootin' and ridin'! why, Miss Libbie, when I seed one of them ponies
brought out, I know'd he was one of the hatefulest, sulkiest ponies that
ever lived. He was a-prancin' and curvin', and he jest stretched his ole
neck and throwed the men as fast as ever they got on."

After we had strolled through the streets for many days, Eliza always
amusing me by her droll comments, she said to me one day: "Miss Libbie,
you don't take notice, when me and you's walking on, a-lookin' into
shop-windows and a-gazin' at the new things I never see before, how the
folks does stare at us. But I see 'em a-gazin', and I can see 'em
a-ponderin' and sayin' to theirsel's, 'Well, I do declar'! that's a
lady, there ain't no manner of doubt. She's one of the bong tong; but
whatever she's a-doin' with that old scrub nigger, I can't make out.'" I
can hardly express what a recreation and delight it was to go about with
this humorous woman and listen to her comments, her unique criticisms,
her grateful delight, when she turned on the street to say: "Oh, _what_
a good time me and you is having, Miss Libbie, and _how_ I will 'stonish
them people at home!" The best of it all was the manner in which she
brought back our past, and the hundred small events we recalled, which
were made more vivid by the imitation of voice, walk, gesture she gave
in speaking of those we followed in the old marching days.

On this journey to Texas some accident happened to our engine, and
detained us all night. We campaigners, accustomed to all sorts of
unexpected inconveniences, had learned not to mind discomforts. Each
officer sank out of sight into his great-coat collar, and slept on by
the hour, while I slumbered till morning, curled up in a heap, thankful
to have the luxury of one seat to myself. We rather gloried over the
citizens who tramped up and down the aisle, groaning and becoming more
emphatic in their language as the night advanced, indulging in the
belief that the women were too sound asleep to hear them. I wakened
enough to hear one old man say, fretfully, and with many adjectives:
"Just see how those army folks sleep; they can tumble down anywhere,
while I am so lame and sore, from the cramped-up place I am in, I can't
even doze." As morning came we noticed our scamp at the other end of the
car, with his legs stretched comfortably on the seat turned over in
front of him. All this unusual luxury he accounted for afterward, by
telling us the trick that his ingenuity had suggested to obtain more
room. "You see," the wag said, "two old codgers sat down in front of my
pal and me, late last night, and went on counting up their gains in the
rise of corn, owing to the war, which, to say the least, was harrowing
to us poor devils who had fought the battles that had made them rich and
left us without a 'red.' I concluded, if that was all they had done for
their country, two of its brave defenders had more of a right to the
seat than they had. I just turned to H---- and began solemnly to talk
about what store I set by my old army coat, then on the seat they
occupied; said I couldn't give it up, though I had been obliged to cover
a comrade who had died of small-pox, I not being afraid of contagion,
having had varioloid. Well, I got that far when the eyes of the old
galoots started out of their heads, and they vamoosed the ranche, I can
tell you, and I saw them peering through the window at the end of the
next car, the horror still in their faces." The General exploded with
merriment. How strange it seems, to contrast those noisy, boisterous
times, when everybody shouted with laughter, called loudly from one end
of the car to the other, told stories for the whole public to hear, and
sang war-songs, with the quiet, orderly travelers of nowadays, who, even
in the tremor of meeting or parting, speak below their breath, and,
ashamed of emotion, quickly wink back to its source the prehistoric
tear.

We bade good-by to railroads at Louisville, and the journeying south was
then made by steamer. How peculiar it seemed to us, accustomed as we
were to lake craft with deep hulls, to see for the first time those
flat-bottomed boats drawing so little water, with several stories, and
upper decks loaded with freight. I could hardly rid myself of the fear
that, being so top-heavy, we would blow over. The tempests of our
western lakes were then my only idea of sailing weather. Then the long,
sloping levees, the preparations for the rise of water, the strange
sensation, when the river was high, of looking over the embankment, down
upon the earth! It is a novel feeling to be for the first time on a
great river, with such a current as the Mississippi flowing on above the
level of the plantations, hemmed in by an embankment on either side.
Though we saw the manner of its construction at one point where the
levee was being repaired, and found how firmly and substantially the
earth was fortified with stone and logs against the river, it still
seemed to me an unnatural sort of voyaging to be above the level of the
ground; and my tremors on the subject, and other novel experiences, were
instantly made use of as a new and fruitful source of practical jokes.
For instance, the steamer bumped into the shore anywhere it happened to
be wooded, and an army of negroes appeared, running over the gang-plank
like ants. Sometimes at night the pine torches, and the resinous knots
burning in iron baskets slung over the side of the boat, made a weird
and gruesome sight, the shadows were so black, the streams of light so
intense, while the hurrying negroes loaded on the wood, under the brutal
voice of a steamer's mate. Once a negro fell in. They made a pretense of
rescuing him, gave it up soon, and up hurried our scamp to the upper
deck to tell me the horrible tale. He had good command of language, and
allowed no scruples to spoil a story. After that I imagined, at every
night wood-lading, some poor soul was swept down under the boat and off
into eternity. The General was sorry for me, and sometimes, when I
imagined the calls of the crew to be the despairing wail of a dying man,
he made pilgrimages, for my sake, to the lower deck to make sure that no
one was drowned. My imaginings were not always so respected, for the
occasion gave too good an opportunity for a joke, to be passed quietly
by. The scamp and my husband put their heads together soon after this,
and prepared a tale for the "old lady," as they called me. As we were
about to make a landing, they ran to me and said, "Come, Libbie, hurry
up! hurry up! You'll miss the fun if you don't scrabble." "Miss what?"
was my very natural question, and exactly the reply they wanted me to
make. "Why, they're going to bury a dead man when we land." I exclaimed
in horror, "Another man drowned? how can you speak so irreverently of
death?" With a "do you suppose the mate cares for one darkey more or
less?" they dragged me to the deck. There I saw the great cable which
was used to tie us up, fastened to a strong spar, the two ends of which
were buried in the bank. The ground was hollowed out underneath the
centre, and the rope slipped under to fasten it around the log. After I
had watched this process of securing our boat to the shore, these
irrepressibles said, solemnly, "The sad ceremony is now ended, and no
other will take place till we tie up at the next stop." When it dawned
upon me that "tying up" was called, in steamer vernacular, "burying a
dead man," my eyes returned to their proper place in the sockets, breath
came back, and indignation filled my soul. Language deserts us at such
moments, and I resorted to force.

The _Ruth_ was accounted one of the largest and most beautiful steamers
that had ever been on the Mississippi River, her expenses being $1,000 a
day. The decorations were sumptuous, and we enjoyed every luxury. We ate
our dinners to very good music, which the boat furnished. We had been on
plain fare too long not to watch with eagerness the arrival of the
procession of white-coated negro waiters, who each day came in from the
pastry-cook with some new device in cake, ices, or confectionery. There
was a beautiful Ruth gleaning in a field, in a painting that filled the
semicircle over the entrance of the cabin. Ruths with sheaves held up
the branches of the chandeliers, while the pretty gleaner looked out
from the glass of the stateroom doors. The captain being very patient as
well as polite, we pervaded every corner of the great boat. The General
and his boy-soldiers were too accustomed to activity to be quiet in the
cabin. Even that unapproachable man at the wheel yielded to our longing
eyes, and let us into his round tower. Oh, how good he was to me! The
General took me up there, and the pilot made a place for us, where, with
my bit of work, I listened for hours to his stories. My husband made
fifty trips up and down, sometimes detained when we were nearing an
interesting point, to hear the story of the crevasse. Such tales were
thrilling enough even for him, accustomed as he then was to the most
exciting scenes. The pilot pointed out places where the river, wild with
the rush and fury of spring freshets, had burst its way through the
levees, and, sweeping over a peninsula, returned to the channel beyond,
utterly annihilating and sinking out of sight forever the ground where
happy people had lived on their plantations. It was a sad time to take
that journey, and even in the midst of our intense enjoyment of the
novelty of the trip, the freedom from anxiety, and the absence of
responsibility of any kind, I recall how the General grieved over the
destruction of plantations by the breaks in the levee. The work on these
embankments was done by assessment, I think. They were cared for as our
roads and bridges are kept in order, and when men were absent in the
war, only the negroes were left to attend to the repairing. But the
inundations then were slight, compared with many from which the State
has since suffered. In 1874 thirty parishes were either wholly or partly
overflowed by an extraordinary rise in the river. On our trip we saw one
plantation after another submerged, the grand old houses abandoned, and
standing in lakes of water, while the negro quarters and barns were
almost out of sight. Sometimes the cattle huddled on a little rise of
ground, helpless and pitiful. We wished, as we used to do in that
beautiful Shenandoah Valley, that if wars must come, the devastation of
homes might be avoided; and I usually added, with one of the totally
impracticable suggestions conjured up by a woman, that battles might be
fought in desert places.

A Southern woman, who afterward entertained us, described, in the
graphic and varied language which is their gift, the breaking of the
levee on their own plantation. How stealthily the small stream of water
crept on and on, until their first warning was its serpent-like progress
past their house. Then the excitement and rush of all the household to
the crevasse, the hasty gathering in of the field-hands, and the homely
devices for stopping the break until more substantial materials could be
gathered. It was a race for life on all sides. Each one, old or young,
knew that his safety depended on the superhuman effort of the first hour
of danger. In our safe homes we scarcely realize what it would be to
look out from our windows upon, what seemed to me, a small and
insufficient mound of earth stretching along the frontage of an estate,
and know that it was our only rampart against a rushing flood, which
seemed human in its revengeful desire to engulf us.

The General was intensely interested in those portions of the country
where both naval and land warfare had been carried on. At Island No. 10,
and Fort Pillow especially, there seemed, even then, no evidence that
fighting had gone on so lately. The luxuriant vegetation of the South
had covered the fortifications; nature seemed hastening to throw a
mantle over soil that had so lately been reddened with such a precious
dye. The fighting had been so desperate at the latter point, it is
reported the Confederate General Forrest said: "The river was dyed with
the blood of the slaughtered for two hundred yards."

At one of our stops on the route, the Confederate General Hood came on
board, to go to a town a short distance below, and my husband, hearing
he was on the boat, hastened to seek him out and introduce himself. Such
reunions have now become common, I am thankful to say, but I confess to
watching curiously every expression of those men, as it seemed very
early, in those times of excited and vehement conduct, to begin such
overtures. And yet I did not forget that my husband sent messages of
friendship to his classmates on the other side throughout the war. As I
watched this meeting, they looked, while they grasped each other's hand,
as if they were old-time friends happily united. After they had carried
on an animated conversation for awhile, my husband, always thinking how
to share his enjoyment, hurried to bring me into the group. General
Custer had already taught me, even in those bitter times, that he knew
his classmates fought from their convictions of right, and that, now the
war was over, I must not be adding fuel to a fire that both sides should
strive to smother.

General Hood was tall, fair, dignified and soldierly. He used his crutch
with difficulty, and it was an effort for him to rise when I was
presented. We three instantly resumed the war talk that my coming had
interrupted. The men plied each other with questions as to the situation
of troops at certain engagements, and the General fairly bombarded
General Hood with inquiries about the action on their side in different
campaigns. At that time nothing had been written for Northern papers and
magazines by the South. All we knew was from the brief accounts in the
Southern newspapers that our pickets exchanged, and from papers captured
or received from Europe by way of blockade-runners. We were greatly
amused by the comical manner in which General Hood described his efforts
to suit himself to an artificial leg, after he had contributed his own
to his beloved cause. In his campaigns he was obliged to carry an extra
one, in case of accident to the one he wore, which was strapped to his
led horse. He asked me to picture the surprise of the troops who
captured all the reserve horses at one time, and found this false leg of
his suspended from the saddle. He said he had tried five, at different
times, to see which of the inventions was lightest and easiest to wear;
"and I am obliged to confess, Mrs. Custer, much as you may imagine it
goes against me to do so, that of the five--English, German, French,
Yankee and Confederate--the Yankee leg was the best of all." When
General Custer carefully helped the maimed hero down the cabin stairs
and over the gangway, we bade him good-by with real regret--so quickly
do soldiers make and cement a friendship when both find the same
qualities to admire in each other.

The novelty of Mississippi travel kept even our active, restless party
interested. One of our number played guitar accompaniments, and we sang
choruses on deck at night, forgetting that the war-songs might grate on
the ears of some of the people about us. The captain and steamer's crew
allowed us to roam up and down the boat at will, and when we found, by
the map or crew, that we were about to touch the bank in a hitherto
unvisited State, we were the first to run over the gang-plank and caper
up and down the soil, to add a new State to our fast-swelling list of
those in which we had been. We rather wondered, though, what we would do
if asked questions by our elders at home as to what we thought of
Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, as we had only scampered on and off
the river bank of those States while the wooding went on. We were like
children let out of school, and everything interested us. Even the low
water was an event. The sudden stop of our great steamer, which, large
as it was, drew but a few feet of water, made the timbers groan and the
machinery creak. Then we took ourselves to the bow, where the captain,
mate and deck-hands were preparing for a siege, as the force of the
engines had ploughed us deep into a sand-bar. There was wrenching,
veering and struggling of the huge boat; and at last a resort to those
two spars which seem to be so uselessly attached to each side of the
forward deck of the river steamers. These were swung out and plunged
into the bank, the rope and tackle put into use, and with the aid of
these stilts we were skipped over the sand-bar into the deeper water. It
was on that journey that I first heard the name Mr. Clemens took as his
_nom de plume_. The droning voice of the sailor taking soundings, as we
slowly crept through low water, called out, "Mark twain!" and the pilot
answered by steering the boat according to the story of the plumb-line.

The trip on a Mississippi steamer, as we knew it, is now one of the
things of the past. It was accounted then, and before the war, our most
luxurious mode of travel. Every one was sociable, and in the constant
association of the long trip some warm friendships sprung up. We had
then our first acquaintance with Bostonians as well as with Southerners.
Of course, it was too soon for Southern women, robbed of home, and even
the necessities of life, by the cruelty of war, to be wholly cordial. We
were more and more amazed at the ignorance in the South concerning the
North. A young girl, otherwise intelligent, thawed out enough to confess
to me that she had really no idea that Yankee soldiers were like their
own physically. She imagined they would be as widely different as black
from white, and a sort of combination of gorilla and chimpanzee.
Gunboats had but a short time before moored at the levee that bounded
her grandmother's plantation, and the negroes ran into the house crying
the terrible news of the approach of the enemy. The very thought of a
Yankee was abhorrent; but the girl, more absorbed with curiosity than
fear, slipped out of the house to where a view of the walk from the
landing was to be had, and, seeing a naval officer approaching, raced
back to her grandmother, crying out in surprise at finding a being like
unto her own people, "Why, it's a man!"

As we approached New Orleans the plantations grew richer. The palmetto
and the orange, by which we are "twice blessed" in its simultaneous
blossom and fruit; the oleander, treasured in conservatories at home,
here growing to tree size along the country roads, all charmed us. The
wide galleries around the two stories of the houses were a delight. The
course of our boat was often near enough the shore for us to see the
family gathered around the supper-table spread on the upper gallery,
which was protected from the sun by blinds or shades of matting.

We left the steamer at New Orleans with regret. It seems, even now,
that it is rather too bad we have grown into so hurried a race that we
cannot spare the time to travel as leisurely or luxuriously as we did
then. Even pleasure-seekers going off for a tour, when they are not
restricted by time nor mode of journeying, study the time-tables
closely, to see by which route the quickest passage can be made.



CHAPTER II.

NEW ORLEANS AFTER THE WAR.


WE were detained, by orders, for a little time in New Orleans, and the
General was enthusiastic over the city. All day we strolled through the
streets, visiting the French quarter, contrasting the foreign
shopkeepers--who were never too hurried to be polite--with our brusque,
business-like Northern clerk; dined in the charming French restaurants,
where we saw eating made a fine art. The sea-food was then new to me,
and I hovered over the crabs, lobsters and shrimps, but remember how
amused the General was by my quick retreat from a huge live green
turtle, whose locomotion was suspended by his being turned upon his
back. He was unconsciously bearing his own epitaph fastened upon his
shell: "I will be served up for dinner at 5 P. M." We of course spent
hours, even matutinal hours, at the market, and the General drank so
much coffee that the old mammy who served him said many a "Mon Dieu!" in
surprise at his capacity, and volubly described in French to her
neighbors what marvels a Yankee man could do in coffee-sipping. For
years after, when very good coffee was praised, or even Eliza's strongly
commended, his _ne plus ultra_ was, "Almost equal to the French market."
We here learned what artistic effects could be produced with prosaic
carrots, beets, onions and turnips. The General looked with wonder upon
the leisurely creole grandee who came to order his own dinner. After his
epicurean selection he showed the interest and skill that a Northern man
might in the buying of a picture or a horse, when the servant bearing
the basket was entrusted with what was to be enjoyed at night. We had
never known men that took time to market, except as our hurried Northern
fathers of families sometimes made sudden raids upon the butcher, on the
way to business, and called off an order as they ran for a car.

The wide-terraced Canal Street, with its throng of leisurely
promenaders, was our daily resort. The stands of Parma violets on the
street corners perfumed the whole block, and the war seemed not even to
have cast a cloud over the first foreign pleasure-loving people we had
seen. The General was so pleased with the picturesque costumes of the
servants that Eliza was put into a turban at his entreaty. In vain we
tried for a glimpse of the creole beauties. The duenna that guarded them
in their rare promenades, as they glided by, wearing gracefully the lace
mantilla, bonnetless, and shaded by a French parasol, whisked the pretty
things out of sight, quick as we were to discover and respectfully
follow them. The effects of General Butler's reign were still visible in
the marvelous cleanliness of the city. We drove on the shell road, spent
hours in the horse-cars, went to the theatres, and even penetrated the
rooms of the most exclusive milliners, for General Custer liked the
shops as much as I did. Indeed, we had a grand play-day, and were not in
the least troubled at our detention.

General Scott was then in our hotel, about to set out for the North. He
remembered Lieutenant Custer, who had reported to him in 1861, and was
the bearer of despatches sent by him to the front, and he congratulated
my husband on his career in terms that, coming from such a veteran, made
his boy-heart leap for joy. General Scott was then very infirm, and,
expressing a wish to see me, with old-time gallantry begged my husband
to explain to me that he would be compelled to claim the privilege of
sitting. But it was too much for his etiquettical instincts, and, weak
as he was, he feebly drew his tall form to a half-standing position,
leaning against the lounge as I entered. Pictures of General Scott, in
my father's home, belonged to my earliest recollections. He was a
colossal figure on a fiery steed, whose prancing forefeet never touched
the earth. The Mexican War had hung a halo about him, and my childish
explanation of the clouds of dust that the artist sought to represent
was the smoke of battle, in which I supposed the hero lived perpetually.
And now this decrepit, tottering man--I was almost sorry to have seen
him at all, except for the praise that he bestowed upon my husband,
which, coming from so old a soldier, I deeply appreciated.

General Sheridan had assumed command of the Department of the
Mississippi, and the Government had hired a beautiful mansion for
headquarters, where he was at last living handsomely after all his rough
campaigning. When we dined with him, we could but contrast the food
prepared over a Virginia camp-fire, with the dainty French cookery of
the old colored Mary, who served him afterward so many years. General
Custer was, of course, glad to be under his chief again, and after
dinner, while I was given over to some of the military family to
entertain, the two men, sitting on the wide gallery, talked of what it
was then believed would be a campaign across the border. I was left in
complete ignorance, and did not even know that an army of 70,000 men was
being organized under General Sheridan's masterly hand. My husband read
the Eastern papers to me, and took the liberty of reserving such
articles as might prove incendiary in his family. If our incorrigible
scamp spoke of the expected wealth he intended to acquire from the
sacking of palaces and the spoils of churches, he was frowned upon, not
only because the General tried to teach him that there were some
subjects too sacred to be touched by his irreverent tongue, but because
he did not wish my anxieties to be aroused by the prospect of another
campaign. As much of my story must be of the hardships my husband
endured, I have here lingered a little over the holiday that our journey
and the detention in New Orleans gave him. I hardly think any one can
recall a complaint of his in those fourteen years of tent-life; but he
was taught, through deprivations, how to enjoy every moment of such
days as that charming journey and city experience gave us.

The steamer chartered to take troops up the Red River was finally ready,
and we sailed the last week in June. There were horses and Government
freight on board. The captain was well named Greathouse, as he greeted
us with hospitality and put his little steamer at our disposal. Besides
the fact that this contract for transportation would line his pockets
well, he really seemed glad to have us. He was a Yankee, and gave us his
native State (Indiana) in copious and inexhaustible supplies, as his
contribution to the talks on deck. Long residence in the South had not
dimmed his patriotism; and in the rapid transits from deck to
pilot-house, of this tall Hoosier, I almost saw the straps fastening
down the trousers of Brother Jonathan, as well as the coat-tails cut
from the American flag, so entirely did he personate in his figure our
emblematic Uncle Sam. It is customary for the Government to defray the
expenses of officers and soldiers when traveling under orders; but so
much red-tape is involved that they often pay their own way at the time,
and the quartermaster reimburses them at the journey's end. The captain
knew this, and thought he would give himself the pleasure of having us
as his guests. Accordingly, he took the General one side, and imparted
this very pleasing information. Even with the provident ones this would
be a relief; while we had come on board almost wrecked in our finances
by the theatre, the tempting flowers, the fascinating restaurants, and
finally, a disastrous lingering one day in the beguiling shop of Madam
Olympe, the reigning milliner. The General had bought some folly for me,
in spite of the heroic protest that I made about its inappropriateness
for Texas, and it left us just enough to pay for our food on our
journey, provided we ordered nothing extra, and had no delays. Captain
Greathouse little knew to what paupers he was extending his hospitality.
No one can comprehend how carelessly and enjoyably army people can walk
about with empty pockets, knowing that it is but a matter of thirty
days' waiting till Richard shall be himself again. My husband made
haste to impart the news quietly to the staff, that the captain was
going to invite them all to be his guests, and so relieve their anxiety
about financial embarrassment. The scamp saw a chance for a joke, and
when the captain again appeared he knew that he was going to receive the
invitation, and anticipated it. In our presence he jingled the last
twenty-six cents he had in the world against the knife in his almost
empty pockets, assumed a Croesus-like air, and begged to know the cost
of the journey, as he loftily said he made it a rule always to pay in
advance. At this, the General, unable to smother his laughter,
precipitated himself out of the cabin-door, nearly over the narrow
guard, to avoid having his merriment seen. When the captain said blandly
that he was about to invite our party to partake of his hospitality, our
scamp bowed, and accepted the courtesy as if it were condescension on
his part, and proceeded to take possession, and almost command, of the
steamer.

It was a curious trip, that journey up the Red River. We saw the dull
brownish-red water from the clay bed and banks mingling with the clearer
current of the Mississippi long before we entered the mouth of the Red
River. We had a delightful journey; but I don't know why, except that
youth, health and buoyant spirits rise superior to everything. The river
was ugliness itself. The tree trunks, far up, were gray and slimy with
the late freshet, the hanging moss adding a dismal feature to the scene.
The waters still covered the low, muddy banks strewn with fallen trees
and underbrush. The river was very narrow in places, and in our way
there were precursors of the Red River raft above. At one time, before
Government work was begun, the raft extended forty-five miles beyond
Shreveport, and closed the channel to steamers. Sometimes the pilot
wound us round just such obstructions--logs and driftwood jammed in so
firmly, and so immovable, they looked like solid ground, while rank
vegetation sprung up through the thick moss that covered the decaying
tree trunks. The river was very crooked. The whistle screeched when
approaching a turn; but so sudden were some of these, that a steamer
coming down, not slackening speed, almost ran into us at one sharp bend.
It shaved our sides and set our boat a-quivering, while the
vituperations of the boat's crew, and the loud, angry voices of the
captain and pilot, with a prompt return of such civilities from the
other steamer, made us aware that emergencies brought forth a special
and extensive set of invectives, reserved for careless navigation on the
Red River of the South. We grew to have an increasing respect for the
skill of the pilot, as he steered us around sharp turns, across low
water filled with branching upturned tree trunks, and skillfully took a
narrow path between the shore and a snag that menacingly ran its black
point out of the water. A steamer in advance of us, carrying troops, had
encountered a snag, while going at great speed, and the obstructing tree
ran entirely through the boat, coming out at the pilot-house. The troops
were unloaded and taken up afterward by another steamer. Sometimes the
roots of great forest trees, swept down by a freshet, become imbedded in
the river, and the whole length of the trunk is under water, swaying up
and down, but not visible below the turbid surface. The forest is dense
at some points, and we could see but a short distance as we made our
circuitous, dangerous way.

The sand-bars, and the soft red clay of the river-banks, were a fitting
home for the alligators that lay sunning themselves, or sluggishly
crawled into the stream as the General aimed at them with his rifle from
the steamer's guards. They were new game, and gave some fresh excitement
to the long, idle days. He never gave up trying, in his determined way,
for the vulnerable spot in their hide just behind the eye. I thought the
sand-hill crane must have first acquired its tiresome habit of standing
on one leg, from its disgust at letting down the reserve foot into such
thick, noisome water. It seemed a pity that some of those shots from the
steamer's deck had not ended its melancholy existence. Through all this
mournful river-way the guitar twanged, and the dense forest resounded
to war choruses or old college glees that we sent out in happy notes as
we sat on deck. I believe Captain Greathouse bade us good-by with
regret, as he seemed to enjoy the jolly party, and when we landed at
Alexandria he gave us a hogshead of ice, the last we were to see for a
year.

A house abandoned by its owners, and used by General Banks for
headquarters during the war, was selected for our temporary home. As we
stepped upon the levee, a tall Southerner came toward me and extended
his hand. At that time the citizens were not wont to welcome the Yankee
in that manner. He had to tell me who he was, as unfortunately I had
forgotten, and I began to realize the truth of the saying, that "there
are but two hundred and fifty people in the world," when I found an
acquaintance in this isolated town. He proved to be the only Southerner
I had ever known in my native town in Michigan, who came there when a
lad to visit kinsfolk. In those days his long black hair, large dark
eyes and languishing manner, added to the smooth, soft-flowing,
flattering speeches, made sad havoc in our school-girl ranks. I suppose
the youthful and probably susceptible hearts of our circle were all set
fluttering, for the boy seemed to find pleasure in a chat with any one
of us that fell to him in our walks to and from school. The captivating
part of it all was the lines written on the pages of my arithmetic,
otherwise so odious to me--"Come with me to my distant home, where,
under soft Southern skies, we'll breathe the odor of orange groves."
None of us had answered to his "Come," possibly because of the infantile
state of our existence, possibly because the invitation was too general.
And here stood our youthful hero, worn prematurely old and shabby after
his four years of fighting for "the cause." The boasted "halls of his
ancestors," the same to which we had been so ardently invited, were a
plain white cottage. No orange groves, but a few lime-trees sparsely
scattered over the prescribed lawn. In the pleasant visit that we all
had, there was discreet avoidance of the poetic license he had taken in
early years, when describing his home under the southern sky.

Alexandria had been partly burned during the war, and was built up
mostly with one-story cottages. Indeed, it was always the popular mode
of building there. We found everything a hundred years behind the times.
The houses of our mechanics at home had more conveniences and modern
improvements. I suppose the retinue of servants before the war rendered
the inhabitants indifferent to what we think absolutely necessary for
comfort. The house we used as headquarters had large, lofty rooms
separated by a wide hall, while in addition there were two wings. A
family occupied one-half of the house, caring for it in the absence of
the owners. In the six weeks we were there, we never saw them, and
naturally concluded they were not filled with joy at our presence. The
house was delightfully airy; but we took up the Southern custom of
living on the gallery. The library was still intact, in spite of its
having been headquarters for our army; and evidently the people had
lived in what was considered luxury for the South in its former days,
yet everything was primitive enough. This great house, filled as it once
was with servants, had its sole water supply from two tanks or cisterns
above ground at the rear. The rich and the poor were alike dependent
upon these receptacles for water; and it was not a result of the war,
for this was the only kind of reservoir provided, even in prosperous
times. But one well was dug in Alexandria, as the water was brackish and
impure. Each house, no matter how small, had cisterns, sometimes as high
as the smaller cottages themselves. The water in those where we lived
was very low, the tops were uncovered, and dust, leaves, bugs and flies
were blown in, while the cats strolled around the upper rim during their
midnight orchestral overtures. We found it necessary to husband the fast
lowering water, as the rains were over for the summer. The servants were
enjoined to draw out the home-made plug (there was not even a Yankee
faucet) with the utmost care, while some one was to keep vigilant watch
on a cow, very advanced in cunning, that used to come and hook at the
plug till it was loosened and fell out. The sound of flowing water was
our first warning of the precious wasting. No one could drink the
river-water, and even in our ablutions we turned our eyes away as we
poured the water from the pitcher into the bowl. Our rain-water was so
full of gallinippers and pollywogs, that a glass stood by the plate
untouched until the sediment and natural history united at the bottom,
while heaven knows what a microscope, had we possessed one, would have
revealed!

Eliza was well primed with stories of alligators by the negroes and
soldiers, who loved to frighten her. One measuring thirteen feet eight
inches was killed on the river-bank, they said, as he was about to
partake of his favorite supper, a negro sleeping on the sand. It was
enough for Eliza when she heard of this preference for those of her
color, and she duly stampeded. She was not well up in the habits of
animals, and having seen the alligators crawling over the mud of the
river banks, she believed they were so constituted that at night they
could take long tramps over the country. She used to assure me that she
nightly heard them crawling around the house. One night, when some
fearful sounds issued from the cavernous depths of the old cistern, she
ran to one of the old negroes of the place, her carefully braided wool
rising from her head in consternation, and called out, "Jest listen!
jest listen!" The old mammy quieted her by, "Oh la, honey, don't you be
skeart; nothin's goin' to hurt you; them's only bull-toads." This
information, though it quieted Eliza's fears, did not make the
cistern-water any more enjoyable to us.

The houses along Red River were raised from the ground on piles, as the
soil was too soft and porous for cellars. Before the fences were
destroyed and the place fell into dilapidation, there might have been a
lattice around the base of the building, but now it was gone. Though
this open space under the house gave vent for what air was stirring, it
also offered free circulation to pigs, that ran grunting and squealing
back and forth, and even the calves sought its grateful shelter from
the sun and flies. And, oh, the mosquitoes! Others have exhausted
adjectives in trying to describe them, and until I came to know those of
the Missouri River at Fort Lincoln, Dakota, I joined in the general
testimony, that the Red River of the South could not be outdone. The
bayous about us, filled with decaying vegetable matter, and surrounded
with marshy ground, and the frequent rapid fall of the river, leaving
banks of mud, all bred mosquitoes, or gallinippers, as the darkies
called them. Eliza took counsel as to the best mode of extermination,
and brought old kettles with raw cotton into our room, from which
proceeded such smudges and such odors as would soon have wilted a
Northern mosquito; but it only resulted in making us feel like a piece
of dried meat hanging in a smoke-house, while the undisturbed insect
winged its way about our heads, singing as it swirled and dipped and
plunged its javelin into our defenseless flesh. There were days there,
as at Fort Lincoln, when the wind, blowing in a certain direction,
brought such myriads of them that I was obliged to beat a retreat under
the netting that enveloped the high, broad bed, which is a specialty of
the extreme South, and with my book, writing or sewing, listened
triumphantly to the clamoring army beating on the outside of the bars.
The General made fun of me thus enthroned, when he returned from office
work; but I used to reply that he could afford to remain unprotected, if
the greedy creatures could draw their sustenance from his veins without
leaving a sting.

At the rear of our house were two rows of negro quarters, which Eliza
soon penetrated, and afterward begged me to visit. Only the very old and
worthless servants remained. The owners of the place on which we were
living had three other sugar plantations in the valley, from one of
which alone 2,300 hogsheads of sugar were shipped in one season, and at
the approach of the army 500 able-bodied negroes were sent into Texas.
Eliza described the decamping of the owner of the plantation thus, "Oh,
Miss Libbie, the war made a mighty scatter." The poor creatures left
were in desperate straits. One, a bed-ridden woman, having been a
house-servant, was intelligent for one of her race. After Eliza had
taken me the rounds, I piloted the General, and he found that, though
the very old woman did not know her exact age, she could tell him of
events that she remembered when she was in New Orleans with her
mistress, which enabled him to calculate her years to be almost a
hundred. Three old people claimed to remember "Washington's war." I look
back to our visit to her little cabin, where we sat beside her bed, as
one of vivid interest. The old woman knew little of the war, and no one
had told her of the proclamation until our arrival. We were both much
moved when, after asking us questions, she said to me, "And, Missey, is
it really true that I is free?" Then she raised her eyes to heaven, and
blessed the Lord for letting her live to see the day. The General, who
had to expostulate with Eliza sometimes for her habit of feeding every
one out of our supplies, whether needy or not, had no word to say now.
Our kitchen could be full of grizzly, tottering old wrecks, and he only
smiled on the generous dispenser of her master's substance. Indeed, he
had them fed all the time we stayed there, and they dragged their
tattered caps from their old heads, and blessed him as we left, for what
he had done, and for the food that he provided for them after we were
gone.

It was at Alexandria that I first visited a negro prayer-meeting. As we
sat on the gallery one evening, we heard the shouting and singing, and
quietly crept round to the cabin where the exhorting and groaning were
going on. My husband stood with uncovered head, reverencing their
sincerity, and not a muscle of his face moved, though it was rather
difficult to keep back a smile at the grotesqueness of the scene. The
language and the absorbed manner in which these old slaves held
communion with their Lord, as if He were there in person, and told Him
in simple but powerful language their thanks that the day of Jubilee had
come, that their lives had been spared to see freedom come to His
people, made us sure that a faith that brought their Saviour down in
their midst was superior to that of the more civilized, who send
petitions to a throne that they themselves surround with clouds of
doctrine and doubt. Though they were so poor and helpless, and seemingly
without anything to inspire gratitude, evidently there were reasons in
their own minds for heartfelt thanks, as there was no mistaking the
genuineness of feeling when they sang:

    "Bless the Lord that I can rise and tell
     That Jesus has done all things well."

Old as some of these people were, their religion took a very energetic
form. They swayed back and forth as they sat about the dimly lighted
cabin, clapped their hands spasmodically, and raised their eyes to
heaven in moments of absorption. There were those among the younger
people who jumped up and down as the "power" possessed them, and the
very feeblest uttered groans, and quavered out the chorus of the old
tunes, in place of the more active demonstrations for which their
rheumatic old limbs now unfitted them. When, afterward, my husband read
to me newspaper accounts of negro camp-meetings or prayer-meetings
graphically written, no description seemed exaggerated to us; and he
used to say that nothing compared with that night when we first listened
to those serious, earnest old centenarians, whose feeble voices still
quavered out a tune of gratitude, as, with bent forms and bowed heads,
they stood leaning on their canes and crutches.

As the heat became more overpowering, I began to make excuses for the
slip-shod manner of living of the Red River people. Active as was my
temperament, climatic influences told, and I felt that I should have
merited the denunciation of the antique woman in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," of
"Heow shiftless!" It was hard to move about in the heat of the day, but
at evening we all went for a ride. It seemed to me a land of
enchantment. We had never known such luxuriance of vegetation. The
valley of the river extended several miles inland, the foliage was
varied and abundant, and the sunsets had deeper, richer colors than any
at the North. The General, getting such constant pleasure out of nature,
and not in the least minding to express it, was glad to hear even the
prosaic one of our number, who rarely cared for color or scenery, go
into raptures over the gorgeous orange and red of that Southern sky. We
sometimes rode for miles along the country roads, between hedges of
osage-orange on one side, and a double white rose on the other, growing
fifteen feet high. The dew enhanced the fragrance, and a lavish
profusion was displayed by nature in that valley, which was a constant
delight to us. Sometimes my husband and I remained out very late, loth
to come back to the prosy, uninteresting town, with its streets flecked
with bits of cotton, evidences of the traffic of the world, as the levee
was now piled up with bales ready for shipment. Once the staff crossed
with us to the other side of the river, and rode out through more
beautiful country roads, to what was still called Sherman Institute.
General Sherman had been at the head of this military school before the
war, but it was subsequently converted into a hospital. It was in a
lonely and deserted district, and the great empty stone building, with
its turreted corners and modern architecture, seemed utterly incongruous
in the wild pine forest that surrounded it. We returned to the river,
and visited two forts on the bank opposite Alexandria. They were built
by a Confederate officer who used his Federal prisoners for workmen. The
General took in at once the admirable situation selected, which
commanded the river for many miles. He thoroughly appreciated, and
endeavored carefully to explain to me, how cleverly the few materials at
the disposal of the impoverished South had been utilized. The moat about
the forts was the deepest our officers had ever seen. Closely as my
husband studied the plan and formation, he said it would have added
greatly to his appreciation, had he then known, what he afterward
learned, that the Confederate engineer who planned this admirable
fortification was one of his classmates at West Point, of whom he was
very fond. In 1864 an immense expedition of our forces was sent up the
Red River, to capture Shreveport and open up the great cotton districts
of Texas. It was unsuccessful, and the retreat was rendered impossible
by low water, while much damage was done to our fleet by the very
Confederate forts we were now visiting. A dam was constructed near
Alexandria, and the squadron was saved from capture or annihilation by
this timely conception of a quick-witted Western man, Colonel Joseph
Bailey. The dam was visible from the walls of the forts, where we
climbed for a view.

As we resumed our ride to the steamer, the General, who was usually an
admirable pathfinder, proposed a new and shorter road; and liking
variety too much to wish to travel the same country twice over, all
gladly assented. Everything went very well for a time. We were absorbed
in talking, noting new scenes on the route, or, as was our custom when
riding off from the public highway, we sang some chorus; and thus
laughing, singing, joking, we galloped over the ground thoughtlessly
into the very midst of serious danger. Apparently, nothing before us
impeded our way. We knew very little of the nature of the soil in that
country, but had become somewhat accustomed to the bayous that either
start from the river or appear suddenly inland, quite disconnected from
any stream. On that day we dashed heedlessly to the bank of a wide bayou
that poured its waters into the Red River. Instead of thinking twice,
and taking the precaution to follow its course farther up into the
country, where the mud was dryer and the space to cross much narrower,
we determined not to delay, and prepared to go over. The most
venturesome dashed first on to this bit of dried slough, and though the
crust swayed and sunk under the horses' flying feet, it still seemed
caked hard enough to bear every weight. There were seams and fissures in
portions of the bayou, through which the moist mud oozed; but these were
not sufficient warning to impetuous people. Another and another sprang
over the undulating soil. Having reached the other side, they rode up
and down the opposite bank shouting to us where they thought it the
safest to cross, and of course interlarded their directions with
good-natured scoffing about hesitation, timidity, and so on. The
General, never second in anything when he could help it, remained behind
to fortify my sinking heart and urge me to undertake the crossing with
him. He reminded me how carefully Custis Lee had learned to follow and
to trust to him, and he would doubtless plant his hoofs in the very
tracks of his own horse. Another of our party tried to bolster up my
courage, assuring me that if the heavy one among us was safely on the
other bank, my light weight might be trusted. I dreaded making the party
wait until we had gone further up the bayou, and might have mustered up
the required pluck had I not met with trepidation on the part of my
horse. His fine, delicate ears told me, as plainly as if he could speak,
that I was asking a great deal of him. We had encountered quicksands
together in the bed of a Virginia stream, and both horse and rider were
recalling the fearful sensation when the animal's hindlegs sank, leaving
his body engulfed in the soil. With powerful struggles with his forefeet
and muscular shoulders, we plunged to the right and left, and found at
last firm soil on which to escape. With such a recollection still fresh,
as memory is sure to retain terrors like that, it was hardly a wonder
that we shrank from the next step. His trembling flanks shook as much as
the unsteady hand that held his bridle. He quivered from head to foot,
and held back. I urged, and patted his neck, while we both continued to
shiver on the brink. The General laughed at the two cowards we really
were, but still gave us time to get our courage up to the mark. The
officer remaining with us continued to encourage me with assurances that
there was "not an atom of danger," and finally, with a bound, shouting
out, "Look how well I shall go over!" sprang upon the vibrating crust.
In an instant, with a crack like a pistol, the thin layer of solid mud
broke, and down went the gay, handsomely caparisoned fellow, engulfed to
his waist in the foul black crust. There was at once a commotion. With
no ropes, it was hard to effect his release. His horse helped him most,
struggling frantically for the bank, while the officers, having flung
themselves off from their animals to rush to his rescue, brought poles
and tree branches, which the imbedded man was not slow to grasp and drag
himself from the perilous spot when only superhuman strength could
deliver him, as the mud of a bayou sucks under its surface with great
rapidity anything with which it comes in contact. As soon as the officer
was dragged safely on to firm earth, a shout went up that rent the air
with its merriment. Scarcely any one spoke while they labored to save
the man's life, but once he was out of peril, the rescuers felt their
hour had come. They called out to him, in tones of derision, the
vaunting air with which he said just before his engulfment, "Look at me;
see how I go over!" He was indeed a sorry sight, plastered from head to
foot with black mud. Frightened as I was--for the trembling had advanced
to shivering, and my chattering teeth and breathless voice were past my
control--I still felt that little internal tremor of laughter that
somehow pervades one who has a sense of the ludicrous in very dangerous
surroundings.

I had certainly made a very narrow escape, for it would have been doubly
hard to extricate me. The riding habits in those days were very long,
and loaded so with lead to keep them down in high winds--and, I may add,
in furious riding--that it was about all I could do to lift my skirt
when I put it on.

I held my horse with a snaffle, to get good, smooth going out of him,
and my wrists became pretty strong; but in that slough I would have
found them of little avail, I fear. There remained no opposition to
seeking a narrower part of the bayou, above where I had made such an
escape, and there was still another good result of this severe lesson
after that: when we came to such ominous-looking soil, Custis Lee and
his mistress were allowed all the shivering on the brink that their
cowardice produced, while the party scattered to investigate the sort
of foundation we were likely to find, before we attempted to plunge over
a Louisiana quagmire.

The bayous were a strange feature of that country. Often without inlet
or outlet, a strip of water appeared, black and sluggish, filled with
logs, snags, masses of underbrush and leaves. The banks, covered with
weeds, noisome plants and rank tangled vegetation, seemed the dankest,
darkest, most weird and mournful spots imaginable, a fit home for ghouls
and bogies. There could be no more appropriate place for a sensational
novelist to locate a murder. After a time I became accustomed to these
frequently occurring water-ways, but it took me a good while to enjoy
going fishing on them. The men were glad to vary their days by dropping
a line in that vile water, and I could not escape their urging to go,
though I was excused from fishing.

On one occasion we went down the river on a steamer, the sailors
dragging the small boats over the strip of land between the river and
the bayou, and all went fishing or hunting. This excursion was one that
I am likely to remember forever. The officers, intent on their fishing,
were rowed slowly through the thick water, while I was wondering to
myself if there could be, anywhere, such a wild jungle of vines and moss
as hung from the trees and entangled itself in the mass of weeds and
water-plants below. We followed little indentations of the stream, and
the boat was rowed into small bays and near dark pools, where the fish
are known to stay, and finally we floated. The very limbs of the trees
and the gnarled trunks took on human shape, while the drooping moss
swayed as if it might be the drapery of a lamia, evolved out of the
noisome vapors and floating above us. These fears and imaginings, which
would have been put to flight by the assurances of the General, had he
not been so intent on his line, proved to be not wholly spectres of the
imagination. A mass of logs in front of us seemed to move. They did
move, and the alligator, that looked so like a tree-trunk, established
his identity by separating himself from the floating timber and making
off. It was my scream, for the officers themselves did not enjoy the
proximity of the beast, that caused the instant use of the oars and a
quick retreat.

I went fishing after that, of course; I couldn't get out of it; indeed I
was supported through my tremors by a pleasure to which a woman cannot
be indifferent--that of being wanted on all sorts of excursions. But
logs in the water never looked like logs after that; to my distended
vision they appeared to writhe with the slow contortions of loathsome
animals.

A soldier captured a baby-alligator one day, and the General, thinking
to quiet my terror of them by letting me see the reptile "close to," as
the children say, took me down to camp, where the delighted soldier told
me how he had caught it, holding on to the tail, which is its weapon.
The animal was all head and tail; there seemed to be no intermediate
anatomy. He flung the latter member at a hat in so vicious and violent a
way, that I believed instantly the story, which I had first received
with doubt, of his rapping over a puppy and swallowing him before rescue
could come. This pet was in a long tank of water the owner had built,
and it gave the soldiers much amusement.

The General was greatly interested in alligator-hunting. It was said
that the scales were as thick as a china plate, except on the head, and
he began to believe so when he found his balls glancing off the
impenetrable hide as if from the side of an ironclad. I suppose it was
very exciting, after the officers had yelped and barked like a dog, to
see the great monster decoyed from some dark retreat by the sound of his
favorite tidbit. The wary game came slowly down the bayou, under fire of
the kneeling huntsmen concealed in the underbrush, and was soon
despatched. For myself, I should have preferred, had I been consulted, a
post of observation in the top of some tree, instead of the boat in
which I was being rowed.



CHAPTER III.

A MILITARY EXECUTION.


THERE was a great deal to do in those weeks of our detention at
Alexandria, during the working hours of the day, in organizing the
division of cavalry for the march. Troops that had been serving in the
West during the war were brought together at that point from all
directions, and an effort was made to form them into a disciplined body.
This herculean task gave my husband great perplexity. He wrote to my
father that he did not entirely blame the men for the restlessness and
insubordination they exhibited, as their comrades, who had enlisted only
for the war, had gone home, and, of course, wrote back letters to their
friends of the pleasures of reunion with their families and kindred, and
the welcome given them by their townspeople. The troops with us had not
served out the time of their enlistment, and the Government, according
to the strict letter of the law, had a right to the unexpired time for
which the men were pledged. Some of the regiments had not known the
smell of gunpowder during the entire war, having been stationed in and
near Southern cities, and that duty is generally demoralizing. In the
reorganizing of this material, every order issued was met with growls
and grumbling. It seemed that it had been the custom with some of their
officers to issue an order, and then go out and make a speech,
explaining the whys and wherefores. One of the colonels came to the
General one day at his own quarters, thinking it a better place than the
office to make his request. He was a spectacle, and though General
Custer was never in after years incautious enough to mention his name,
he could not, with his keen sense of the ludicrous, resist a laughing
description of the interview. The man was large and bulky in build. Over
the breast of a long, loose, untidy linen duster he had spread the
crimson sash, as he was officer of the day. A military sword-belt
gathered in the voluminous folds of the coat, and from his side hung a
parade sword. A slouch hat was crowded down on a shock of bushy hair.
One trouser-leg was tucked into his boot, as if to represent one foot in
the cavalry; the other, true to the infantry, was down in its proper
place. He began his interview by praising his regiment, gave an account
of the success with which he was drilling his men, and, leaning
confidentially on the General's knee, told him he "would make them
so----near like regglers you couldn't tell 'em apart." Two officers of
the regular army were then in command of the two brigades, to one of
which this man's regiment was assigned. But the object of the visit was
not solely to praise his regiment; he went on to say that an order had
been issued which the men did not like, and he had come up to
expostulate. He did not ask to have the order rescinded, but told the
General he would like to have him come down and give the reasons to the
troops. He added that this was what they expected, and when he issued
any command he went out and got upon a barrel and explained it to the
boys. My husband listened patiently, but declined, as that manner of
issuing orders was hardly in accordance with his ideas of discipline.

The soldiers did not confine their maledictions to the regular officers
in command; they openly refused to obey their own officers. One of the
colonels (I am glad I have forgotten his name) made a social call at our
house. He was in great perturbation of mind, and evidently terrified, as
in the preceding night his dissatisfied soldiers had riddled his tent
with bullets, and but for his "lying low" he would have been perforated
like a sieve. The men supposed they had ended his military career; but
at daylight he crept out. The soldiers were punished; but there seemed
to be little to expect in the way of obedience if, after four years,
they ignored their superiors and took affairs into their own hands.
Threats began to make their way to our house. The staff had their tents
on the lawn in front of us, and even they tried to persuade the General
to lock the doors and bolt the windows, which were left wide open day
and night. Failing to gain his consent to take any precautions, they
asked me to use my influence; but in such affairs I had little success
in persuasion. The servants, and even the orderlies, came to me and
solemnly warned me of the threats and the danger that menaced the
General. Thoroughly frightened in his behalf, they prefaced their
warnings with the old-fashioned sensational language: "This night, at 12
o'clock," etc. The fixing of the hour for the arrival of the assassin
completely unnerved me, as I had not then escaped from the influence
that the melodramatic has upon youth. I ran to the General the moment he
came from his office duties, to tell him, with tears and agitation, of
his peril. As usual, he soothed my fears, but, on this occasion, only
temporarily. Still, seeing what I suffered from anxiety, he made one
concession, and consented, after much imploring, to put a pistol under
his pillow. A complete battery of artillery round our house could not
have secured to me more peace of mind than that pistol; for I knew the
accuracy of his aim, and I had known too much of his cool, resolute
action, in moments of peril, not to be sure that the small weapon would
do its work. Peace was restored to the head of our house; he had a
respite from the whimpering and begging. I even grew so courageous as to
be able to repeat to Eliza, when she came next morning to put the room
in order, what the General had said to me, that "barking dogs do not
bite." The mattress was proudly lifted, and the pistol, of which I stood
in awe, in spite of my faith in its efficacy, was exhibited to her in
triumph. I made wide détours around that side of the bed the rest of the
time we remained at Alexandria, afraid of the very weapon to which I was
indebted for tranquil hours. The cats, pigs and calves might charge at
will under the house. If I mistook them for the approaching adversary I
remembered the revolver and was calmed.

Long afterward, during our winter in Texas, my husband began one day to
appear mysterious, and assume the suppressed air that invariably
prefaced a season of tormenting, when a siege of questions only brought
out deeper and obscurer answers to me. Pouting, tossing of the head, and
reiterated announcements that I didn't care a rap, I didn't want to
know, etc., were met by chuckles of triumph and wild juba patting and
dancing around the victim, unrestrained by my saying that such was the
custom of the savage while torturing his prisoner. Still, he persisted
that he had such a good joke on me. And it certainly was: there had not
been a round of ammunition in the house that we occupied at Alexandria,
neither had that old pistol been loaded during the entire summer!

The soldiers became bolder in their rebellion; insubordination reached a
point where it was almost uncontrollable. Reports were sent to General
Sheridan, in command of the Department, and he replied to my husband,
"Use such summary measures as you deem proper to overcome the mutinous
disposition of the individuals in your command." A Western officer, a
stranger to us up to that time, published an account of one of the
regiments, which explains what was not clear to us then, as we had come
directly from the Army of the Potomac:

"One regiment had suffered somewhat from indifferent field officers, but
more from the bad fortune that overtook so many Western regiments in the
shape of garrison duty in small squads or squadrons, so scattered as to
make each a sort of independent command, which in the end resulted in a
loss of discipline, and the ruin of those bonds of sympathy that bound
most regiments together. To lead such a regiment into a hotly contested
fight would be a blessing, and would effectually set at rest all such
trouble; but their fighting had been altogether of the guerrilla kind,
and there was no regimental pride of character, simply because there had
been no regimental deed of valor. Tired out with the long service, weary
with an uncomfortable journey by river from Memphis, sweltering under a
Gulf-coast sun, under orders to go farther and farther from home when
the war was over, the one desire was to be mustered out and released
from a service that became irksome and baleful when a prospect of
crushing the enemy no longer existed. All these, added to the
dissatisfaction among the officers, rendered the situation truly
deplorable. The command had hardly pitched their tents at Alexandria
before the spirit of reckless disregard of authority began to manifest
itself. The men, singly or in squads, began to go on extemporaneous
raids through the adjoining country, robbing and plundering
indiscriminately in every direction. They seemed to have no idea that a
conquered and subdued people could possibly have any rights that the
conquerors were bound to respect. But General Custer was under orders to
treat the people kindly and considerately, and he obeyed orders with the
same punctiliousness with which he exacted obedience from his command."
The anger and hatred of these troops toward one especial officer
culminated in their peremptory demand that he should resign. They drew
up a paper, and signed their names. He had not a friend, and sought the
commanding officer for protection. This was too pronounced a case of
mutiny to be treated with any but the promptest, severest measures, and
all who had put their names to the document were placed under arrest.
The paper was in reality but a small part of the incessant persecution,
which included threats of all kinds against the life of the hated man;
but it was written proof that his statements regarding his danger were
true.

All but one of those that were implicated apologized, and were restored
to duty. A sergeant held out, and refused to acknowledge himself in the
wrong. A court-martial tried him and he was sentenced to death. Those
who had been associated in the rebellion against their officer were
thoroughly frightened, and seriously grieved at the fate to which their
comrade had been consigned by their uncontrollable rage, and began to
speak among themselves of the wife and children at home. The wife was
unconscious that the heartbreaking revelations were on their way; that
the saddest of woman's sorrows, widowhood, was hers to endure, and that
her children must bear a tainted name. It came to be whispered about
that the doomed man wore on his heart a curl of baby's hair, that had
been cut from his child's head when he went out to serve his imperiled
country. Finally, the wretched, conscience-stricken soldiers sued for
pardon for their condemned companion, and the very man against whom the
enmity had been cherished, and who owed his life to an accident, busied
himself in collecting the name of every man in the command, begging
clemency for the imperiled sergeant. Six days passed, and there was
increased misery among the men, who felt themselves responsible for
their comrade's life. The prayer for pardon, with its long roll of
names, had been met by the General with the reply that the matter would
be considered.

The men now prepared for vengeance. They lay around the camp-fires, or
grouped themselves in tents, saying that the commanding officer would
not dare to execute the sentence of the court-martial, while messages of
this kind reached my husband in cowardly, roundabout ways, and threats
and menaces seemed to fill the air. The preparation for the sergeant's
execution was ordered, and directions given that a deserter, tried by
court-martial and condemned, should be shot on the same day. This man, a
vagabond and criminal before his enlistment, had deserted three or four
times, and his sentence drew little pity from his comrades. At last
dawned in the lovely valley that dreadful day, which I recall now with a
shudder. It was impossible to keep me from knowing that an execution was
to occur. There was no place to send me. The subterfuges by which my
husband had kept me from knowing the tragic or the sorrowful in our
military life heretofore, were of no avail now. Fortunately, I knew
nothing of the petition for pardon; nothing, thank God! of the wife at
her home, or of the curl of baby's hair that was rising and falling over
the throbbing, agonized heart of the condemned father. And how the
capacity we may have for embracing the sorrows of the whole world
disappears when our selfish terrors concentrate on the safety of our own
loved ones!

The sergeant's life was precious as a life; but the threats, the ominous
and quiet watching, the malignant, revengeful faces of the troops about
us, told me plainly that another day might darken my life forever, and I
was consumed by my own torturing suspense. Rumors of the proposed murder
of my husband reached me through the kitchen, the orderlies about our
quarters, and at last through the staff. They had fallen into the
fashion of my husband, and spared me anything that was agitating or
alarming; but this was a time, they felt, when all possible measures
should be taken to protect the General, and they implored me to induce
him to take precautions for his safety. My pleading was of no avail. He
had ordered the staff to follow him unarmed to the execution. They
begged him to wear his side-arms, or at least permit them the privilege,
in order that they might defend him; but he resolutely refused. How
trivial seem all attempts to describe the agonies of mind that filled
that black hour when the General and his staff rode from our lawn toward
the dreaded field!

Eliza, ever thoughtful of me, hovered round the bed, where I had buried
my head in the pillows to deaden the sound of the expected volley. With
terms of endearment and soothing, she sought to assure me that nothing
would happen to the General. "Nothin' ever does, you know, Miss Libbie,"
she said, her voice full of the mother in us all when we seek to
console. And yet that woman knew all the plans for the General's death,
all the venom in the hearts of those who surrounded us, and she felt no
hope for his safety.

Pomp and circumstance are not alone for "glorious war," but in army life
must also be observed in times of peace. There are good reasons for it,
I suppose. The more form and solemnity, the deeper the impression; and
as this day was to be a crucial one, in proving to the insubordinate
that order must eventually prevail, nothing was hurried, none of the
usual customs were omitted. Five thousand soldiers formed a hollow
square in a field near the town. The staff, accustomed to take a
position and remain with their General near the opening left by the
division, followed with wonder and alarm as he rode slowly around the
entire line, so near the troops that a hand might have been stretched
out to deal a fatal blow. The wagon, drawn by four horses, bearing the
criminals sitting on their coffins, followed at a slow pace, escorted by
the guard and the firing-party, with reversed arms. The coffins were
placed in the centre of the square, and the men seated upon them at the
foot of their open graves. Eight men, with livid countenances and
vehemently beating hearts, took their places in front of their comrades,
and looked upon the blanched, despairing faces of those whom they were
ordered to kill. The provost-marshal carried their carbines off to a
distance, loaded seven, and placed a blank cartridge in the eighth, thus
giving the merciful boon of permanent uncertainty as to whose was the
fatal shot. The eyes of the poor victims were then bandaged, while
thousands of men held their breath as the tragedy went on. The still,
Southern air of that garden on earth was unmoved by any sound, save the
unceasing notes of the mocking-birds that sang night and day in the
hedges. Preparations had been so accurately made that there was but one
word to be spoken after the reading of the warrant for execution, and
that the last that those most miserable and hopeless of God's creatures
should hear on earth.

There was still one more duty for the provost-marshal before the fatal
word, "Fire!" was sounded. But one person understood his movements as he
stealthily drew near the sergeant, took his arm, and led him aside. In
an instant his voice rang out the fatal word, and the deserter fell back
dead, in blessed ignorance that he went into eternity alone; while the
sergeant swooned in the arms of the provost-marshal. When he was
revived, it was explained to him that the General believed him to have
been the victim of undue influence, and had long since determined upon
the pardon; but some punishment he thought necessary, and he was also
determined that the soldiers should not feel that he had been
intimidated from performing his duty because his own life was in peril.
It was ascertained afterward that the sergeant's regiment had gone out
that day with loaded carbines and forty rounds besides; but the
knowledge of this would have altered no plan, nor would it have induced
the commanding officer to reveal to any but his provost-marshal the
final decision.

Let us hope that in these blessed days of peace some other tiny curls
are nestling in a grandfather's neck, instead of lying over his heart,
as did the son's in those days, when memories and mementos were all we
had of those we loved.

General Custer not only had his own Division to organize and discipline,
but was constantly occupied in trying to establish some sort of harmony
between the Confederate soldiers, the citizens, and his command. The
blood of everyone was at boiling-point then. The soldiers had not the
grief of returning to homes desolated by war, because Louisiana escaped
much and Texas all of the devastation of campaigns; but they came home
obliged to begin the world again. The negroes of the Red River country
were not an easy class to manage in days of slavery. We heard that all
desperate characters in the border States had been sold into Louisiana,
because of its comparative isolation, and that the most ungovernable
cases were congregated in the valley of the Red River. However that may
have been, it certainly was difficult to make them conform to the new
state of affairs. The master, unaccustomed to freedom, still treated the
negro as a slave. The colored man, inflated with freedom and reveling in
idleness, would not accept common directions in labor. How even the
South tolerates a name that it once hated, in the prosperity of the new
regime, and in the prospect of their splendid future! How fresh the
enthusiasm in the present day, at any mention of the liberator of the
slaves!

But when we consider through what bungling errors we groped blindly in
those early days of emancipation, we might well wish that Abraham
Lincoln could have been spared to bring his justice and gentle humanity
to bear upon the adjusting of that great transition from slavery to
freedom.

At the least intimation of a "show" or a funeral--which is a festivity
to them, on account of the crowds that congregate--off went the entire
body of men, even if the crops were in danger of spoiling for want of
harvesting. It was a time in our history that one does not like to look
back upon. The excitement into which the land was thrown, not only by
war, but by the puzzling question of how to reconcile master to servant
and servant to master--for the colored people were an element most
difficult to manage, owing to their ignorance and the sudden change of
relations to their former owners--all this created new and perplexing
problems, which were the order of each day.

The Confederate soldiers had to get their blood down from fever heat.
Some took advantage of the fact that the war was over and the Government
was ordering its soldiers into the State, not as invaders but as
pacifiers, to drag their sabres through the street and talk loudly on
the corners in belligerent language, without fear of the imprisonment
that in war-times had so quickly followed.

The General was obliged to issue simultaneous orders to his own men,
demanding their observance of every right of the citizen, and to the
returned Confederate soldiers, assuring them that the Government had not
sent troops into their country as belligerents, but insisting upon
certain obligations, as citizens, from them.

In an order to the Division, he said: "Numerous complaints having
reached these headquarters, of depredations having been committed by
persons belonging to this command, all officers and soldiers are hereby
urged to use every exertion to prevent the committal of acts of
lawlessness, which, if permitted to pass unpunished, will bring
discredit upon the command. Now that the war is virtually ended, the
rebellion put down, and peace about to be restored to our entire
country, let not the lustre of the past four years be dimmed by a
single act of misconduct toward the persons or property of those with
whom we may be brought in contact. In the future, and particularly on
the march, the utmost care will be exercised to save the inhabitants of
the country in which we may be located from any molestation whatever.
Every violation of order regarding foraging will be punished. The
Commanding-General is well aware that the number of those upon whom the
enforcement of this order will be necessary will be small, and he trusts
that in no case will it be necessary. All officers and soldiers of this
command are earnestly reminded to treat the inhabitants of this
Department with conciliation and kindness, and particularly is this
injunction necessary when we are brought in contact with those who
lately were in arms against us. You can well afford to be generous and
magnanimous."

In another order, addressed to the Confederate soldiers, he said: "It is
expected, and it will be required, that those who were once our enemies,
but are now to be treated as friends, will in return refrain from idle
boasts, which can only result in harm to themselves. If there still be
any who, blind to the events of the past four years, continue to indulge
in seditious harangues, all such disturbers of the peace will be
arrested, and brought to these headquarters."

Between the troublesome negroes, the unsubdued Confederates, and the
lawless among our own soldiers, life was by no means an easy problem to
solve. A boy of twenty-five was then expected to act the subtle part of
statesman and patriot, and conciliate and soothe the citizen; the part
of stern and unrelenting soldier, punishing evidences of unsuppressed
rebellion on the part of the conquered; and at the same time the
vigilant commanding officer, exacting obedience from his own disaffected
soldiery.

As for the positions he filled toward the negro, they were
varied--counseling these duties to those who employed them, warning them
from idleness, and urging them to work, feeding and clothing the
impoverished and the old. It seems to me it was a position combining in
one man doctor, lawyer, taskmaster, father and provider. The town and
camp swarmed with the colored people, lazily lying around waiting for
the Government to take care of them, and it was necessary to issue a
long order to the negroes, from which I make an extract:

"Since the recent advent of the United States forces into this vicinity,
many of the freedmen of the surrounding country seem to have imbibed the
idea that they will no longer be required to labor for their own support
and the support of those depending upon them. Such ideas cannot be
tolerated, being alike injurious to the interests and welfare of the
freedmen and their employers. Freedmen must not look upon military posts
as places of idle resort, from which they can draw their means of
support. Their proper course is to obtain employment, if possible, upon
the same plantations where they were previously employed. General Order
No. 23, Headquarters Department of the Gulf, March 11, 1865, prescribes
the rules of contract in the case of these persons. The coming crops,
already maturing, require cultivation, and will furnish employment for
all who are disposed to be industrious. Hereafter, no freedmen will be
permitted to remain in the vicinity of the camps who are not engaged in
some proper employment."

Standing alone in the midst of all this confusion, and endeavoring to
administer justice on all sides, General Custer had by no means an
enviable task. I do not wonder now that he kept his perplexities as much
as possible from me. He wished to spare me anxiety, and the romp or the
gallop over the fragrant field, which he asked for as soon as
office-hours were over, was probably more enjoyable with a woman with
uncorrugated brow. Still, I see now the puzzled shake of the head as he
said, "A man may do everything to keep a woman from knowledge of
official matters, and then she gets so confounded keen in putting little
trifles together, the first thing you know she is reading a man's very
thoughts." Yet it does not strike me as remarkable keenness on the part
of a woman if, after the experience she gains in following the bugle a
time, and with her wits sharpened by affection, she decides that a move
is about to take place. The General used to turn quickly, almost
suspiciously, to me and say, as if I had been told by the staff, "How
did you find out we were ordered to move?"--when he had been sending for
the quartermaster and the commissary, and looking at his maps, for ever
so long before! It was not much of a mystery to solve when the
quartermaster meant transportation, the commissary food, and the maps a
new route.

After determined efforts to establish discipline, order began to be
evolved out of the chaos, and the men resigned themselves to their hard
fate. Much as I feared them, and greatly as I had resented their attempt
to lay all their present detention and compulsory service to my husband,
I could not but agree with him when he argued for them that it was
pretty hard not to be allowed to go home, when the other soldiers had
returned to receive the rewards of the victorious. They wrote home
abusive newspaper articles, which were promptly mailed to the General by
unknown hands, but of which he took no notice. I recollect only once,
after that, knowing of an absolutely disagreeable encounter. During the
following winter in Texas, my husband came quickly into our room one
morning, took my riding-whip and returned across the hall to his office.
In a short time he as quickly returned, and restored it to its place,
and I extracted from him an explanation. Among the newspaper articles
sent him from the North, there was an attack on his dear, quiet,
unoffending father and mother. He sent for the officer who was credited
with the authorship, and, after his denial of the article, told him what
he had intended to do had he been guilty of such an assault; that he was
prepared for any attack on himself, but nothing would make him submit to
seeing his gray-haired parents assailed. Then he bade him good-morning,
and bowed him out.

The effect of the weeks of discipline on the Division was visible on our
march into Texas. The General had believed that the men would eventually
conform to the restrictions, and he was heartily relieved and glad to
find that they did. The Texans were amazed at the absence of the
lawlessness they had expected from our army, and thankful to find that
the Yankee column was neither devastating nor even injuring their
hitherto unmolested State, for the war on land had not reached Texas.
The troops were not permitted to live on the country, as is the usage of
war, and only one instance occurred, during the entire march, of a
soldier's simply helping himself to a farmer's grain. Every pound of
food and forage was bought by the quartermaster. It was hard to realize
that the column marching in a methodical and orderly manner was, so
short a time before, a lawless and mutinous command.

They hated us, I suppose. That is the penalty the commanding officer
generally pays for what still seems to me the questionable privilege of
rank and power. Whatever they thought, it did not deter us from
commending, among ourselves, the good material in those Western men,
which so soon made them orderly and obedient soldiers.

But I have anticipated somewhat, and must go back and say good-by to
that rich, flower-scented valley. It had been a strange experience to
me. I had no woman but Eliza to whom I could speak. The country and all
its customs seemed like another world, into which I had unexpectedly
entered. I had spent many hours of anxiety about my husband's safety.
But the anxiety, heat, mosquitoes, poor water, alligators, mutiny, all
combined, failed to extract a complaint. There was not an atom of
heroism in this; it was undeniably the shrewd cunning of which women are
accused, for I lived in hourly dread of being sent to Texas by the other
route, via New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. The General had been
advised by letters from home to send me that way, on the ground that I
could not endure a march at that season. Officers took on a tone of
superiority, and said that they would not think of taking _their_ wives
into such a wilderness. My fate hung in the balance, and under such
circumstances it was not strange that the inconveniences of our stay on
Red River were not even so much as acknowledged. It is true that I was
not then a veteran campaigner, and the very newness of the hardships
would, doubtless, have called forth a few sighs, had not the fear of
another separation haunted me. It is astonishing how much grumbling is
suppressed by the fear of something worse awaiting you. In the decision
which direction I was to take, I won; my husband's scruples were
overcome by my unanswerable arguments and his own inclination.

I prepared to leave Alexandria with regret, for the pleasures of our
stay had outnumbered the drawbacks. It was our first knowledge that the
earth could be so lovely and so lavishly laden with what began to be
tropical luxuriance. I do not recall the names of all the birds, but the
throats of all of them seemed to be filled with song. In a semicircle on
the lawn in front of our house, grew a thick hedge of crape myrtle,
covered with fragrant blossoms. Here the mocking-birds fearlessly built
their nests, and the stillest hour of the night was made melodious with
the song that twilight had been too short to complete. Really, the
summer day there was too brief to tell all that these birds had to say
to their mates.

To the General, who would have had an aviary had it been just the thing
for a mounted regiment, all this song, day and night, was enchanting. In
after years he never forgot those midnight serenades, and in 1873 he
took a mocking-bird into the bleak climate of Dakota. Eliza mildly
growled at "sich nonsense" as "toting round a bird, when 'twas all folks
like us could do to get transportation for a cooking-kit." Nevertheless,
she took excellent care of the feathered tribe that we owned.

Among the fruits we first ate in Louisiana were fresh figs, which we
picked from the tree. It was something to write home about, but at the
same time we wished that instead we might have a Northern apple.

The time came to bid farewell to birds, fruits, jasmine and rose, and
prepare for a plunge into the wilderness--much talked of with foreboding
prophecies by the citizens, but a hundred times worse in reality than
the gloomiest predictions.

It was known that the country through which we were to travel, having
been inaccessible to merchants, and being even then infested with
guerrillas, had large accumulations of cotton stored at intervals along
the route that was marked out for our journey. Speculators arrived from
New Orleans, and solicited the privilege of following with wagons that
they intended to load with cotton. They asked no favors, desiring only
the protection that the cavalry column would afford, and expected to
make their way in our wake until the seaboard was reached and they could
ship their purchases by the Gulf of Mexico. But their request was
refused, as the General hardly thought it a fitting use to which to put
the army. Then they assailed the quartermaster, offering twenty-five
thousand dollars to the General and him, as a bribe. But both men
laughed to scorn that manner of getting rich, and returned to their
homes the year after as poor as when they had left there five years
before. As I think of the instances that came under my knowledge, when
quartermasters could have made fortunes, it is a marvel to me that they
so often resisted all manner of temptation. The old tale, perhaps dating
back to the War of 1812, still applies, as it is a constantly recurring
experience. There was once a wag in the quartermaster's department, and
even when weighted down with grave responsibility of a portion of the
Government treasury, he still retained a glimmer of fun. Contractors lay
in wait for him with bribes, which his spirit of humor allowed to
increase, even though the offers were insults to his honor. Finally,
reaching a very large sum, in sheer desperation he wrote to the War
Department: "In the name of all the gods, relieve me from this
Department; they've almost got up to my price." Civilians hardly realize
that, even in times of peace like this, when the disbursements will not
compare with the money spent in years of war, between eight and nine
millions of dollars are yearly paid out by the quartermaster's
department alone. Since the war the embezzlements have been hardly
worthy of so serious a name, amounting to but a few hundred dollars, all
told.

The General had an ambulance fitted up as a traveling-wagon for me; the
seats so arranged that the leather backs could be unstrapped at the
sides and laid down so as to form a bed, if I wished to rest during the
march. There was a pocket for my needlework and book, and a box for
luncheon, while my traveling-bag and shawl were strapped at the side,
convenient, but out of the way. It was quite a complete little house of
itself. One of the soldiers, who was interested in the preparations for
my comfort, covered a canteen with leather, adding of his own accord, in
fine stitchery in the yellow silk used by the saddlers, "Lady Custer."
Each day of our journey this lofty distinction became more and more
incongruous and amusing, as I realized the increasing ugliness, for
which the rough life was, in a measure, responsible. By the time we
reached the end of our march there was a yawning gulf between the
soldier's title and the appearance of the owner of the canteen. The
guide that had been employed was well up in all the devices for securing
what little measure of comfort was to be found in overland travel. I
followed his suggestion, and after the canteen was filled in the
morning, it was covered with a piece of wet blanket and hung, with the
cork left out, to the roof of the wagon, in order to catch all the air
that might be stirring. Under this damp treatment the yellow letters of
"Lady Custer" faded out as effectually as did all semblance of whatever
delicacy of coloring the owner once possessed.

A short time after we set out, we left the valley of the Red River, with
its fertile plantations, and entered a pine forest on the table-land,
through which our route lay for a hundred and fifty miles. A great
portion of the higher ground was sterile, and the forest much of the way
was thinly inhabited. We had expected to hire a room in any farm-house
at which we halted at the end of each day's journey, and have the
privilege of sleeping in a bed. Camping on the ground was an old story
to me after our long march in Virginia; but, with the prospect of using
the bosom of mother Earth as a resting-place for the coming thirty
years, we were willing to improve any opportunity to be comfortable when
we could. The cabins that we passed on the first day discouraged us.
Small, low, log huts, consisting of one room each, entirely separated
and having a floored open space between them, were the customary
architecture. The windows and doors were filled with the vacant faces of
the untidy children of the poor white trash and negroes. The men and
women slouched and skulked around the cabins out of sight, and every
sign of abject, loathsome poverty was visible, even in the gaunt and
famished pigs that rooted around the doorway. I determined to camp out
until we came to more inviting habitations, which, I regret to say, we
did not find on that march. We had not brought the thin mattress and
pillows that had been made for our traveling-wagon in Virginia; but the
hardest sort of resting-place was preferable to braving the squalor of
the huts along our way.

My husband rolled his overcoat for my pillow, telling me that a soldier
slept like a top with such an one, and it was much better than a saddle,
in the hollow of which he had often laid his flaxen top-knot. But a
woman cannot make herself into a good soldier all in a minute. If one
takes hold of the thick, unwieldy material that Uncle Sam puts into the
army overcoat, some idea can be gained of the rocky roll it makes when
doing duty as a resting-place; and anyone whose neck has made the steep
incline from head to shoulder that this substitute for a pillow
necessitates, is apt to waken less patriotic than when he retired. After
repeated efforts to get accustomed to this, buoyed up by my husband's
praise of my veteran-like behavior, I confided to Eliza that I should
not be ungrateful for any device she might think out for my relief, if
she would promise not to tell that I had spoken to her. The next day she
gathered moss from the trees along the stream, and I felt that I could
serve my country just as well by resting on this soft bed. I had begged
off from using a tent in that country, as there seemed to be no insect
that was not poisonous, and even many of the vines and underbrush were
dangerous to touch. My husband had the wagon placed in front of the tent
every night when our march was ended, and lifted me in and out of the
high sleeping-room, where I felt that nothing venomous could climb up
and sting. The moss, though very comfortable, often held in its meshes
the horned toad, a harmless little mottled creature that had two tiny
horns, which it turned from side to side in the gravest, most knowing
sort of way. The officers sent these little creatures home by mail as
curiosities, and, true to their well-known indifference to air, they
jumped out of the box at the journey's end in just the same active
manner that they had hopped about under our feet. Still, harmless as
they were held to be, they were not exactly my choice as bed-fellows,
any more than the lizards the Texans call swifts, which also haunted the
tangles of the moss. Eliza tried to shake out and beat it thoroughly, in
order to dislodge any inhabitants, before making my bed. One night I
found that hay had been substituted, and felt myself rich in luxury. I
remembered gladly that hay was so clean, so free from all natural
history, and closed my eyes in gratitude. And then it smelt so good, so
much better than the damp, vegetable odor of the moss. A smudge at the
end of the wagon was rising about me to drive away mosquitoes, and
though the smoke scalds the eyes in this heroic remedy, I still
comforted myself with the fresh odor of the hay, and quietly thought
that life in a manger was not the worst fate that could come to one. All
this pervading sense of comfort was slightly disturbed in the night,
when I was awakened by a munching and crunching at my ear. Wisps of hay
were lying over the side of the wagon, as it was too warm to leave the
curtains down, and the attraction proved too much for a stray mule,
which was quietly eating the pillow from under my head. It was well our
tent and wagon were placed to one side, quite off by themselves, for the
General would have waked the camp with his peals of laughter at my
indignation and momentary fright. It did not need much persuasion to
rout the mule after all the hubbub my husband made with his merriment,
but I found that I inclined to the moss bed after that.

[Illustration: A MULE LUNCHING FROM A PILLOW.]

As we advanced farther into the forest, Eliza received further whispered
confidences about my neck, stiff and sore from the roll of patriotic
blue that was still the rest for my tired head, and she resolved to make
an attempt to get a feather pillow. One day she discovered, near our
camp, a house that was cleaner than the rest we had seen, and began
negotiations with the mistress. She offered a "greenback," as we had no
silver then; but they had never seen one, and would not believe that it
was legal money. Finally, the woman said that, if we had any calico or
muslin for sale, she would exchange her pillows for either the one or
the other. Eliza forgot her diplomacy, and rather indignantly explained
that we were not traveling peddlers. At last, after several trips to and
from our camp, in which I was secretly interested, she made what she
thought a successful trade by exchanging some blankets. Like the wag's
description of the first Pullman-car pillows, which he said he lost in
his ear, they were diminutive excuses for our idea of what one should
be, but I cannot remember anything that ever impressed me as such a
luxury; and I was glad to see that, when the pillows were installed in
their place, the faith in my patriotism and in my willingness to endure
privations was not shaken.

The General was satisfied with his soldiers, and admired the manner in
which they endured the trials of that hard experience. His perplexities
departed when they took everything so bravely. He tried to arrange our
marches every day so that we might not travel over fifteen miles. So far
as I can remember, there was no one whose temper and strength were not
tried to the uttermost, except my husband. His seeming indifference to
excessive heat, his having long before conquered thirst, his apparent
unconsciousness of the stings or bites of insects, were powerful aids in
encountering those suffocating days. Frequently after a long march, when
we all gasped for breath, and in our exhaustion flung ourselves down
"anywhere to die," as we laughingly said, a fresh horse was saddled, and
off went the General for a hunt, or to look up the prospects for water
in our next day's journey. If this stifling atmosphere, to which we were
daily subjected, disturbed him, we did not know it. He held that
grumbling did not mend matters; but I differed with him. I still think a
little complaining, when the patience is sorely taxed, eases the
troubled soul, though at that time I took good care not to put my theory
into practice, for reasons I have explained when the question of my
joining the march hung in the balance.

My life in a wagon soon became such an old story that I could hardly
believe I had ever had a room. It constantly reminded me of my father.
He had opposed my marrying in the army, as I suppose most fond fathers
do. His opposition caused me great suspense, and I thought, as all the
very young are apt to, that it was hopeless misery. Now that the
struggle was ended, I began to recall the arguments of my parents.
Father's principal one, mindful of the deprivations he had seen
officers' wives endure in Michigan's early days, was that, after the
charm and dazzle of the epaulet had passed, I might have to travel "in a
covered wagon like an emigrant." I told this reason of my father's to my
husband, and he often laughed over it. When I was lifted from my rather
lofty apartment, and set down in the tent in the dark--and before dawn
in a pine forest it _is_ dark--the candle revealed a twinkle in the eye
of a man who could joke before breakfast. "I wonder what your father
would say now," was the oft-repeated remark, while the silent partner
scrabbled around to get ready for the day. There was always a pervading
terror of being late, and I could not believe but that it might happen,
some day, that thousands of men would be kept waiting because a woman
had lost her hair-pins. Imaging the ignominy of any of the little
trifles that delay us in getting ourselves together, being the cause of
detaining an expedition in its morning start on the march. Fortunately,
the soldiers would have been kept in merciful ignorance of the cause of
the detention, as a commanding officer is not obliged to explain why he
orders the trumpeter to delay the call of "boots and saddles;" but the
chagrin would have been just as great on the part of the
"camp-follower," and it would have given the color of truth to the
General's occasional declaration that "it is easier to command a whole
division of cavalry than one woman." I made no protest to this
declaration, as I had observed, even in those early days of my married
life, that, in matrimonial experiences, the men that make open
statements of their wrongs in rather a pompous, boastful way, are not
the real sufferers. Pride teaches subtlety in hiding genuine injuries.

Though I had a continued succession of frights, while prowling around
the tent before day hunting my things, believing them lost sometimes,
and thus being thrown into wild stampedes, I escaped the mortification
of detaining the command. The Frenchman's weariness of a life that was
given over to buttoning and unbuttoning, was mine, and in the short time
between reveillé and breakfast, I lived through much perturbation of
mind, fearing I was behind time, and devoutly wished that women who
followed the drum could have been clothed like the feathered tribe, and
ready for the wing at a moment's notice. On this expedition I brought
down the art of dressing in a hurry to so fine a point that I could take
my bath and dress entirely in seven minutes. My husband timed me one
day, without my knowledge, and I had the honor of having this added to a
very brief list of my attributes as a soldier. There was a second
recommendation, which did duty as a mild plaudit for years afterward.
When faithful soldiers are discharged after their term of service has
expired, they have papers given them by the Government, with statements
of their ability and trustworthiness. Mine consisted in the words
usually used in presenting me to a friend. Instead of referring to a few
meagre accomplishments which my teachers had struggled to implant, as is
the fashion of some exuberant husbands, who proudly introduce their
wives to intimate friends, the General usually said, "Oh, I want you to
know my wife; she slept four months in a wagon."

Perhaps some people in the States may not realize that army women have a
hard time even in saying their prayers. The closet that the New
Testament tells us to frequent is seldom ours, for rarely does our
frugal Government allow us one in army quarters large enough to crowd in
our few gowns, much less to "enter in and shut the door"; while on a
march like that in Texas, devotions would be somewhat disturbed when one
kneeled down in a tent, uncertain whether it would be on a centipede or
a horned toad. To say a prayer undisturbed, it was necessary to wait
until one went to bed. Fortunately, mine were brief, since I had nothing
to ask for, as I believed the best of everything on earth had already
been given to me. If I was tired, and fell asleep in the midst of my
thanks, I could only hope the Heavenly Father would forgive me. I was
often so exhausted at night, that it was hard to keep my eyes open after
my head had touched the pillow, especially after the acquisition of the
blessed feather pillow. An army woman I love, the most consistent and
honorable of her sex, was once so worn out after a day of danger and
fatigue on a march, that she fell asleep while kneeling beside the bed
in the room she occupied, saying her prayers; and there she found
herself, still on her knees, when the sun wakened her in the morning.



CHAPTER IV.

MARCHES THROUGH PINE FORESTS.


FOR exasperating heat, commend me to a pine forest.

Those tall and almost branchless Southern pines were simply smothering.
In the fringed tops the wind swayed the delicate limbs, while not a
breath descended to us below. We fumed and fussed, but not
ill-naturedly, when trying to find a spot in which to take a nap. If we
put ourselves in a narrow strip of shadow made by the slender trunk of a
tree, remorseless Sol followed persistently, and we drowsily dragged
ourselves to another, to be pursued in the same determined manner and
stared into instant wakefulness by the burning rays.

The General had reveillé sounded at 2 o'clock in the morning, causing
our scamp to remark, _sotto voce_, that if we were to be routed out in
the night, he thought he would eat his breakfast the evening before, in
order to save time. It was absolutely necessary to move before dawn, as
the moment the sun came in sight the heat was suffocating. It was so
dark when we set out that it was with difficulty we reached the main
road, from our night's camp, in safety. My husband tossed me into the
saddle, and cautioned me to follow as close as my horse could walk, as
we picked our way over logs and through ditches or underbrush. Custis
Lee[A] was doglike in his behavior at these times. He seemed to aim to
put his hoof exactly in the footprint of the General's horse. In times
of difficulty or moments of peril, he evidently considered that he was
following the commanding officer rather than carrying me. I scarcely
blamed him, much as I liked to control my own horse, and gladly let the
bridle slacken on his neck as he cautiously picked his circuitous way;
but once on the main road, the intelligent animal allowed me to take
control again. Out of the dark my husband's voice came cheerily, as if
he were riding in a path of sunshine: "Are you all right?" "Give Lee his
head." "Trust that old plug of yours to bring you out ship-shape." This
insult to my splendid, spirited, high-stepping F. F. V.--for he was that
among horses, as well as by birth--was received calmly by his owner,
especially as the sagacious animal was taking better care of me than I
could possibly take of myself, and I spent a brief time in calling out a
defense of him through the gloom of the forest. This little diversion
was indulged in now and again by the General to provoke an argument, and
thus assure himself that I was safe and closely following; and so it
went on, before day and after dark; there was no hour or circumstance
out of which we did not extract some amusement.

The nights, fortunately, were cool; but such dews fell, and it was so
chilly that we were obliged to begin our morning march in thick coats,
which were tossed off as soon as the sun rose. The dews drenched the
bedding. I was sometimes sure that it was raining in the night, and woke
my husband to ask to have the ambulance curtains of our bed lowered; but
it was always a false alarm; not a drop of rain fell in that blistering
August. I soon learned to shut our clothes in a little valise at night,
after undressing in the tent, to ensure dry linen in the penetrating
dampness of the morning. My husband lifted me out of the wagon, when
reveillé sounded, into the tent, and by the light of a tallow candle I
had my bath and got into my clothes, combing my hair straight back, as
it was too dark to part it. Then, to keep my shoes from being soaked
with the wet grass, I was carried to the dining-tent, and lifted upon my
horse afterward.

One of my hurried toilets was stopped short one morning by the loss of
the body of my riding-habit. In vain I tossed our few traps about to
find it, and finally remembered that I had exchanged the waist for a
jacket, and left it under a tree where we had been taking a siesta the
day before. Eliza had brought in the blanket, books, and hats, but alas
for my dress body! it was hopelessly lost. In a pine forest, dark and
thick with fallen trees, what good did one tallow dip do in the hasty
search we made? A column of thousands of men could not be detained for a
woman's gown. My husband had asked me to braid the sleeves like his own
velvet jacket. Five rows of gilt braid in five loops made a dash of
color that he liked, which, though entirely out of place in a
thoroughfare, was admissible in our frontier life. He regretted the
loss, but insisted on sending for more gilt braid as soon as we were out
of the wilderness, and then began to laugh to himself and wonder if the
traveler that came after us, not knowing who had preceded him, might not
think he had come upon a part of the wardrobe of a circus troupe. It
would have been rather serious joking if in the small outfit in my
valise I had not brought a jacket, for which, though it rendered me more
of a fright than sun and wind had made me, I still was very thankful;
for without the happy accident that brought it along, I should have been
huddled inside the closed ambulance, waistless and alone. Our looks did
not enter into the question very much. All we thought of was how to keep
from being prostrated by the heat, and how to get rested after the march
for the next day's task.

We had a unique character for a guide. He was a citizen of Texas, who
boasted that not a road or a trail in the State was unfamiliar to him.
His mule, Betty, was a trial; she walked so fast that no one could keep
up with her, but not faster did she travel than her master's tongue. As
we rode at the head of the column, the sun pouring down upon our heads,
we would call out to him, "In heaven's name, Stillman, how much longer
is this to keep up?" meaning, When shall we find a creek on which to
camp? "Oh, three miles further you're sure to find a bold-flowin'
stream," was his confident reply; and, sure enough, the grass began to
look greener, the moss hung from the trees, the pines were varied by
beautiful cypress, or some low-branched tree, and hope sprang up in our
hearts. The very horses showed, by quickening step, they knew what
awaited us. Our scorched and parched throats began to taste, in
imagination, what was our idea of a bold-flowing stream--it was cool and
limpid, dancing over pebbles on its merry way. We found ourselves in
reality in the bed of a dried creek, nothing but pools of muddy water,
with a coating of green mold on the surface. The Custers made use of
this expression the rest of their lives. If ever we came to a puny,
crawling driblet of water, they said, "This must be one of Stillman's
bold-flowing streams." On we went again, with that fabricator calling
out from Betty's back, "Sho' to find finest water in the land five miles
on!" Whenever he had "been in these parts afore, he had always found at
all seasons a roaring torrent." One day we dragged through forty miles
of arid land, and after passing the dried beds of three streams, the
General was obliged to camp at last, on account of the exhausted horses,
on a creek with pools of muddy, standing water, which Stillman, coming
back to the column, described as "rather low." This was our worst day,
and we felt the heat intensely, as we usually finished our march and
were in camp before the sun was very high. I do not remember one good
drink of water on that march. When it was not muddy or stagnant, it
tasted of the roots of the trees. Some one had given my husband some
claret for me when we set out, and but for that, I don't really know how
the thirst of the midsummer days could have been endured. The General
had already taught himself not to drink between meals, and I was trying
to do so. All he drank was his mug of coffee in the early morning and at
dinner, and cold tea or coffee, which Eliza kept in a bottle, for
luncheon.

[Illustration: GENERAL CUSTER AS A CADET.]

The privations did not quench the buoyancy of those gay young fellows.
The General and his staff told stories and sang, and a man with good
descriptive powers recounted the bills of fare of good dinners and
choice viands he had enjoyed, while we knew we had nothing to anticipate
in this wilderness but army fare. Sometimes, as we marched along, almost
melted with heat, and our throats parched for water, the odor of
cucumbers was wafted toward us. Stillman, the guide, being called on for
an explanation, as we wondered if we were nearing a farm, slackened
Betty, waited for us, and took down our hopes by explaining that it was
a certain species of snake, which infested that part of the country. The
scorpions, centipedes and tarantulas were daily encountered. I not only
grew more and more unwilling to take my nap, after the march was over,
under a tree, but made life a burden to my husband till he gave up
flinging himself down anywhere to sleep, and induced him to take his
rest in the traveling wagon. I had been indolently lying outstretched in
a little grateful shade one day, when I was hurriedly roused by some
one, and moved to avoid what seemed to me a small, dried twig. It was
the most venomous of snakes, called the pine-tree rattlesnake. It was
very strange that we all escaped being stung or bitten in the midst of
thousands of those poisonous reptiles and insects. One teamster died
from a scorpion's bite, and, unfortunately, I saw his bloated,
disfigured body as we marched by. It lay on a wagon, ready for burial,
without even a coffin, as we had no lumber.

What was most aggravating were two pests of that region, the seed-tick
and the chigger. The latter bury their heads under the skin, and when
they are swollen with blood, it is almost impossible to extract them
without leaving the head imbedded. This festers, and the irritation is
almost unbearable. If they see fit to locate on neck, face or arms, it
is possible to outwit them in their progress; but they generally choose
that unattainable spot between the shoulders, and the surgical operation
of taking them out with a needle or knife-point, must devolve upon some
one else. To ride thus with the skin on fire, and know that it must be
endured till the march was ended, caused some grumbling, but it did not
last long. The enemy being routed, out trilled a song or laugh from
young and happy throats. If we came to a sandy stretch of ground, loud
groans from the staff began, and a cry, "We're in for the chiggers!" was
an immediate warning. We all grew very wary of lying down to rest in
such a locality, but were thankful that the little pests were not
venomous. There's nothing like being where something dangerous lies in
wait for you, to teach submission to what is only an irritating
inconvenience.

One of the small incidents out of which we invariably extracted fun, was
our march at dawn past the cabins of the few inhabitants. On the open
platform, sometimes covered, but often with no roof, which connects the
two log huts, the family are wont to sleep in hot weather. There they
lay on rude cots, and were only awakened by the actual presence of the
cavalry, of whose approach they were unaware. The children sat up in
bed, in wide-gaping wonder; the grown people raised their heads, but
instantly ducked under the covers again, thinking they would get up in a
moment, as soon as the cavalcade had passed. From time to time a head
was cautiously raised, hoping to see the end of the column. Then such a
shout from the soldiers, a fusillade of the wittiest comments, such as
only soldiers can make--for I never expect to hear brighter speeches
than issue from a marching column--and down went the venturesome head,
compelled to obey an unspoken military mandate and remain "under cover."
There these people lay till the sun was scorching them, imprisoned under
their bed-clothes by modesty, while the several thousand men filed by,
two by two, and the long wagon-train in the rear had passed the house.

There came a day when I could not laugh and joke with the rest. I was
mortified to find myself ill--I, who had been pluming myself on being
such a good campaigner, my desire to keep well being heightened by
overhearing the General boasting to Tom that "nothing makes the old lady
ill." We did not know that sleeping in the sun in that climate brings on
a chill, and I had been frightened away from the snake-infested ground,
where there might be shade, to the wagon for my afternoon sleep. It was
embarrassing in the extreme. I could neither be sent back, nor remain in
that wilderness, which was infested by guerrillas. The surgeon compelled
me to lie down on the march. It was very lonely, for I missed the
laughter and story at the head of the column, which had lightened the
privations of the journey. The soil was so shallow that the wagon was
kept on a continual joggle by the roots of the trees over which we
passed. This unevenness was of course not noticeable on horseback, but
now it was painfully so at every revolution of the wheels. The General
and Tom came back to comfort me every now and again, while Eliza
"mammied" and nursed me, and rode in the seat by the driver. It was
"break-bone fever." No one knowing about it can read these words and not
feel a shudder. I believe it is not dangerous, but the patient is
introduced, in the most painful manner, to every bone in his body.
Incredible as it used to seem when, in school, we repeated the number of
bones, it now became no longer a wonder, and the only marvel was, how
some of the smallest on the list could contain so large an ache. I used
to lie and speculate how one slender woman could possibly conceal so
many bones under the skin. Anatomy had been on the list of hated books
in school; but I began then to study it from life, in a manner that made
it likely to be remembered. The surgeon, as is the custom of the
admirable men of that profession in the army, paid me the strictest
attention, and I swallowed quinine, it seemed to me, by the spoonful. As
I had never taken any medicine to speak of, it did its duty quickly, and
in a few days I was lifted into the saddle, tottering and light-headed,
but partly relieved from the pain, and very glad to get back to our
military family, who welcomed me so warmly that I was aglow with
gratitude. I wished to ignore the fact that I had fallen by the way, and
was kept in lively fear that they would all vote me a bother. After
that, my husband had the soldiers who were detailed for duty at
headquarters, when they cut the wood for camp-fires, build a rough
shade of pine branches over the wagon, when we reached camp. Even that
troubled me, though the kind-hearted fellows did not seem to mind it;
but the General quieted me by explaining that the men, being excused
from night duty as sentinels, would not mind building the shade as much
as losing their sleep, and, besides, we were soon afterward out of the
pine forest and on the prairie.

Our officers suffered dreadfully on that march, though they made light
of it, and were soon merry after a trial or hardship was over. The
drenching dews chilled the air that was encountered just at daybreak.
They were then plunged into a steam bath from the overpowering sun, and
the impure water told frightfully on their health. I have seen them turn
pale and almost reel in the saddle, as we marched on. They kept quinine
in their vest-pockets, and horrified me by taking large quantities at
any hour when they began to feel a chill coming on, or were especially
faint. Our brother Tom did not become quite strong, after his attack of
fever, for a long time, and had inflammatory rheumatism at Fort Riley a
year or more afterward, which the surgeons attributed to his Texas
exposure. I used to see the haggard face of the adjutant-general,
Colonel Jacob Greene, grow drawn and gray with the inward fever that
filled his veins and racked his bones with pain. The very hue of his
skin comes back to me after all these years, for we grieved over his
suffering, as we had all just welcomed him back from the starvation of
Libby Prison.

I rode in their midst, month after month, ever revolving in my mind the
question, whence came the inexhaustible supply of pluck that seemed at
their command, to meet all trials and privations, just as their
unfaltering courage had enabled them to go through the battles of the
war? And yet, how much harder it was to face such trials, unsupported by
the excitement of the trumpet-call and the charge. There was no wild
clamor of war to enable them to forget the absence of the commonest
necessities of existence. In Texas and Kansas, the life was often for
months unattended by excitement of any description. It was only to be
endured by a grim shutting of the teeth, and an iron will. The mother of
one of the fallen heroes of the Seventh Cavalry, who passed
uncomplainingly through the privations of the frontier, and gave up his
life at last, writes to me in a recent letter that she considers "those
late experiences of hardship and suffering, so gallantly borne, by far
the most interesting of General Custer's life, and the least known." For
my part I was constantly mystified as I considered how our officers,
coming from all the wild enthusiasm of their Virginia life, could, as
they expressed it, "buckle down" to the dull, exhausting days of a
monotonous march.

Young as I then was, I thought that to endure, to fight for and
inflexibly pursue a purpose or general principle like patriotism, seemed
to require far more patience and courage than when it is individualized.
I did not venture to put my thoughts into words, for two reasons: I was
too wary to let them think I acknowledged there were hardships, lest
they might think I repented having come; for I knew then, as I know now,
but feared they did not, that I would go through it all a hundred times
over, if inspired by the reasons that actuated me. In the second place,
I had already found what a habit it is to ridicule and make light of
misfortune or vicissitude. It cut me to the quick at first, and I
thought the officers and soldiers lacking in sympathy. But I learned to
know what splendid, loyal friends they really were, if misfortune came
and help was needed; how they denied themselves to loan money, if it is
the financial difficulty of a friend; how they nursed one another in
illness or accident; how they quietly fought the battles of the absent;
and one occasion I remember, that an officer, being ill, was unable to
help himself when a soldier behaved in a most insolent manner, and his
brother officer knocked him down, but immediately apologized to the
captain for taking the matter out of his hands. A hundred ways of
showing the most unswerving fidelity taught me, as years went on, to
submit to what I still think the deplorable habit, if not of ridicule,
of suppressed sympathy. I used to think that even if a misfortune was
not serious, it ought to be recognized, and none were afraid of showing
that they possessed truly tender, gentle, sympathetic natures, with me
or with any woman that came among them.

The rivers, and even the small streams, in Texas have high banks. It is
a land of freshets, and the most innocent little rill can rise to a
roaring torrent in no time. Anticipating these crossings, we had in our
train a pontoon bridge. We had to make long halts while this bridge was
being laid, and then, oh! the getting down to it. If the sun was high,
and the surgeon had consigned me to the traveling-wagon, I looked down
the deep gulley with more than inward quaking. My trembling hands
clutched wildly at the seat and my head was out at the side to see my
husband's face, as he directed the descent, cautioned the driver, and
encouraged me. The brake was frequently not enough, and the soldiers had
to man the wheels, for the soil was wet and slippery from the constant
passing of the pioneer force, who had laid the bridge. The heavy wagons,
carrying the boats and lumber for the bridge, had made the side-hill a
difficult bit of ground to traverse. The four faithful mules apparently
sat down and slid to the water's edge; but the driver, so patient with
my quiet imploring to go slowly, kept his strong foot on the brake and
knotted the reins in his powerful hands. I blessed him for his caution,
and then at every turn of the wheel I implored him again to be careful.
Finally, when I poured out my thanks at the safe transit, the color
mounted in his brown face, as if he had led a successful charge. In
talking at night to Eliza, of my tremors as we plunged down the bank and
were bounced upon the pontoon, which descended to the water's edge under
the sudden rush with which we came, I added my praise of the driver's
skill, which she carefully repeated as she slipped him, on the sly, the
mug of coffee and hot biscuits with which she invariably rewarded merit,
whether in officers or men. When I could, I made these descents on
horseback, and climbed up the opposite bank with my hands wound in
Custis Lee's abundant mane.

Eliza, in spite of her constant lookout for some variety for our table,
could seldom find any vegetables, even at the huts we passed. Corn pone
and chine were the principal food of these shiftless citizens,
butternut-colored in clothing and complexion, indifferent alike to food
and to drink. At the Sabine River the water was somewhat clearer. The
soldiers, leading their horses, crossed carefully, as it was dangerous
to stop here, lest the weight should carry the bridge under; but they
are too quick-witted not to watch every chance to procure a comfort, and
they tied strings to their canteens and dragged them beside the bridge,
getting, even in that short progress, one tolerably good drink. The
wagon-train was of course a long time in crossing, and dinner looked
dubious to our staff. Our faithful Eliza, as we talk over that march,
will prove in her own language, better than I can portray, how she
constantly bore our comfort on her mind:

"Miss Libbie, do you mind, after we crossed the Sabine River, we went
into camp? Well, we hadn't much supplies, and the wagons wasn't up; so,
as I was a-waitin' for you all, I says to the boys, 'Now, you make a
fire, and I'll go a-fishin'.' The first thing, I got a fish--well, as
long as my arm. It was big, and jumped so it scart me, and I let the
line go, but one of the men caught hold and jumped for me and I had him,
and went to work on him right away. I cleaned him, salted him, rolled
him in flour, and fried him; and, Miss Libbie, we had a nice platter of
fish, and the General was just delighted when he came up, and he was
surprised, too, and he found his dinner--for I had some cold biscuit and
a bottle of tea in the lunch-box--while the rest was a-waitin' for the
supplies to come up. For while all the rest was a-waitin', I went
fishin', mind you!"

FOOTNOTE:

[A] My horse was captured from a staff-officer of General Custis Lee
during the war, purchased by my husband from the Government, and named
for the Confederate general.



CHAPTER V.

OUT OF THE WILDERNESS.


AS we came out of the forest, the country improved somewhat. The
farm-houses began to show a little look of comfort, and it occurred to
us that we might now vary the monotony of our fare by marketing. My
husband and I sometimes rode on in advance of the command, and
approached the houses with our best manners, soliciting the privilege of
buying butter and eggs. The farmer's wife was taking her first look at
Yankees, but she found that we neither wore horns nor were
cloven-footed, and she even so far unbent as to apologize for not having
butter, adding, what seemed then so flimsy an excuse, that "I don't make
more than enough butter for our own use, as we are only milking seven
cows now." We had yet to learn that what makes a respectable dairy at
home was nothing in a country where the cows give a cupful of milk and
all run to horns. It was a great relief to get out of the wilderness,
but though our hardships were great, I do not want them to appear to
outnumber the pleasures. The absence of creature comforts is easily
itemized. We are either too warm or too cold, we sleep uncomfortably, we
have poor food, we are wet by storms, we are made ill by exposure.
Happiness cannot be itemized so readily; it is hard to define what goes
to round and complete a perfect day. We remember hours of pleasure as
bathed in a mist that blends all shades into a roseate hue; but it is
impossible to take one tint from colors so perfectly mingled, and define
how it adds to the perfect whole.

The days now seemed to grow shorter and brighter. In place of the
monotonous pines, we had magnolia, mulberry, pecan, persimmon and
live-oak, as well as many of our own Northern trees, that grew along the
streams. The cactus, often four feet high, was covered with rich red
blossoms, and made spots of gorgeous color in the prairie grass. I had
not then seen the enormous cacti of old Mexico, and four feet of that
plant seemed immense, as at home we labored to get one to grow six
inches. The wild-flowers were charming in color, variety and luxuriance.
The air, even then beginning to taste of the sea, blew softly about us.
Stillman no longer blackened his soul with prophecies about the streams
on which we nightly pitched our tents. The water did flow in them, and
though they were then low, so that the thousands of horses were
scattered far up and down when watering-time came, the green scum of
sluggish pools was a thing of the past.

A few days before we reached what was to be a permanent camp, a
staff-officer rode out to meet us, and brought some mail. It was a
strange sensation to feel ourselves restored by these letters to the
outside world. General Custer received a great surprise. He was
brevetted major, lieutenant-colonel and brigadier-general in the regular
army. The officers went off one side to read their sweethearts' letters;
and some of our number renewed their youth, sacrificed in that dreadful
forest to fever, when they read the good news of the coming of their
wives by sea. At Hempstead we halted, and the General made a permanent
camp, in order to recruit men and horses after their exhausting march.
Here General Sheridan and some of his staff came, by way of Galveston,
and brought with them our father Custer, whom the General had sent for
to pay us a visit. General Sheridan expressed great pleasure at the
appearance of the men and horses, and heard with relief and satisfaction
of the orderly manner in which they had marched through the enemy's
country, of how few horses had perished from the heat, and how seldom
sunstroke had occurred. He commended the General--as he knew how to do
so splendidly--and placed him in command of all the cavalry in the
State. Our own Division then numbered four thousand men.

I was again mortified to have to be compelled to lie down for a day or
two, as so many weeks in the saddle had brought me to the first
discovery of a spinal column. It was nothing but sheer fatigue, for I
was perfectly well, and could laugh and talk with the rest, though not
quite equal to the effort of sitting upright, especially as we had
nothing but camp-stools, on which it is impossible to rest.
Indisposition, or even actual illness, has less terrors in army life
than in the States. We were not condemned to a gloomy upper chamber in a
house, and shut in alone with a nurse whom we had never before seen. In
our old life, ailing people lay on a lounge in the midst of all the
garrison, who were coming and going a dozen times a day, asking, "How
does it go now?" and if you had studied up anything that they could do
for you? I principally recall being laid up by fatigue, because of the
impetuous assault that my vehement father Custer made on his son for
allowing me to share the discomforts; and when I defended my husband by
explaining how I had insisted upon coming, he only replied, "Can't help
it if you did. Armstrong, you had no right to put her through such a
jaunt." It was amusing to see the old man's horror when our staff told
him what we had been through. It would have appeared that I was his own
daughter, and the General a son-in-law, by the manner in which he
renewed his attack on the innocent man. Several years afterward it cost
Lieutenant James Calhoun long pleading, and a probationary state of two
years, before the old man would consent to his taking his daughter
Margaret into the army. He shook his gray head determinedly, and said,
"Oh, no; you don't get me to say she shall go through what Libbie has."
But the old gentleman was soon too busy with his own affairs, defending
himself against not only the ingenious attacks of his two incorrigible
boys, but the staff, some of whom had known him in Monroe. His eyes
twinkled, and his face wrinkled itself into comical smiles, as he came
every morning with fresh tales of what a "night of it he had put in." He
had a collection of mild vituperations for the boys, gathered from
Maryland, Ohio and Michigan, where he had lived, which, extensive as the
list was, did not, in my mind, half meet the situation.

The stream on which we had encamped was wide and deep, and had a
current. Our tents were on the bank, which gently sloped to the water.
We had one open at both ends, over which was built a shade of pine
boughs, which was extended in front far enough for a porch. Some lumber
from a pontoon bridge was made into the unusual luxury of a floor. My
husband still indulged my desire to have the traveling-wagon at the
rear, so that I might take up a safe position at night, when sleep
interrupted my vigils over the insects and reptiles that were about us
constantly. The cook-tent, with another shade over it, was near us,
where Eliza flourished a skillet as usual. The staff were at some
distance down the bank, while the Division was stretched along the
stream, having, at last, plenty of water. Beyond us, fifty miles of
prairie stretched out to the sea. We encamped on an unused part of the
plantation of the oldest resident of Texas, who came forth with a
welcome and offers of hospitality, which we declined, as our camp was
comfortable. His wife sent me over a few things to make our tent
habitable, as I suppose her husband told her that our furniture
consisted of a bucket and two camp-stools. There's no denying that I
sank down into one of the chairs, which had a back, with a sense of
enjoyment of what seemed to me the greatest luxury I had ever known. The
milk, vegetables, roast of mutton, jelly, and other things which she
also sent, were not enough to tempt me out of the delightful hollow,
from which I thought I never could emerge again. But military despots
pick up their families and carry them out to their dinner, if they
refuse to walk. The new neighbors offered us a room with them, but the
General never left his men, and it is superfluous to say that I thought
our clean, new hospital tent, as large again as a wall-tent, and much
higher, was palatial after the trials of the pine forests.

The old neighbor continued his kindness, which was returned by sending
him game after the General's hunt, and protecting his estate. He had
owned 130 slaves, with forty in his house. He gave us dogs and sent us
vegetables, and spent many hours under our shade. He had lived under
eight governments in his Texas experience, and, possibly, the habit of
"speeding the parting and welcoming the coming guest" had something to
do with his hospitality. I did not realize how Texas had been tossed
about in a game of battle-door and shuttle-cock till he told me of his
life under Mexican rule, the Confederacy, and the United States.

I find mention, in an old letter to my parents, of a great luxury that
here appeared, and quote the words of the exuberant and much-underlined
girl missive: "I rejoice to tell you that I am the happy possessor of a
mattress. It is made of the moss which festoons the branches of all the
trees at the South. The moss is prepared by boiling it, then burying it
in the ground for a long time, till only the small thread inside is
left, and this looks like horse-hair. An old darkey furnished the moss
for three dollars, and the whole thing only cost seven dollars--very
cheap for this country. We are living finely now; we get plenty of eggs,
butter, lard and chickens. Eliza cooks better than ever, by a few logs,
with camp-kettles and stew-pans. She has been washing this past week,
and drying her things on a line tied to the tent-poles and on bushes,
and ironing on the ground, with her ironing-sheet held down by a stone
on each corner. To-day we are dressed in white. She invites us to mark
Sunday by the luxury of wearing white. Her 'ole miss used to.' We are
regulated by the doings of that 'ole miss,' and I am glad that among the
characteristics of my venerable predecessor, which we are expected to
follow, wearing white gowns is included."

Eliza, sitting here beside me to-day, has just reminded me of that week,
as it was marked in her memory by a catastrophe. Eliza's misfortunes
were usually within the confines of domestic routine. I quote her words:
"It was on the Gros Creek, Miss Libbie, that I had out that big wash,
and all your lace-trimmed things, and all the Ginnel's white linen
pants and coats. I didn't know nothin' 'bout the high winds then, but I
ain't like to forget 'em ever again. The first thing I I knew, the line
was jest lifted up, and the clothes jest spread in every direction, and
I jest stood still and looked at 'em, and I says, 'Is _this_ Texas? How
long am I to contend with this?' [With hands uplifted and a camp-meeting
roll in her eyes.] But I had to go to work and pick 'em all up. Some
fell in the sand, and some on the grass. I gathered 'em all, with the
sun boiling down hot enough to cook an egg. While I was a-pickin' 'em
up, the Ginnel was a-standin' in the tent entrance, wipin' down his
moustache, like he did when he didn't want us to see him laughin'. Well,
Miss Libbie, I was _that_ mad when he hollered out to me, 'Well, Eliza,
you've got a spread-eagle thar.' Oh, I was so mad and hot, but he jest
bust right out laughin'. But there wasn't anything to do but rinse and
hang 'em up again."

We had been in camp but a short time when the daughter of the newly
appointed collector of the port came from their plantation near to see
us. She invited me to make my home with them while we remained, but I
was quite sure there was nothing on earth equal to our camp. The girl's
father had been a Union man during the war, and was hopelessly invalided
by a long political imprisonment. I remember nothing bitter, or even
gloomy, about that hospitable, delightful family. The young girl's visit
was the precursor of many more, and our young officers were in clover.
There were three young women in the family, and they came to our camp
and rode and drove with us, while we made our first acquaintance with
Southern home life. The house was always full of guests. The large
dining-table was not long enough, however, unless placed diagonally
across the dining-room, and it was sometimes laid three times before all
had dined. The upper part of the house was divided by a hall running the
length of the house. On one side the women and their guests--usually a
lot of rollicking girls--were quartered, while the men visitors had
rooms opposite; and then I first saw the manner in which a Southern
gallant comes as a suitor or a friend. He rode up to the house with his
servant on another horse, carrying a portmanteau. They came to stay
several weeks. I wondered that there was ever an uncongenial marriage in
the South, when a man had such a chance to see his sweetheart. This was
one of the usages of the country that our Northern men adopted when they
could get leave to be absent from camp, and delightful visits we all
had.

It seemed a great privilege to be again with women, after the long
season in which I had only Eliza to represent the sex. But I lost my
presence of mind when I went into a room for the first time and caught a
glimpse of myself in a mirror. The only glass I had brought from the
East was broken early in the march, and I had made my toilet by feeling.
The shock of the apparition comes back to me afresh, and the memory is
emphasized by my fastidious mother's horror when she saw me afterward. I
had nothing but a narrow-brimmed hat with which to contend against a
Texas sun. My face was almost parboiled and swollen with sunburn, while
my hair was faded and rough. Of course, when I caught the first glimpse
of myself in the glass I instantly hurried to the General and Tom, and
cried out indignantly, "Why didn't you tell me how horridly I
looked?"--the inconsistent woman in me forgetting that it would not have
made my ugliness any easier to endure. My husband hung his head in
assumed humility when he returned me to my mother, six months later, my
complexion seemingly hopelessly thickened and darkened; for, though
happily it improved after living in a house, it never again looked as it
did before the Texas life. My indignant mother looked as if her
son-in-law was guilty of an unpardonable crime. I told her, rather
flippantly, that it had been offered up on the altar of my country, and
she ought to be glad to have so patriotic a family; but she withered the
General with a look that spoke volumes. He took the first opportunity to
whisper condescendingly that, though my mother was ready to disown me,
and quite prepared to annihilate him, he would endeavor not to cast me
off, if I was black, and would try to like me, "notwithstanding all."

The planters about the country began to seek out the General, and invite
him to go hunting; and, as there was but little to do while the command
was recruiting from the march, he took his father and the staff and went
to the different plantations where the meet was planned. The start was
made long before day, and breakfast was served at the house where the
hunters assembled, dinner being enjoyed at the same hospitable board on
the return at night. Each planter brought his hounds, and I remember the
General's delight at his first sight of the different packs--thirty-seven
dogs in all--and his enthusiasm at finding that every dog responded to
his master's horn. He thereupon purchased a horn, and practiced in camp
until he nearly split his cheeks in twain, not to mention the spasms
into which we were driven; for his five hounds, presents from the
farmers, ranged themselves in an admiring and sympathetic semicircle,
accompanying all his practicing by tuning their voices until they
reached the same key. I had no idea it was such a difficult thing to
learn to sound notes on a horn. When we begged off sometimes from the
impromptu serenades of the hunter and his dogs, the answer was, "I am
obliged to practice, for if anyone thinks it is an easy thing to blow on
a horn, just let him try it." Of course Tom caught the fever, and came
in one day with the polished horn of a Texas steer ready for action. The
two were impervious to ridicule. No detailed description of their red,
distended cheeks, bulging eyes, bent and laborious forms, as they
struggled, suspended the operation. The early stages of this horn music
gave little idea of the gay picture of these debonair and spirited
athletes, as they afterward appeared. When their musical education was
completed, they were wont to leap into the saddle, lift the horn in
unconscious grace to their lips, curbing their excited and rearing
horses with the free hand, and dash away amidst the frantic leaping,
barking and joyous demonstration of their dogs.

At the first hunt, when one of our number killed a deer, the farmers
made known to our officers, on the sly, the old established custom of
the chase. While Captain Lyon stood over his game, volubly narrating, in
excited tones, how the shot had been sent and where it had entered, a
signal, which he was too absorbed to notice, was given, and the crowd
rushed upon him and so plastered him with blood from the deer that
scarcely an inch of his hair, hands and face was spared, while his
garments were red from neck to toes. After this baptism of gore, they
dragged him to our tent on their return, to exhibit him, and it was well
that he was one of the finest-hearted fellows in the world, for day and
night these pestering fellows kept up the joke. Notwithstanding he had
been subjected to the custom of the country, which demands that the
blood of the first deer killed in the chase shall anoint the hunter, he
had glory enough through his success to enable him to submit to the
penalty.

Tom also shot a deer that day, but his glory was dimmed by a misfortune,
of which he seemed fated never to hear the last. The custom was to place
one or two men at stated intervals in different parts of the country
where the deer were pretty sure to run, and Tom was on stand watching
through the woods in the direction from which the sound of the dogs
came. As the deer bounded toward him, he was so excited that when he
fired, the shot went harmlessly by the buck and landed in one of the
General's dogs, killing the poor hound instantly. Though this was a loss
keenly felt, there was no resisting the chance to guy the hunter. Even
after Tom had come to be one of the best shots in the Seventh Cavalry,
and when the General never went hunting without him, if he could help
it, he continued to say, "Oh, Tom's a good shot, a sure aim--he's sure
to hit something!" Tom was very apt, also, to find newspaper clippings
laid around, with apparent carelessness by his brother, where he would
see them. For example, like this one, which I have kept among some old
letters, as a reminder of those merry days: "An editor went hunting the
other day, for the first time in twenty-two years, and he was lucky
enough to bring down an old farmer by a shot in the leg. The distance
was sixty-six yards."

We had long and delightful rides over the level country. Sometimes my
husband and I, riding quietly along at twilight, for the days were still
too warm for much exercise at noon-time, came upon as many as three
coveys of quail scurrying to the underbrush. In a short walk from camp
he could bag a dozen birds, and we had plenty of duck in the creek near
us. The bird dog was a perpetual pleasure. She was the dearest,
chummiest sort of house-dog, and when we took her out she still visited
with us perpetually, running to us every now and again to utter a little
whine, or to have us witness her tail, which, in her excitement in
rushing through the underbrush, cacti and weeds, was usually scratched,
torn and bleeding. The country was so dry that we could roam at will,
regardless of roads. Our horses were accustomed to fording streams,
pushing their way through thickets and brambles, and becoming so
interested in making a route through them that my habit sometimes caught
in the briars, and my hat was lifted off by the low-hanging moss and
branches; and if I was not very watchful, the horse would go through a
passage between two trees just wide enough for himself, and rub me off,
unless I scrambled to the pommel. The greater the obstacles my husband
encountered, even in his sports, the more pleasure it was to him. His
own horses were so trained that he shot from their backs without their
moving. Mine would also stand fire, and at the report of a gun, behaved
much better than his mistress.

Eliza, instead of finding the General wearing his white linen to
celebrate Sunday, according to her observances, was apt to get it on
week-days after office-hours, far too often to suit her. On the Sabbath,
she was immensely puffed up to see him emerge from the tent, speckless
and spotless, because she said to me, "Whilst the rest of the officers
is only too glad to get a white shirt, the Ginnel walks out among 'em
all, in linen from top to toe." She has been sitting beside me, talking
over a day at that time: "Do you mind, Miss Libbie, that while we was
down in Texas the Ginnel was startin' off on a deer-hunt, I jest went up
to him and tole him, 'Now, Ginnel, you go take off them there white
pants.' He said so quiet, sassy, cool, roguish-like, 'The deer always
like something white'--telling me that jest 'cause he wanted to keep 'em
on. Well, he went, all the same, and when he came back, I says, 'I don't
think the deer saw you in those pants.' He was covered with grass-stains
and mud, and a young fawn swinging across the saddle. But them pants was
mud and blood, and green and yellow blotches, from hem to bindin'. But
he jest laughed at me because I was a-scoldin', and brought the deer out
to me, and I skinned it the fust time I ever did, and cooked it next
day, and we had a nice dinner."

At that time Eliza was a famous belle. Our colored coachman, Henry, was
a permanent fixture at the foot of her throne, while the darkeys on the
neighboring plantations came nightly to worship. She bore her honors
becomingly, as well as the fact that she was the proud possessor of a
showy outfit, including silk dresses. The soldiers to whom Eliza had
been kind in Virginia had given her clothes that they had found in the
caches where the farmers endeavored to hide their valuables during the
war. Eliza had made one of these very receptacles for her "ole miss"
before she left the plantation, and while her conscience allowed her to
take the silken finery of some other woman whom she did not know, she
kept the secret of the hiding-place of her own people's valuables until
after the war, when the General sent her home in charge of one of his
sergeants to pay a visit. Even the old mistress did not know the spot
that Eliza had chosen, which had been for years a secret, and she
describes the joy at sight of her, and her going to the place in the
field and digging up the property "with right smart of money, too, Miss
Libbie--enough, with that the Ginnel gave me to take home, to keep 'em
till the crops could be harvested."

This finery of Eliza's drove a woman servant at the next place to plan
a miserable revenge, which came near sending us all into another world.
We were taking our breakfast one morning, with the table spread under
the awning in front of our tent. The air, not yet heated by the sun,
came over the prairie from the sea. The little green swift and the
chameleon, which the General had found in the arbor roof and tamed as
pets, looked down upon as reposeful and pretty a scene as one could
wish, when we suddenly discovered a blaze in the cook-tent, where we had
now a stove--but Eliza shall tell the story; "When I fust saw the fire,
Miss Libbie, I was a-waitin' on you at breakfast. Then the first thought
was the Ginnel's powder-can, and I jest dropped everythin' and ran and
found the blaze was a-runnin' up the canvas of my tent, nearly reachin'
the powder. The can had two handles, and I ketched it up and ran
outside. When I first got in the tent, it had burnt clar up to the
ridge-pole on one side. Some things in my trunk was scorched mightily,
and one side of it was pretty well burnt. The fire was started right
behind my trunk, not very near the cook-stove. The Ginnel said to me how
cool and deliberate I was, and he told me right away that if my things
had been destroyed, I would have everythin' replaced, for he was bound I
wasn't going to lose nothin'."

My husband, in this emergency, was as cool as he always was. He followed
Eliza as she ran for the powder-can, and saved the tent and its contents
from destruction, and, without doubt, saved our lives. The noble part
that I bore in the moment of peril was to take a safe position in our
tent, wring my hands and cry. If there was no one else to rush forward
in moments of danger, courage came unexpectedly, but I do not recall
much brave volunteering on my part.

Eliza put such a broad interpretation upon the General's oft-repeated
instruction not to let any needy person go away from our tent or
quarters hungry, that occasionally we had to protest. She describes to
me now his telling her she was carrying her benevolence rather too far,
and her replying, "Yes, Ginnel, I do take in some one _once_ and a
_while_, _off_ and _on_." "Yes," he replied to me, "more on than off, I
should say." "One chile I had to hide in the weeds a week, Miss Libbie.
The Ginnel used to come out to the cook-tent and stand there kinder
careless like, and he would spy a little path running out into the
weeds. Well, he used to carry me high and dry about them little roads
leading off to folks he said I was a-feedin.' I would say, when I saw
him lookin' at the little path in the weeds, 'Well, what is it, Ginnel?'
He would look at me so keen-like out of his eyes, and say, 'That's what
_I_ say.' Then he'd say he was goin' to get a couple of bloodhounds, and
run 'em through the bushes to find out just how many I was a-feedin'.
Then, Miss Libbie, we never did come to a brush or a thicket but that he
would look around at me so kinder sly like, and tell me that would be a
fust-rate ranch for me. Then I would say, 'Well, it's a good thing I do
have somebody sometimes, 'cause my cook-tent is allus stuck way off by
itself, and it's lonesome, and sometimes I'm so scart.' But, you know,
Miss Libbie," she added, afraid I might think she reflected on one whose
memory she reveres, "my tent was obliged to be a good bit off, 'cause
the smell of the cookin' took away the Ginnel's appetite; he was so
uncertain like in his eatin', you remember."

[Illustration]

In Texas, two wretched little ragamuffins--one, of the poor white trash,
and another a negro--were kept skulking about the cook-tent, making
long, circuitous détours to the creek for water, for fear we would see
them, as they said "Miss Lize tole us you'd make a scatter if you knew
'no 'count' chillern was a-bein' fed at the cook-tent." They slipped
into the underbrush at our approach, and lay low in the grass at the
rear of the tent if they heard our voices. The General at first thought
that, after Eliza had thoroughly stuffed them and made them fetch and
carry for her, they would disappear, and so chose to ignore their
presence, pretending he had not seen them. But at last they appeared to
be a permanent addition, and we concluded that the best plan would be to
acknowledge their presence and make the best of the infliction; so we
named one Texas, and the other Jeff. Eliza beamed, and told the
orphans, who capered out boldly in sight for the first time, and ran
after Miss "Lize" to do her bidding. Both of them, from being starved,
wretched, and dull, grew quite "peart" under her care. The first
evidence of gratitude I had was the creeping into the tent of the little
saffron-colored white boy, with downcast eyes, mumbling that "Miss Lize
said that I could pick the scorpions out of your shoes." I asked, in
wonder--one spark of generosity blazing up before its final
obliteration--"And how, in the name of mercy, do you get on with the
things yourself?" He lifted up a diminutive heel, and proudly showed me
a scar. The boy had probably never had on a pair of shoes, consequently
this part of his pedal extremity was absolutely so callous, so evidently
obdurate to any object less penetrating than a sharpened spike driven in
with a hammer, I found myself wondering how a scorpion's little spear
could have effected an entrance through the seemingly impervious outer
cuticle. Finally, I concluded that at a more tender age that "too solid
flesh" may have been susceptible to an "honorable wound." It turned out
that this cowed and apparently lifeless little midget was perfectly
indifferent to scorpions. By this time I no longer pretended to courage
of any sort; I had found one in my trunk, and if, after that, I was
compelled to go to it, I flung up the lid, ran to the other side of the
tent, and "shoo-shooed" with that eminently senseless feminine call
which is used alike for cows, geese, or any of these acknowledged foes.
Doubtless a bear would be greeted with the same word, until the supposed
occupants had run off. Night and morning my husband shook and beat my
clothes while he helped me to dress. The officers daily came in with
stories of the trick, so common to the venomous reptiles, of hiding
between the sheets, and the General then even shook the bedding in our
eyrie room in the wagon. Of all this he was relieved by the boy that
Eliza called "poor little picked sparrow," who was appointed as my maid.
Night and morning the yellow dot ran his hands into shoes, stockings,
night-gown, and dress-sleeves, in all the places where the scorpions
love to lurk; and I bravely and generously gathered myself into the
armchair while the search went on.

Eliza has been reminding me of our daily terror of the creeping,
venomous enemy of those hot lands. She says, "One day, Miss Libbie, I
got a bite, and I squalled out to the Ginnel, 'Somethin's bit me!' The
Ginnel, he said, 'Bit you! bit you whar?' I says, 'On my arm;' and, Miss
Libbie, it was pizen, for my arm it just swelled enormous and got all up
in lumps. Then it pained me so the Ginnel stopped a-laughin' and sent
for the doctor, and he giv' me a drink of whiskey. Then what do you
think! when I got better, didn't he go and say I was playin' off on him,
just to get a big drink of whiskey? But I 'clar' to you, Miss Libbie, I
was bad off that night. The centipede had crept into my bedclothes, and
got a good chance at me, I can tell you."

Our surgeon was a naturalist, and studied up the vipers and venomous
insects of that almost tropical land. He showed me a captured scorpion
one day, and, to make me more vigilant, infuriated the loathsome
creature till it flung its javelin of a tail over on its back and stung
itself to death.

Legends of what had happened to army women who had disregarded the
injunctions for safety were handed down from elder to subaltern, and a
plebe fell heir to these stories as much as to the tactics imparted by
his superiors, or the campaigning lore. I hardly know when I first heard
of the unfortunate woman who lingered too far behind the cavalcade, in
riding for pleasure or marching, and was captured by the Indians, but
for ten years her story was related to me by officers of all ages and
all branches of the service as a warning. In Texas, the lady who had
been frightfully stung by a centipede pointed every moral. The sting was
inflicted before the war, and in the far back days of "angel sleeves,"
which fell away from the arm to the shoulder. Though this misfortune
dated back from such a distant period, the young officers, in citing her
as a warning to us to be careful, described the red marks all the way up
the arm, with as much fidelity as if they had seen them. No one would
have dreamed that the story had filtered through so many channels. But
surely one needed little warning of the centipede. Once seen, it made as
red stains on the memory as on the beautiful historic arm that was used
to frighten us. The Arabs call it the mother of forty-four, alluding to
the legs; and the swift manner in which it propels itself over the
ground, aided by eight or nine times as many feet as are allotted to
ordinary reptiles, makes one habitually place himself in a position for
a quick jump or flight while campaigning in Texas. We had to be watchful
all the time we were in the South. Even in winter, when wood was brought
in and laid down beside the fireplace, the scorpions, torpid with cold
at first, crawled out of knots and crevices, and made a scattering till
they were captured. One of my friends was stationed at a post where the
quarters were old and of adobe, and had been used during the war for
stables by the Confederates. It was of no use to try to exterminate
these reptiles; they run so swiftly it takes a deft hand and a sure
stroke to finish them up. Our officers grew expert in devising means to
protect themselves, and, in this instance, a box of moist mud, with a
shingle all ready, was kept in the quarters. When a tarantula showed
himself, he was plastered on the wall. It is impossible to describe how
loathsome that great spider is. The round body and long, far-reaching
legs are covered with hairs, each particular hair visible; and the
satanic eyes bulge out as they come on in your direction, making a
feature of every nightmare for a long time after they are first seen.
The wife of an officer, to keep these horrors from dropping on her bed
as they ran over the ceiling, had a sheet fastened at the four corners
and let down from the rough rafters to catch all invaders, and thus
insured herself undisturbed sleep.

Officers all watch and guard the women who share their hardships. Even
the young, unmarried men--the bachelor officers, as they are
called--patterning after their elders, soon fall into a sort of fatherly
fashion of looking out for the comfort and safety of the women they are
with, whether old or young, pretty or ugly. It often happens that a
comrade, going on a scout, gives his wife into their charge. I think of
a hundred kindly deeds shown to all of us on the frontier; and I have
known of acts so delicate that I can hardly refer to them with
sufficient tact, and wish I might write with a tuft of thistle-down. In
the instance of some very young women--with hearts so pure and souls so
spotless they could not for one moment imagine there lived on earth
people depraved enough to question all acts, no matter how harmless in
themselves--I have known a little word of caution to be spoken regarding
some exuberance of conduct that arose from the excess of a thoughtless,
joyous heart. The husband who returned to his wife could thank the
friend who had watched over his interests no more deeply than the wife
who owed her escape from criticism to his timely word. And sometimes,
when we went into the States, or were at a post with strange officers,
it would not occur to us, gay and thoughtless as we were, that we must
consider that we were not among those with whom we had "summered and
wintered;" and the freedom and absolute naturalness of manner that arose
from our long and intimate relationship in isolated posts, ought perhaps
to give way to more formal conduct. If the women said to the men, "Now
we are among strangers, do you not think they would misunderstand our
dancing or driving or walking together just as fearlessly as at home?"
That was sufficient. The men said, "Sure enough! It never occurred to
me. By Jove! I wish we were back where a fellow need not be hampered by
having every act questioned;" and then no one sought harder or more
carefully so to act that we might satisfy the exactions of that
censorious group of elderly women who sat in hotel parlors, looking on
and remarking, "We did not do so when we were girls," or even some old
frump in a garrison we visited, who, having squeezed dry her orange of
life, was determined that others should get no good out of theirs if she
could insert one drop of gall.

Occasionally the young officers, perhaps too timid to venture on a
personal suggestion, sent us word by roundabout ways that they did not
want us to continue to cultivate someone of whom we knew nothing save
that he was agreeable. How my husband thanked them! He walked the floor
with his hands behind him, moved so that his voice was unsteady, and
said his say about what he owed to men who would not let a woman they
valued be even associated with anyone who might reflect on them. He was
a home-lover, and not being with those who daily congregated at the
sutler's store, the real "gossip-mill" of a garrison, he heard but
little of what was going on. A man is supposed to be the custodian of
his own household in civil life; but it must be remembered that in our
life a husband had often to leave a young and inexperienced bride to the
care of his comrades while he went off for months of field duty. The
grateful tears rise now in my eyes at the recollection of men who
guarded us from the very semblance of evil as if we had been their
sisters.



CHAPTER VI.

A TEXAS NORTHER.


WE had not been long in our camp at Hempstead, before the wives of two
of the staff arrived by way of Galveston. Their tents were put on a line
with or near ours, and arbors built over them. One of these women, Mrs.
Greene, had been one of my dearest girlhood friends, and every pleasure
of my happy life was enhanced by the presence of this lovely woman. We
all went out, after the heat of the day, on long rides about the
country. Our father Custer was a fine rider, and not only sat his horse
well, but it was almost impossible to unseat him. He grew more wary and
watchful of his tormenting sons every day. If they halted, apparently
only to say a casual word or so to their paternal, that keen old man
spurred his horse to one side with the agility of a circus-rider, just
in time to avoid the flying heels of the horse of his offspring in front
of him, which had been taught to fling his hoofs up when touched just
back of the saddle. If both boys came together and rode one on each side
of him, he looked uneasily from one to the other, suspicious of this
sudden exhibition of friendship; and well he might, for while one fixed
his attention by some question that provoked an answer, usually about
politics, the other gave a quick rap on the back of the horse, and the
next thing, the father was grasping the pommel to keep from being flung
forward of the animal as he threw up his heels and plunged his head
down, making the angle of an incline plane. Even when, after a concerted
plan, one rode up and pulled the cape of the elder man's overcoat over
his head and held it there a moment, while the other gave the horse a
cut, he sat like a centaur, and no surprise unseated him or loosened
his grip on the reins. They knew his horsemanship well, as he had ridden
after the hounds in Maryland and Virginia in his younger days, and had
taught them to sit a horse bareback, when their little fat legs were too
short to describe a curve on the animal's side. Of course I was always
begging to have them spare father, but it was needless championship. He
enjoyed their pranks with all his fun-loving soul.

It was very hard to get postage, and he was unwary enough one day--on
account of the color being the same as the issue of that year--to buy a
dollar's worth of his eldest scion, only to find them old ones, such as
were used before the war. Whether he considered the joke worth a dollar,
I could not decipher, for he was silent; but soon afterward he showed me
an envelope marked in the writing of his son Armstrong,
"Conscience-money," containing the $1 unlawfully obtained.

We were invited one night to go to a coon-hunt, conducted in the real
old Southern style. The officers wanted us to see some hunting, but were
obliged to leave us behind hitherto when they crossed the Brazos River
on deer-hunts, and were the guests of the planters in the chase, that
began before dawn and lasted all day. We had thickets, underbrush and
ditches to encounter, before the dogs treed the coon; then a little
darkey, brought along for the climbing, went up into the branches and
dislodged the game, which fell among our and the neighbors' dogs. No
voice excited them more wildly than the "Whoop-la!" of our old father,
and when we came home at 2 A. M., carrying a coon and a possum, he was
as fresh as the youngest of us.

The citizens surrounding us were so relieved to find that our troops
left them unmolested, they frankly contrasted the disciplined conduct
with the lawlessness to which they had been witness in States where the
Confederate army was stationed. But they scarcely realized that an army
in time of peace is much more restricted. They could hardly say enough
about the order that was carried out, preventing the negroes from
joining the column as it marched into Texas. There was no way of taking
care of them, and the General directed that none should follow, so they
went back, contented to work where they would be fed and clothed.

One reason that our life seemed to me the very perfection of all that is
ever attained on earth was, that the rumors of trouble with Mexico had
ceased. The demands of our Government had been complied with; but it was
thought best to keep the troops in the field the rest of the year,
though there was to be no war.

Our first experience with a Texas norther surprised and startled us. It
came on in the night, preceded by the usual heavy, suffocating air which
renders breathing an effort. After this prelude, the wild blast of wind
swept down on us with a fury indescribable. We heard the roar as it
approached over the stretch of prairie between us and the sea. Our tent,
though it was guyed by ropes stretched from the ridge-pole to a strong
post driven far into the ground, both in front and at the rear, shook,
rattled, and flapped as if with the rage of some human creature. It was
twisted and wrenched from side to side; the arbor overhead seemed to
toss to and fro, and the wagon rocked in a crazy effort to spill us out.
Though the ropes stretched and cracked like cordage at sea, and the
canvas flapped like loosened sails, we did not go down. Indeed, rocked
in this improvised "cradle of the deep," it was hard to tell whether one
was at sea or on land. I begged to get up and dress for the final
collapse that I was sure was coming, but my husband quieted me and
calmed my fears, believing that the approaching rain would still the
wind, as it eventually did. Next morning a scene of havoc was visible.
Our neighbors crept out of their tents, and we women, in a little
whispered aside, exchanged our opinions upon the climate of the "Sunny
South."

They also had passed a night of terror, but fortunately their tents did
not go down. Mrs. Lyon had just come from the North, and expected to
join her husband; meanwhile she was our guest, and the General and I had
endeavored to give her as cordial a welcome as we could, feeling that
all must be so strange to her after the security and seclusion of her
girlhood's home. The night preceding the norther we took her to her tent
near ours, and helped her arrange for the night, assuring her that we
were so near that we could hear her voice, if she was in the least
afraid. We, being novices in the experience of that climate and its
gales, had no idea the wind would rise to such concert pitch that no
voice could be distinguished. She said that when we fastened her in from
the outside world with two straps, she felt very uncertain about her
courage holding out. We kept on assuring her not to be afraid, but on
bidding her good-night and saying again not to be in the least
disturbed, that the sentinel walked his beat in front of her tent all
night, she dared not own up that this assurance did not tend to soothe
her anxious fears, for she thought she would be more afraid of the guard
than of anything else. And as I think of it, such a good-night from us
was rather unsatisfactory. My husband, soldier-like, put the utmost
faith in the guard, and I, though only so short a time before mortally
afraid of the stern, unswerving warrior myself, had soon forgotten that
there were many timid women in the world who knew nothing of sleeping
without locks or bolts, and thought, perhaps, that at the slightest
ignorance or dereliction of duty the sentinel would fire on an offender,
whether man or woman. Added to this fear of the sentinel, the storm took
what remnant of nerve she had left; and though she laughed next morning
about her initiation into the service of the Government, there were
subsequent confessions to the horror of that unending night. In talking
with Major and Mrs. Lyon nowadays, when it is my privilege to see them,
there seemed to be no memories but pleasant ones of our Texas life. They
might well cherish two reminiscences as somewhat disturbing, for Mrs.
Lyon's reception by the hurricane, and the Major's baptism of gore when
he killed his first deer, were not scenes that would bear frequent
repetition and only leave pleasant memories.

The staff-officers had caused a long shade to be built, instead of
shorter ones, which would have stood the storms better. Under this all
of their tents were pitched in two rows facing each other; and protected
by this arbor, they daily took the siesta which is almost compulsory
there in the heat of the noontide. Now the shade was lifted off one side
and tilted over, and some of the tents were also flat. Among them was
that of our father Custer. He had extricated himself with difficulty
from under the canvas, and described his sensations so quaintly that his
woes were greeted with roars of laughter from us all. After narrating
the downfall of his "rag house," he dryly remarked that it would seem,
owing to the climate and other causes, he was not going to have much
uninterrupted sleep, and, looking slyly at the staff, he added that his
neighborhood was not the quietest he had ever known.

The letters home at that time, in spite of their description of trivial
events, and the exuberant underlined expressions of girlish pleasure
over nothings, my father enjoyed and preserved. I find that our idle
Sundays were almost blanks in life, as we had no service and the hunting
and riding were suspended. I marked the day by writing home, and a few
extracts will perhaps present a clearer idea of the life there than
anything that could be written now:

"Every Sunday I wake up with the thought of home, and wish that we might
be there and go to church with you. I can imagine how pleasant home is
now. Among other luxuries, I see with my 'mind's eye,' a large plate of
your nice apples on the dining-room table. I miss apples here; none grow
in this country; and a man living near here told our Henry that he
hadn't seen one for five years. Father Custer bought me some small,
withered-looking ones for fifty cents apiece. It seems so strange that
in this State, where many planters live who are rich enough to build a
church individually, there is such a scarcity of churches. Why, at the
North, the first knowledge one has of the proximity of a village is by
seeing a spire, and a church is almost the first building put up when a
town is laid out. Here in this country it is the last to be thought of.
Cotton is indeed king. The cake you sent to me by Nettie Greene, dear
mother, was a perfect godsend. Oh, anything you make does taste so
good!"

"Our orderly has perfected a trade for a beautiful little horse for me,
so that when Custis Lee's corns trouble him, I am not obliged to take
the choice of staying at home or riding one of Armstrong's prancers. The
new horse has cunning tricks, getting down on his knees to let me get on
and off, if I tell him to do so. He is very affectionate, and he racks a
mile inside of three minutes. We talk 'horse' a great deal here, dear
father, and my letters may be like our talk; but any man who has kept in
his stable, for months at a time, a famous race-horse worth $9,000, as
you have kept Don Juan,[B] ought not to object to a little account of
other people's animals. We had an offer of $500 for Custis Lee at
Alexandria."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I sometimes have uninvited guests in my tent. Friday, Nettie saw
something on the tray that Eliza was carrying. It had a long tail, and
proved to be a stinging scorpion. The citizens pooh-pooh at our fear of
scorpions, and insist that they are not so very dangerous; but I was
glad to have that particular one killed by Armstrong planting his gun on
it. I feel much pleased, and Armstrong is quite proud, that I made
myself a riding-habit. You know I lost the waist of mine in the forest.
It took me weeks to finish it, being my first attempt. I ripped an old
waist, and copied it by drawing lines with a pencil, pinning and
basting; but it fits very well. I remember how you both wanted me to
learn when I was at home, and I almost wished I had, when I found it
took me such ages to do what ought to have been short work."

"Our letters take twenty days in coming, and longer if there are storms
in the Gulf. The papers are stale enough, but Armstrong goes through
them all. I feel so rich, and am luxuriating in four splint-bottom
chairs that we hired an old darkey to make for us. I want to sit in all
four at once, it seems so good to get anything in which to rest that has
a back."

"Our dogs give us such pleasure, though it took me some time to get used
to the din they set up when Armstrong practiced on the horn. They call
it 'giving tongue' here, but I call that too mild a word. Their whole
bodies seem hollow, they bring forth such wild cries and cavernous
howls. We call them Byron, Brandy, Jupiter, Rattler, Sultan, and Tyler."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Something awful is constantly occurring among the citizens. It is a
lawless country. A relative of one of our old army officers, a prominent
planter living near here, was shot dead in Houston by a man bearing an
old grudge against him. It is a common occurrence to shoot down men here
for any offense whatever. Armstrong never goes anywhere except for
hunting, and as we have plenty of books and our evening rides, we enjoy
life thoroughly. Nettie fell from her horse, and we were frightened for
a time, but she was only lamed. Though she weighs 165 pounds, Autie[C]
picked her up as if she were a baby, and carried her into their tent."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Besides visiting at the house of the collector of the port, where there
is a houseful of young girls, we have been hospitably treated by some
people to whom Armstrong was able to be of use. One day, a gentle
well-bred Southern woman came into our tent to see Armstrong, and asked
his protection for her boy, telling him that for some childish
carelessness the neighboring colored people had threatened his life.
Armstrong believed her, and melted. He afterward inquired elsewhere into
the matter, and was convinced that the boy had not intentionally erred.
The child himself was proof, by his frank manner and his straightforward
story, of his innocence."

"I suppose we were the first Yankees these people had ever known, and
doubtless nothing but gratitude induced them even to speak with us; yet
they conquered prejudice, and asked us to dinner. They had been so well
dressed when they called--and were accounted rich, I believe, by the
neighbors--that I could scarcely believe we had reached the right house
when we halted. It was like the cabins of the 'poor white trash' in the
forest, only larger. I thought we had mistaken the negro quarters for
the master's. Two large rooms, with extensions at the rear, were divided
by an open space roofed over, under which the table was spread. The
house was of rough logs, and unpainted. Unless the Texans built with
home materials, their houses cost as much as palaces abroad, for the
dressed lumber had to be hauled from the seacoast."

"The inside of this queer home was in marked contrast with the exterior.
The furniture was modern and handsome, and the piano, on which the
accomplished mother, as well as her little son, gave us music, was from
one of our best Northern manufactories. The china, glass and linen on
the dinner-table were still another surprise."

"They never broached politics, gave us an excellent dinner, and got on
Armstrong's blind side forever by giving him a valuable full-blooded
pointer, called Ginnie, short for Virginia. With four game chickens, a
Virginia cured ham (as that was their former State), and two turkeys, we
were sent on our way rejoicing."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Our Henry has gone home, and we miss him, for he is fidelity itself. He
expects to move his entire family of negroes from Virginia to Monroe,
because he says, father, you are the finest man he ever _did_ see.
Prepare, then, for the dark cloud that is moving toward you, and you
may have the privilege of contributing to their support for a time, if
he follows Eliza's plan of billeting the orphan upon us."

"We have a new cook called Uncle Charley, who has heretofore been a
preacher, but now condescends to get up good dinners for us. We had
eleven to dine to-day, and borrowed dishes of our Southern neighbors. We
had a soup made out of an immense turtle that Armstrong killed in the
stream yesterday. Then followed turkeys, boiled ham--and roast beef, of
course, for Armstrong thinks no dinner quite perfect without his beef.
We are living well, and on so little. Armstrong's pay as a major-general
will soon cease, and we are trying now to get accustomed to living on
less."

"I listen to the citizens talking over the prospects of this State, and
I think it promises wonders. There are chances for money-making all the
time thrown in Armstrong's way; but he seems to think that while he is
on duty he had better not enter into business schemes."

"Armstrong has such good success in hunting and fishing that he sends to
the other officers' messes turtle, deer, duck, quail, squirrels, doves
and prairie chickens. The possums are accepted with many a scrape and
flourish by the 'nigs.' I forgot to tell you that our nine dogs sleep
round our wagon at night, quarreling, growling, snoring, but I sleep too
soundly to be kept awake by them."

The very ants in Texas, though not poisonous, were provided with such
sharp nippers that they made me jump from my chair with a bound, if,
after going out of sight in the neck or sleeves of my dress, they
attempted to cut their way out. They clipped one's flesh with sharp
little cuts that were not pleasant, especially when there remained a
doubt as to whether it might be a scorpion. We had to guard our linen
carefully, for they cut it up with ugly little slits that were hard to
mend. Besides, we had to be careful, as we were so cut off that we could
not well replace our few clothes, and it costs a ruinous sum to send
North, or even to New Orleans, for anything. I found this out when the
General paid an express bill on a gown from New York--ordered before we
left the East--far larger than the cost of the material and the
dressmaker's bill together. The ants besieged the cook-tent and set
Uncle Charley and Eliza to growling; but an old settler told them to
surround the place with tan-bark, and they were thus freed. It was all I
could do to keep the General from digging down into the ant-mounds, as
he was anxious to see into their mechanism. The colored people and
citizens told us what fighters they were, and what injuries they
inflicted on people who molested them. We watched them curiously day by
day, and wanted to see if the residents had told us stories about their
stripping the trees of foliage just to guy us. (It has long been the
favorite pastime of old residents to impose all sorts of improbable
tales on the new-comer.) Whether this occurrence happens often or not I
cannot say, but it certainly took place once while we were there. One
morning my husband ran into the tent and asked me to hurry up with my
dressing; he had something strange to show me, and helped me scramble
into my clothes.

The carriage-road in front of our tents cut rather deep ruts, over which
the ants found a difficult passage, so they had laid a causeway of bits
of cut leaves, over which they journeyed between a tree and their
ant-hills, not far from our tents on the other side of the road. They
were still traveling back and forth, each bearing a bit of leaf bigger
than itself; and a half-grown tree near us, which had been full of
foliage the day before, was entirely bare.

For some reason unexplainable, malarial fever broke out among our staff.
It was, I suppose, the acclimation to which we were being subjected. My
father Custer was ill, and came forth from the siege whitened out, while
the officers disappeared to mourn over the number of their bones for a
few days, and then crept out of the tents as soon as they could move. My
husband all this time had never even changed color. His powers of
endurance amazed me. He seemed to have set his strong will against
yielding to climatic influences; but after two days of this fighting he
gave in and tossed himself on our borrowed lounge, a vanquished man. He
was very sick. Break-bone fever had waited to do its worst with its last
victim. Everything looked very gloomy to me. We had not even a wide bed,
on which it is a little comfort if a fever-tossed patient can fling
himself from side to side. We had no ice, no fruit, indeed nothing but
quinine. The supplies of that drug to the hospital department of Texas
must be sent by the barrel, it seemed to me, from the manner in which it
was consumed.

Our devoted surgeon came, of his own accord, over and over again, and
was untiring in his patience in coming when I sent for him
in-between-times, to please me in my anxiety. My husband was so racked
and tormented by pain, and burnt up with fiery heat, that he hardly made
the feeblest fight about the medicine, after having attained the
satisfaction of my tasting it, to be sure that I knew how bitter it was.
As the fever abated every hour, I resorted to new modes of bribery and
corruption to get him to swallow the huge pill. My stepmother's cake had
come in the very best time, for I extracted the raisins and hid the
quinine in them, as my father had done when giving me medicine as a
child. It seemed to me an interminable time before the disease began to
yield to the remedies. In reality, it was not long, as the General was
unaccustomed to medicine, and its effect was more quickly realized on
that account. Even when my husband began to crawl about again, the
doctor continued the medicine, and I as nurse remorselessly carried out
his directions, though I had by no means a tractable patient, as with
returning health came restored combative powers. My husband noticed the
rapid disappearance of the pills from the table when he lay and watched
the hated things with relief, as he discovered that he was being aided
in the consumption by some unknown friend. One morning we found the
plate on which the doctor had placed thirty the night before, empty. Of
course I accused the General of being the cause of the strange
disappearance, and prepared to send for more, inexorable in my temporary
reign over a weak man. He attempted a mild kicking celebration and
clapping accompaniment over the departure of his hated medicine, as much
as his rather unsteady feet and arms would allow, but stoutly denied
having done away with the offending pills. The next night we kept watch
over the fresh supply, and soon after dark the ants began their
migrations up the loose tent-wall on the table-cover that fell against
the canvas, and while one grasped the flour-mixed pill with his long
nippers, the partner pushed, steered and helped roll the plunder down
the side of the tent on to the ground.

The triumph of the citizens was complete. Their tales were outdone by
our actual experience. After that there was no story they told us which
we did not take in immediately without question.

The hunting included alligators also. In the stream below us there were
occasional deep pools, darkened by the overhanging trees. As we women
walked on the banks, we kept a respectful distance from the places where
the bend in the creek widened into a pond, with still water near the
high banks. In one of these dark pools lived an ancient alligator, well
known to the neighbors, on which they had been unsuccessfully firing for
years. The darkeys kept aloof from his fastness, and even Eliza, whose
Monday-morning soul longed for the running water of the stream, for she
had struggled with muddy water so long, trembled at the tales of this
monster. She reminds me now "what a lovely place to wash that Gros
wash-house was, down by the creek. But it was near the old alligator's
pool, and I know I hurried up my wash awfully, for I was afraid he might
come up; for you know, Miss Libbie, it was reckoned that they was mighty
fond of children and colored people."

[Illustration: MEASURING AN ALLIGATOR.]

One of the young officers was determined to get this veteran, and day
after day went up and down the creek, coming home at night to meet the
jeers of the others, who did not believe that alligator-hunting in a hot
country paid. One night he stopped at our tent, radiant and jubilant. He
had shot the old disturber of the peace, the intimidator of the
neighborhood, and was going for help to haul him up to the tents. He was
a monster, and it cost the men tough pulling to get him up the bank, and
then to drag him down near our tent. There he was left for us women to
see. We walked around and around him, very brave, and quite relieved to
think that we were rid of so dangerous a neighbor, with a real old
Jonah-and-the-whale mouth. The General congratulated the young officer
heartily, and wished it had been his successful shot that had ended him.
Part of the jaw had been shot away, evidently years ago, as it was then
calloused over. It was distended to its utmost capacity, and propped
open with a stick. Nettie brought out a broom from her tent, with which
to get a rough estimate of his length, as we knew well that if we did
not give some idea of his size in our letters home, they would think the
climate, which enervates so quickly, had produced a total collapse in
our power to tell the truth. The broom did not begin to answer, so we
pieced out the measure with something else, in order to arrive at some
kind of accuracy. Then we thought we would like to see how the beast
looked with his mouth closed, and the officers, patient in humoring our
whims, pulled out the props. There was a sudden commotion. The next
thing visible was three sets of flying petticoats making for the tent,
as the alligator, revived by the sudden let-down of his upper jaw,
sprawled out his feet and began to walk over the grass. The crack of the
rifle a moment after brought the heads of three cowards from their
tents, but after that no woman hovered over even his dead hide. The
General was convulsed over our retreat. The drying skin of his majesty,
the lord of the pool, flung and flapped in the wind, suspended to the
pole of the officers' arbor for weeks, and it was well tanned by the air
long before they ceased to make sly allusions to women's curiosity.

At last, in November, the sealed proposals from citizens to the
quartermaster for the contract for transporting the camp equipage and
baggage, forage, etc., over the country, were all in, and the most
reasonable of the propositions was accepted. Orders had come to move on
to Austin, the capital, where we were to winter. It was with real regret
that I saw our traps packed, the tents of our pretty encampment taken
down, the arbors thrown over, and our faces turned toward the interior
of the State. The General, too buoyant not to think that every move
would better us, felt nothing but pleasure to be on the march again. The
journey was very pleasant through the day, and we were not compelled to
rise before dawn, for the sun was by no means unbearable, as it had been
in August. It was cold at night, and the wind blew around the wagon,
flapping the curtains, under which it penetrated, and lifting the covers
unless they were strongly secured. As to trying to keep warm by a
camp-fire in November, I rather incline to the belief that it is
impossible. Instead of heat coming into the tent where I put on my habit
with benumbed fingers, the wind blew the smoke in. Sometimes the
mornings were so cold I begged to be left in bed, and argued that the
mules could be attached and I could go straight on to camp, warm all the
way. But my husband woke my drowsy pride by saying "the officers will
surely think you a 'feather-bed soldier,'" which term of derision was
applied to a man who sought soft places for duty and avoided hardships,
driving when he ought to ride.

If we all huddled around one of my husband's splendid camp-fires, I came
in for the smoke. The officers' pretty little gallantries about "smoke
always following beauty," did not keep my eyes from being blistered and
blinded. It was, after all, not a very great hardship, as during the day
we had the royal sun of that Southern winter.

My husband rode on in advance every day to select a camp. He gave the
choice into my hands sometimes, but it was hard to keep wood, water and
suitable ground uppermost; I wanted always the sheltered, pretty spots.
We enjoyed every mile of our march. It rained sometimes, pouring down so
suddenly that a retreat to the traveling wagons was impossible. One day
I was wet to the skin three times, and my husband wondered what the
anxious father and mother, who used frantically to call "rubbers" after
me, as a girl, when I tried to slip out unnoticed, would say to him
then; but it did not hurt me in the least. The General actually seemed
unconscious of the shower. He wore a soldier's overcoat, pulled his
broad hat down to shed the rain, and encouraged me by saying I was
getting to be a tough veteran, which among us was very high praise.
Indeed, we were all then so well, we snapped our fingers at the
once-dreaded break-bone fever. If we broke the ice in the bucket for our
early ablutions, it became a matter to joke over when the sun was up and
we all rode together, laughing and singing, at the head of the column.

Our march was usually twenty-five miles, sometimes thirty, in a day. The
General and I foraged at the farms we passed, and bought good butter,
eggs and poultry. He began to collect turkeys for the winter, until we
had enough for a year. Uncle Charley was doing his best to awe Eliza
with his numerous new dishes. Though he was a preacher, he put on that
profession on Sundays as he did his best coat; and if during the week
the fire smoked, or a dog stole some prepared dish that was standing
one side to cool, he expressed himself in tones not loud but deep, and
had as extensive a collection of negro oaths as Texas afforded, which, I
believe, is saying a good deal. My husband, observant as he always was,
wondered what possessed the old fellow when preparing poultry for
dinner. We used slyly to watch him go one side, seize the chicken, and,
while swiftly wringing its neck, mumble some unintelligible words to
himself, then throw down the fowl in a matter-of-fact way, and sit down
to pluck it. We were mystified, and had to get Eliza to explain this
peculiar proceeding that went on day after day. She said that "though
Uncle Charley does swear so powerful, he has a kind of superstition that
poultry has a hereafter." Evidently he thought it was not right to send
them to their last home without what he intended for a funeral oration.
Sometimes he said, as fast as his nimble old tongue could clatter:

    "Hark, from the tombs a doleful sound,
       Mine ears attend the cry!
     Ye living hens, come view the ground
       Where you must shortly die."

Once after this my husband, by hiding, contrived to be present, though
unseen, at one of these funeral ceremonies:

    "Princes, this clay must be your bed,
       In spite of all your towers,
     The tall, the wise, the reverend head,
       Must lie as low as yours."

He so timed his verses that with one wrench he gave the final turn to
the poor chicken's head as he jerked out the last line. My husband,
perfectly convulsed himself, was in terror for fear Uncle Charley would
have his feelings hurt by seeing us, and hearing my giggling, and I
nearly smothered myself in the attempt to get back to our tent, where
the General threw himself down with shrieks of laughter.

We varied our march by many an exciting race after jack-rabbits. The
chapparral bushes defeated us frequently by making such good
hiding-places for the hare.[D] If we came to a long stretch of open
prairie, and a rabbit lifted his doe-like head above the grass, the
General uttered a wild whoop to his dog, a "Come on!" to me, and off we
dashed. Some of the staff occasionally joined, while our father Custer
bent over his old roan horse, mildly struck him with a spur, and was in
at the death. The ground was excellent for a run--level and grassy. We
had a superb greyhound called Byron, that was devoted to the General,
and after a successful chase it was rewarded with many a demonstration
of affection. He was the most lordly dog, I think, I ever saw--powerful,
with deep chest, and carrying his head in a royal way. When he started
for a run, with his nostrils distended and his delicate ears laid back
on his noble head, each bound sent him flying through the air. He hardly
touched the elastic cushions of his feet to earth, before he again was
spread out like a dark, straight thread. This gathering and leaping must
be seen, to realize how marvelous is the rapidity and how the motion
seems flying, almost, as the ground is scorned except at a sort of
spring bound. He trotted back to the General, if he happened to be in
advance, with the rabbit in his mouth, and, holding back his proud head,
delivered the game only to his chief. The tribute that a woman pays to
beauty in any form, I gave to Byron, but I never cared much for him. A
greyhound's heart could be put into a thimble. Byron cared for the
General as much as his cold soul could for any one, but it was not to be
compared with the dear Ginnie: she was all love, she was almost human.

The dog was in an injured state with me much of the time. In quarters he
resented all my rights. My husband had a great fashion of flinging
himself on the bed, or even on the floor, if it was carpeted. He told me
he believed he must unconsciously have acquired the habit at West
Point, where the zeal of the cadet seems divided between his studies and
an effort to keep the wrinkles out of the regulation white pantaloons,
which, being of duck, are easily creased. What punishment Government
sees fit to inflict for each separate crease, I don't know, but
certainly its embryo soldiers have implanted in them a fear of
consequences, even regarding rumpled linen. As soon as the General
tossed himself on the bed, Byron walked to him and was invited to share
the luxury. "Certainly," my husband used to say, sarcastically; "walk
right up here on this clean white spread, without troubling yourself to
care whether your feet are covered with mud or not. Your Aunt Eliza
wants you to lie on nice white counterpanes; she washes them on purpose
for you." Byron answered this invitation by licking his host's hand, and
turning in the most scornful manner on me, as I uttered a mild protest
regarding his muddy paws. The General quickly remarked that I made
invidious distinctions, as no spread seemed too fine or white for
Ginnie, in my mind, while if Eliza happened to enter, a pair of blazing
eyes and an energetically expressed opinion of Byron ensued, and he
retorted by lifting his upper lip over some of the whitest fangs I ever
saw. The General, still aiding and abetting, asked the dog to let Aunt
Eliza see what an intelligent, knowing animal he was--how soon he
distinguished his friends from his foes. Such an exasperating brute, and
such a tormenting master, were best left alone. But I was tired, and
wanted to lie down, so I told Eliza that if she would stand there, I
would try the broom, a woman's weapon, on his royal highness. Byron
wouldn't move, and growled even at me. Then I quite meekly took what
little place was left, the General's sense of mischief, and his peculiar
fondness for not interfering in a fight, now coming in to keep him
silent. The dog rolled over, and shammed sleep, but soon planting his
feet against my back, which was turned in high dudgeon, he pushed and
pushed, seemingly without premeditation, his dreadful eyes shut, until I
was nearly shoved off. I was conquered, and rose, afraid of the dog and
momentarily irritated at my defeat and his tyranny, while Eliza read a
lesson to the General. She said, "_Now_ see what you've done. You keer
more for that _pesky, sassy_ old hound than you does for Miss Libbie.
Ginnel, I'd be 'shamed, if I was you. What would your mother Custer
think of you now?" But my feelings were not seriously hurt, and the
General, having watched to the last to see how far the brute would carry
his jealousy, gave him a kick that sent him sprawling on the floor,
springing up to restore me to my place and close the colored harangue
that was going on at the foot of the bed. Eliza rarely dignified me with
the honor of being referee in any disputed question. She used to say,
"No matter whether it's right or wrong, Miss Libbie's sho' to side with
the Ginnel." Her droll way of treating him like a big boy away from home
for the first time, always amused him. She threatened to tell his
mother, and brought up that sainted woman in all our encounters, as she
did in the dog episode just mentioned, as if the very name would restore
order at once, and give Eliza her own way in regulating us. But dear
mother Custer had been in the midst of too many happy scuffles, and the
centre of too many friendly fisticuffs among her active, irrepressible
boys, in the old farm-days, for the mention of her name to restore order
in our turbulent household.

FOOTNOTES:

[B] Don Juan was a horse captured by our soldiers during the war, and
bought, as was the custom, by the General, for the appraised value of a
contract horse. It was the horse that ran away with him at the grand
review, and it afterward died in Michigan.

[C] An abbreviation of the General's second name, Armstrong, given him
by his elder sister's children, when they were too young to pronounce
the full name Armstrong.

[D] I never liked hunting when the game was killed, and I was relieved
to find how often the hare rabbit escaped into the thickets.



CHAPTER VII.

LIFE IN A TEXAS TOWN.


ONE day we heard shout upon shout from many a soldier's throat in camp.
The headquarters guard and officers' servants, even the officers
themselves, joined in the hallooing, and we ran out to see what could be
the matter. It was our lordly Byron. Stately and superb as he usually
was, he had another side to his character, and now he was racing up from
camp, a huge piece of meat in his jaws, which he had stolen from the
camp-kettle where it was boiling for the soldiers' dinner. His retreat
was accompanied with every sort of missile--sticks, boots and rocks--but
this dog, that made himself into a "greased streak of lightning," as a
colored woman described him, bounded on, untouched by the flying hail of
the soldiers' wrath. The General did not dare to shout and dance in
sight of the men, over what he thought so cunning in this hateful dog,
as he was not protected by the friendly walls of our tent; but he
chuckled, and his eyes danced, for the brute dropped the hot meat when
he had looked about to discover how close his pursuers were, and then,
seeing the enemy nearing him, picked it up and distanced them all. The
General went back to his tent, and called Eliza, to torment her with an
account of what "her favorite" had done all by himself. She spared no
words to express her opinion of the hated hound, for Byron was no
respecter of persons when the sly side of his character was uppermost.
He stole his master's dinner just as readily as the neighbors'. Eliza
said no one could tell how many times he had made off with a part of her
dinner, just dished up to be served, and then gone off on a prowl,
"after he'd gorged hissel," as she expressed it, "hidin' from the other
dogs, and burying it in jest such a stingy way you might 'spect from
such a worthless, plunderin' old villain."

The march to Austin was varied by fording. All the streams and rivers
were crossed in that manner, except one, where we used the pontoon
bridge. The Colorado we found too high to ford, and so made a détour of
some miles. The citizens were not unfriendly, while there was a total
cessation of work on the part of the negroes until our column went by.
They sat on the fences like a row of black crows, and with their usual
politeness made an attempt to answer questions the troops put to them,
which were unanswerable, even in the ingenious brain of the propounder.
"Well, uncle, how far is it ten miles down the road from here?" If their
feelings were hurt by such irrepressible fun, they were soon healed by
the lively trade they kept up in chickens, eggs and butter.

The citizens sometimes answered the General's salute, and his interested
questions about the horse they rode, by joining us for a short distance
on the march. The horseflesh of Texas was a delight to him; but I could
not be so interested in the fine points as to forget the disfiguring
brands that were often upon the foreshoulder, as well as the flank. They
spoke volumes for the country where a man has to sear a thoroughbred
with a hot iron, to ensure his keeping possession. Father Custer used to
say, "What sort of country is this, anyhow, when a man, in order to keep
his property, has got to print the whole constitution of the United
States on his horse?" The whole get-up of the Texans was rather
cumbersome, it seemed to me, though they rode perfectly. They frequently
had a Mexican saddle, heavily ornamented with silver on the high pommel,
and everywhere else that it could be added. Even the design of the
stamped leather, for which Mexico is famous, was embroidered with silver
bullion. The stirrup had handsome leather covers, while a fringe of
thongs fell almost to the ground, to aid in pushing their way through
the tall prairie grass. Sometimes the saddle-cloth, extending to the
crupper, was of fur. The bridle and bit were rich with silver also. On
the massive silver pommel hung an incongruous coil of horse-hair rope,
disfiguring and ugly. There was an iron picket-pin attached to the
lariat, which we soon learned was of inestimable value in the long rides
that the Texans took. If a man made a halt, he encircled himself with
this prickly lariat and lay down securely, knowing that no snake could
cross that barrier. In a land of venomous serpents, it behooved a man to
carry his own abatis everywhere. The saddle was also secured by a cinch
or girth of cow's-hair, which hard riders found a great help in keeping
the saddle firm. The Texan himself, though not often wearing the
high-crowned, silver-embroidered Mexican sombrero, wore usually a
wide-brimmed felt hat, on which the General afterward doted, as the felt
was of superior quality. If the term "dude" had been invented then, it
would often have applied to a Texan horseman. The hair was frequently
long, and they wore no waistcoat, I concluded because they could better
display the vast expanse of shirt-front. While the General and his
casual companion in our march talked horse, too absorbed to notice
anything else, I used to lose myself in the contemplation of the maze of
tucks, puffs and embroidery of this cambric finery, ornamented with
three old-fashioned bosom-pins. The wearer seemed to me to represent two
epochs: the fine linen, side-saddle and blooded horse belonged to "befo'
the war;" while the ragged elbows of the coat-sleeves, and the worn
boots, were decidedly "since the war." If the shirt-front was intricate
in its workmanship, the boots were ignored by the placid owner.

They usually had the Mexican serape strapped to the back of the saddle,
or, if it was cold, as it was in our late November march, they put their
head through the opening in the middle, so woven for that purpose, and
flung the end across their breast and over one shoulder in a picturesque
manner. The bright hues of the blanket, dyed by the Indians from the
juice of the prickly pear, its soft, flexible folds having been woven
in a hand-loom, made a graceful and attractive bit of color, which was
not at all out of place in that country. These blankets were valuable
possessions. They were so pliable and perfectly water-proof, that they
protected one from every storm. We had a pair, which we used through
every subsequent campaign, and when the cold in Kansas and Dakota became
almost unbearable, sometimes, after the long trial of a journey in the
wagon, my husband used to say, "We will resort to extreme measures,
Libbie, and wrap you in the Mexican blankets." They were the warmest of
all our wraps. Nothing seemed to fade them, and even when burnt with
Tom's cigarette ashes, or stuck through with the General's spurs, they
did not ravel, as do other fabrics. They have hung as portières in my
little home, and the design and coloring are so like the Persian rug on
the floor, that it seems to be an argument to prove that Mr. Ignatius
Donnelly, in his theory of Atlantis, is right, and that we once had a
land highway between the East and Mexico, and that the reason the Aztec
now uses the designs on his pottery and in his weaving is, that his
ancestors brought over the first sketches on papyrus.[E]

A Texan travels for comfort and safety rather than for style. If a
norther overtakes him, he dismounts and drives the picket-pin into the
ground, thus tethering his horse, which turns his back, the better to
withstand the oncoming wind. The master throws himself, face down, in
the long grass, buried in his blanket, and thus awaits the termination
of the fury with which the storm sweeps a Texas prairie.

Sometimes one of the planters, after riding a distance with us, talking
the county over, and taking in every point of our horses as he rode,
made his adieus and said he was now at his own place, where he turned
in. The General followed his fine thoroughbred with longing eyes, and
was more than astonished to find in what stables they kept these
valuable and delicate animals. No matter if the house was habitable, the
stable was usually in a state of careless dilapidation. Doors swung on
one hinge, and clapboards were torn off here and there, while the warped
roof was far from weather-proof. Even though Texas is in the "Sunny
South," the first sharp norther awakens one to the knowledge that it is
not always summer. Sometimes these storms are quickly over, but
frequently they last three days. This carelessness about stabling stock
was not owing to the depredations of an invading army. We were the first
"Yankees" they had seen. It was the general shiftlessness that creeps
into one's veins. We were not long there ourselves before climatic
influence had its effect on even the most active among us.

Before we reached Austin, several citizens sent out invitations for us
to come to their houses; but I knew the General would not accept, and,
cold as the nights were, I felt unwilling to lose a day of camp life. We
pitched our tents on rolling ground in the vicinity of Austin, where we
overlooked a pretty town of stuccoed houses that appeared summery in the
midst of the live-oak's perennial green. The State House, Land Office,
and governor's mansion looked regal to us so long bivouacking in the
forest and on uncultivated prairies. The governor offered for our
headquarters the Blind Asylum, which had been closed during the war.
This possessed one advantage that we were glad to improve: there was
room enough for all the staff, and a long saloon parlor and dining-room
for our hops during the winter. By this time two pretty, agreeable
women, wives of staff-officers, were added to our circle. Still, I went
into the building with regret. The wagon in which the wind had rocked
me to sleep so often, and which had proved such a stronghold against the
crawling foes of the country, was consigned to the stable with a sigh.
Camp life had more pleasures than hardships.

There were three windows in our room, which we opened at night; but,
notwithstanding the air that circulated, the feeling, after having been
so long out of doors, was suffocating. The ceiling seemed descending to
smother us. There was one joy--reveillé could ring out on the dawning
day and there was no longer imperative necessity to spring from a warm
bed and make ablutions in ice-water. There is a good deal of that sort
of mental snapping of the fingers on the part of campaigners when they
are again stationary and need not prepare for a march. Civilization and
a looking-glass must now be assumed, as it would no longer do to rough
it and ignore appearances, after we had moved into a house, and were to
live like "folks." Besides, we soon began to be invited by the
townspeople to visit them. Refined, agreeable and well-dressed women
came to see us, and, womanlike, we ran our eyes over their dresses. They
were embroidered and trimmed richly with lace--"befo' the war" finery or
from the cargo of a blockade runner; but it was all strange enough in
such an isolated State. Almost everything was then brought from the
terminus of the Brenham Railroad to Austin, 150 miles, by ox-team. We
had been anxiously expected for some time, and there was no manner of
doubt that the arrival of the Division was a great relief to the
reputable of both sides. They said so frankly--the returned Confederate
officers and the "stay-at-home rangers," as well as the newly appointed
Union governor.

Texas was then a "go-as-you-please" State, and the lawlessness was
terrible. The returned Confederate soldiers were poor, and did not know
how to set themselves to work, and in many instances preferred the life
of a freebooter. It was so easy, if a crime was committed, to slip into
Mexico, for though it was inaccessible except by stage or on horseback,
a Texan would not mind a forced march over the country to the Rio
Grande. There were then but one or two short railroads in operation. The
one from Galveston to Brenham was the principal one, while telegraph
lines were not in use. The stage to Brenham was our one means of
communication with the outside world.

It was hard for the citizens who had remained at home to realize that
war was over, and some were unwilling to believe there ever had been an
emancipation proclamation. In the northern part of the State they were
still buying and selling slaves. The lives of the newly appointed United
States officers were threatened daily, and it was an uneasy head that
wore the gubernatorial crown. I thought them braver men than many who
had faced the enemy in battle. The unseen, lurking foe that hides under
cover of darkness was their terror. They held themselves valiantly; but
one wife and daughter were on my mind night after night, as from dark
till dawn they slept uneasily, and started from their rooms out into the
halls at every strange sound. The General and I thought the courageous
daughter had enough brave, devoted blood in her veins to distill a
portion into the heart of many a soldier who led a forlorn hope. They
told us that in the early part of the war the girl had known of a Union
flag in the State House, held in derision and scornfully treated by the
extremists. She and her younger brother climbed upon the roof of a wing
of the building, after dark, entered a window of the Capitol, found the
flag, concealed it in the girl's clothing, and made their perilous
descent safely. The father of such a daughter might well prize her
watchfulness of his safety, as she vigilantly kept it up during our
stay, and was equal to a squadron of soldiers. She won our admiration;
and our bachelor officers paid the tribute that brave men always pay to
courageous, unselfish women, for she danced, rode and walked with them,
and when she was not so engaged, their orderlies held their horses
before the official door, while they improved every hour allowed them
within the hospitable portal.

It was a great relief to find a Southern State that was not devastated
by the war. The homes destroyed in Virginia could not fail to move a
woman's heart, as it was women and children that suffered from such
destruction. In Texas nothing seemed to have been altered. I suppose
some profited, for blockade-running could be carried on from the ports
of that great State, and there was always Mexico from which to draw
supplies.

In our daily rides we found the country about Austin delightful. The
roads were smooth and the surface rolling. Indeed, there was one high
hill, called Mount Brunnel, where we had picnics and enjoyed the fine
view, far and near, taking one of the bands of the regular regiments
from the North that joined us soon after our arrival. Mount Brunnel was
so steep we had to dismount and climb a part of the distance. The band
played the "Anvil Chorus," and the sound descended through the valley
grandly. The river, filled with sand-bars and ugly on close examination,
looked like a silver ribbon. At that height, the ripened cotton, at
certain seasons of the year, looked like fields of foam. The thermometer
was over eighty before we left the lowlands; but at the altitude to
which we climbed the air was cool. We even went once to the State Insane
Asylum, taking the band, when the attendants asked if dance music might
be played, and we watched with wonder the quadrille of an insane eight.

The favorite ride for my husband was across the Colorado to the Deaf and
Dumb Asylum. There seemed to be a fascination for him in the children,
who were equally charmed with the young soldier that silently watched
their pretty, pathetic exhibitions of intelligent speech by gesture. My
husband riveted his gaze on their speaking eyes, and as their instructor
spelt the passions of love, hatred, remorse and reverence on his
fingers, one little girl represented them by singularly graceful
gestures, charming him, and filling his eyes with tears, which he did
not seek to hide. The pupils were from ten to sixteen years of age.
Their supple wrists were a delight to us, and the tiny hands of a child
of the matron, whom the General held, talked in a cunning way to its
playmates, who, it knew, could not comprehend its speech. It was well
that the Professor was hospitality itself, and did not mind a cavalcade
dashing up the road to his house. My husband, when he did not openly
suggest going, used some subterfuge as trivial as going for water-cress,
that grew in a pond near the Asylum. The children knew him, and welcomed
him with lustrous, eloquent eyes, and went untiringly through their
little exhibitions, learning to bring him their compositions, examples
and maps, for his commendation. How little we thought then that the
lessons he was taking, in order to talk with the children he learned to
love, would soon come into use while sitting round a camp-fire and
making himself understood by Indians. Of course, their sign-language is
wholly their own, but it is the same method of using the simplest signs
as expressive of thought. It was a long, pleasant ride; its only
drawback to me being the fording of the river, which had quicksands and
a rapid current. The Colorado was low, but the river-bed was wide and
filled with sand-bars. The mad torrent that the citizens told us of in
freshets, we did not see. If I followed my husband, as Custis Lee had
learned to do, I found myself guided safely, but it sometimes happened
that our party entered the river, laughing and talking so earnestly,
noisily and excitedly that we forgot caution. One lesson was enough; the
sensation of the sinking of the horse's hindlegs in quicksands is not to
be forgotten. The loud cry of the General to "saw on the bit" or whip my
horse, excited, frightened directions from the staff to turn to the
right or the left, Custis Lee trembling and snorting with fear, but
responding to a sharp cut of my whip (for I rarely struck him), and we
plunged on to a firmer soil, wiser for all the future on account of that
moment of serious peril.

We seldom rode through the town, as my husband disliked the publicity
that a group of cavalrymen must necessarily cause in a city street. If
we were compelled to, the staff and Tom pointed out one after another of
the loungers about the stores, or the horseman, who had killed his man.
It seemed to be thought the necessary thing, to establish the Texan's
idea of courage, to have either fought in duels, or, by waylaying the
enemy, to have killed from one to five men. The Southern climate seems
to keep alive a feud that our cold Northern winters freeze out. Bad
blood was never kept in abeyance; they had out their bursts of temper
when the attack of rage came on. Each man, even the boys of twelve, went
armed. I used to wonder at the humped-up coats, until a norther, before
which we were one day scudding for safety, lifted the coats of men
making a similar dash, and the pistol was revealed.

It was the favorite pastime of our men (having concocted the scheme with
the General) to ride near some of the outskirts, and, when we reached
some lone tree, tell me that from that limb a murdered man had lately
swung. This grim joke was often practiced on me, in order that the
shuddering horror and the start Custis Lee and I made, to skim over the
country away from such a hated spot, might be enjoyed. I came to think
the Texas trees bore that human fruit a little too often for truth; but
some of the citizens gloated over these scenes of horror, and added a
lamp-post in town to the list of localities from which, in future, I
must turn away my head.

The negroes in Texas and Louisiana were the worst in all the South. The
border States had commonly sold their most insubordinate slaves into
these two distant States.[F] Fortunately, our now well-disciplined
Division and the regular cavalry kept everything in a better condition;
but there were constantly individual cases of outrageous conduct, and
often of crime, among whites and blacks, high and low. Texas had so long
been looked upon as a sort of "city of refuge" by outlaws, that those
whom the other States refused to harbor came to that locality. A country
reached only by sea from the south or by a wagon-train from the north,
and through which no telegraph lines ran until after we came, would
certainly offer an admirable hiding-place for those who leave their
country for their country's good. I have read somewhere that Texas
derived its name from a group of rascals, who, sitting around a fire on
their arrival on the soil that was to protect them, composed this
couplet:

    "If every other land forsakes us,
     This is the land that freely takes us (Texas)."

As story after story reached us, I began to think the State was well
named. There were a great many excellent, law-abiding citizens, but not
enough to leaven the lump at that chaotic period. Even the women learned
to defend themselves, as the war had deprived them of their natural
protectors, who had gone either in the Northern or Southern army--for
Texas had a cavalry regiment of refugees in our service. One woman,
while we were there, found a teamster getting into her window, and shot
him fatally. Firearms were so constantly about--for the men did not
dress without a pistol in their belts--that women grew accustomed to the
sight of weapons. There was a woman of whom I constantly heard, rich and
refined, but living out of town on a plantation that seemed to be fit
only for negroes. She rode fearlessly, and diverted her monotonous life
by hunting. The planters frequently met her with game slung upon her
saddle, and once she lassoed and brought in a wolf alone. Finally, this
woman came to see me, but curiosity made me hardly civil for a few
moments, as I was trying to reconcile myself to the knowledge that the
quiet, graceful person before me, with rich dress, jewels and a French
hat, could take her gun and dogs, mount a fiery horse, and go hunting
alone. We found, on returning the visit, that, though they were rich,
owning blooded horses, a plantation and a mill, their domicile was
anything but what we at the North would call comfortable. It was a long,
one-storied, log building, consisting of a parlor, dining-room, bedroom
and two small "no-'count" rooms, as the servants said, all opening into
one another and upon the porch. The first surprise on entering was, that
the roof did not fit down snugly on the side wall. A strip of the blue
sky was visible on three sides, while the partition of the dining-room
only came up part way. There seemed to be no sort of provision for
"Caudle lectures." The walls were roughly plastered, but this space just
under the roof was for ventilation, and I fancied they would get enough
of it during a norther.

I am reminded of a story that one of the witty Southern women told me,
after repeating some very good comic verses, in which they excel. She
said the house I described was not uncommon in Texas, and that once she
was traveling over a portion of the State, on a journey of great
suffering, as she was accompanying her husband's remains to a family
burial-ground. They assisted her from her carriage into one of the rooms
of a long log house, used as a wayside inn, and the landlady kindly
helped her into bed, as she was prostrated with suffering and fatigue.
After she left her, the landlady seemed to forget that the partition did
not extend to the rafters, and began questioning her servant as to what
was the matter, etc. Hearing that the lady had lost her husband, the old
dame exclaimed, sympathetically, "Poor thing! Poor thing! I know how it
is; I've lost three of em."

The General and his staff got a good deal of sport out of the manner in
which they exaggerated the tales of bloodshed to me, and aroused the
anger, grief and horror that I could not suppress. I must defend myself
from the supposition that I may have been chronicling their absurd and
highly colored tales. All that I have written I have either seen or have
reliable authority for. Their astounding stories, composed among
themselves, began with a concocted plan by which one casually started a
story, the others met it with surprise, and with an "Is it possible?"
and the next led up to some improbable narrative of the General's--I
growing more and more shivery as the wicked tormentors advanced. Always
rather gullible, I suppose, I must confess the torn and distracted state
of society in Texas made everything they said seem probable. I don't
know how long I kept up a fashion of starting and shuddering over the
frequent crack of a rifle or pistol, as we rode through the woods about
the town. My husband and his attendant scamps did all they could to
confirm my belief that the woods were full of assassins, and I rode on
after these sharp reports, expecting to come upon the lifeless remains
of a murdered man. They all said, with well-assumed feeling, that Texas
was an awful country in which to live, where a man's life was not safe
an hour, and excitedly exclaimed at each shot, "There goes some other
poor fellow!" I have reason to believe it was a serious disappointment
to the whole confederation of jokers, to have me actually see a Mexican
driver (a greaser) crack his whip over the heads of his oxen, as they
crawled along in front of us one day when we were riding. There is no
sound like the snap of the lash of a "bull-whacker," as they are called,
and perhaps brighter women than I am might have been taken in by it, and
thought it a pistol-shot. This ended my taking it as the signal of a
death.

The lawlessness of the State was much diminished by the troops scattered
through the country. General Custer was much occupied in answering
communications that came from distant parts of Texas, describing the
demoralized state of the country, and asking for troops. These appeals
were from all sides. It was felt more and more that the presence of the
troops was absolutely necessary, and it was certainly agreeable to us
that we were not looked upon as invaders. The General then had thirteen
regiments of infantry and as many of cavalry, scattered in every part of
the State comprised in his district. The regular troops arriving brought
their wives and daughters, and it was a great addition, as we had
constant entertainments, in which the civilians, so long cut off from
all gayety, were glad to participate. The staff assisted me greatly in
my preparations. We dressed the long parlors in evergreens, made
canopies of flags, arranged wax-lights in impromptu wooden sconces, and
with the waxed floor it was tempting enough to those who cared for
dancing. The soldiers soon organized a string band, and a sergeant
called off the quadrilles. Sometimes my husband planned and arranged the
suppers alone, but usually the staff divided the duty of preparing the
refreshments. Occasionally we attempted a dinner, and, as we wanted to
invite our own ladies as well as some from the regular regiments, the
table was a subject of study; for when twenty came, the dishes gave out.
The staff dined early, so that we could have theirs, and the Southern
woman who occupied two rooms in the building lent everything she had.
Uncle Charley, our cook, who now had found a colored church in which to
preach on Sunday, did up all his religion on that day, and swore all the
week, but the cellar-kitchen was distant, and, besides, my husband used
to argue that it was just as well to endure placidly the evils right
about us, but not to seek for more. The swearing did not interfere with
the cooking, and Charley thought it necessary to thus clear the kitchen,
as our yard at that time was black with the colored race. Each officer's
servant had his circle of friends, and they hovered round us like a dark
cloud. The dishes that Uncle Charley sent up were excellent. The Texas
beef and poultry were of superior quality, and we even had a respite
from condensed milk, as a citizen had lent us a cow.

At one of these dinners Eliza had enlisted a colored boy to help her
wait on the table. I had tried to borrow enough dishes, and thought the
table was provided. But the glory of the occasion departed when, after
soup, roast game, etc., all served with the great luxury, at that place,
of separate plates, Uncle Charley bethought himself that he would add,
as a surprise, a dessert. It is almost unnecessary to say that a dessert
at that time was an event. Uncle Charley said his "best holt" was on
meats, and his attempts at pastry would not only have ruined the remnant
of his temper, but, I am afraid, if often indulged in, would have
effectually finished our digestion. For this I had not counted, and, to
my dismay, after the pudding had been deposited with great salaam and
ceremony before the General, the colored boy rushed around and gathered
everybody's coffee-saucer. Until he returned them washed, and placed
them at the head of the table, I did not imagine what he was doing; I
simply waited, in that uncertain frame of mind that a hostess well
knows. My husband looked at the array of cups down the long table,
standing bereft of their partners, laid his head back and shouted. Then
everybody else laughed, and, very red and very mortified, I concluded to
admit that I had not arranged for this last course, and that on that
table were the united contents of all our mess-chests, and there were no
saucers or dessert-plates nearer than town. We were aware that our stay
in the South was limited, and made no effort to keep enough crockery for
dinners of twenty.

After many enjoyable parties in our parlor, we received a pathetic and
carefully worded hint from Eliza, who was now a great belle, that she
would like to return some of the hospitality shown her by the colored
people of the town, and my husband was only too glad to prove to Eliza
how we valued her faithful, self-denying life in our service. We
composed an invitation, in which Miss Eliza Brown presented her
compliments to Mr. Washington or Mr. Jefferson, as the case might be,
and would be happy to see him on such an evening, with the word
"dancing" in the left-hand corner. A gathering of the darkeys seemed
equally jubilant, whether it was a funeral, a camp-meeting or a dance;
but it seemed they made a difference in dress for these occasions, if
not in manners. So it was best, Eliza thought, to add "dancing," though
it was only at first a mirthful suggestion of the General's fertile
brain. He gave the copying to the office clerk, who, being a
professional penman, put as many tails to his capitals and flourishes to
his words as he did for the white folks, Eliza's critical eye watching
for any less elaborate embellishment.

The lower part of the house was given over to the negroes, who polished
the floor, trimmed the windows, columns and chimney with garlands of
live-oak, and lavished candles on the scene, while at the supper they
had a heterogeneous jumble of just what they asked for, including coon,
the dish garnished with watercress and bits of boiled beet. I think we
were not asked; but as the fiddle started the jigs, the General's feet
began to keep time, and he executed some _pas seul_ around our room, and
then, extracting, as usual, a promise from me not to laugh, he dragged
me down the steps, and we hid where we saw it all. The quadrille ended,
the order of ceremonies seemed to consist in the company going down to
one end of the room in response to an order from Uncle Charley to "cl'ar
the flo'." Then the old man of sixty, a grandfather, now dressed in
white tie, vest and gloves, with shining black clothes, took the floor.
He knew himself to be the cynosure of all eyes, and bore himself
accordingly. He had previously said to me, "To-night, I expects, Miss
Libbie, to put down some steps those colored folks has never seen
befo'." And surely he did. He ambled out, as lithe as a youngster, cut
some pigeon-wings, and then skipped and flung himself about with the
agility of a boy, stopping not only for breath, but to watch the
expressions, envious and admiring, of the spectators at the end of the
room. When his last breath was exhausted, Aunt Ann, our old laundress,
came tripping down the polished floor, and executed a shuffle, most
decorous at first, and then, reviving her youth, she struck into a
hoydenish jig, her son encouraging her by patting time. More quadrilles,
then another clearing of the floor, and a young yellow woman pirouetted
down the room, in bright green tarlatan petticoats, very short and airy.
She executed a hornpipe and a reel, and, like Uncle Charley, improvised
some steps for the occasion. This black sylph was surrounded with a
cloud of diaphanous drapery; she wreathed her arms about her head, kept
on the smirk of the ballet-girl, and coquetted and skipped about, with
manners that brought down the house. The fattest darkey of all waddled
down next and did a breakdown, at which all the assembly patted juba,
and with their woolly heads kept time to the violin. My husband never
moved from his hiding-place, but chuckled and shook over the sight,
novel to us, till Eliza found us out and forgave the "peeking."

The clothes worn looked as if the property-room of a third-rate theatre
had been rifled--faded finery, fag ends of old lace, tumbled flowers
that had done duty at many a "white folks'" ball, on the pretty costume
of the missus, old feathers set up in the wool, where what was left of
the plume bobbed and quavered, as the head of the owner moved to the
time of the music, or nodded and swayed back and forth while
conversation was kept up. The braiding, oiling and smoothing had gone on
for days previous, to straighten the wool and make it lie flat; but the
activity in the pursuit of pleasure soon set the little kinks free, and
each hair stood on tiptoe, joining in a jig of its own. The powder
begged from the toilet-table of the missus was soon swept away in the
general shine; but the belles cared little for having suspended
temporarily the breath of their rivals by the gorgeousness of their
toilettes; they forgot appearances and yielded to that absorption of
excitement in which the colored soul is spellbound.

Eliza moved about, "queening it," as she knew how to do, and it was a
proud hour of triumph to her, as she cast a complacent side glance at
the tail of her gown, which she had wheedled out of me by cunning
arguments, among which the most powerful was that "'twas getting so
mussed, and 'twasn't no sort of a dress for a Ginnel's wife, no how."
The General lost nothing, for he sat in our hidden corner, shaking and
throwing his head back in glee, but keeping a close and warning hold on
my arm, as I was not so successful in smothering a titter as he was,
having no mustache to deaden the sound. After Eliza discovered us, she
let no one know of our perfidy, and the company, believing they were
alone, abandoned themselves to complete enjoyment, as the fiddle played
havoc with the heels of the entire assembly.

FOOTNOTES:

[E] In a town of Mexico last year I saw these small looms with blankets
in them, in various stages of progress, in many cottages. Among the
Indians the rude loom is carried about in the mountain villages, and
with some tribes there is a superstition about finishing the blankets in
the same place where they were begun. A squaw will sometimes have one
half done, and if an order is given her she will not break over her rule
to finish it if a move is made in the midst of her work. She waits until
the next year, when her people return to the same camp, as is the custom
when the Indian seeks certain game or grazing, or to cut longer poles.

[F] In order to gain some idea of the immense territory in which our
troops were attempting to restore order, I have only to remind the
reader that Texas is larger than either the German or the Austrian
Empire. The area of the State is 274,356 square miles. It is as large as
France, Belgium, England and Wales all combined. If we could place the
northwestern corner of Texas at Chicago, its most southerly point would
be at Jacksonville, Fla., its most easterly at Petersburg, Va., and its
most westerly in the interior of Missouri. It would thus cover the
entire States of Indiana, Kentucky and the two Carolinas, and nearly all
of Tennessee, with one-third of Ohio, two-thirds of Virginia, half of
Georgia, and portions of Florida, Alabama, Illinois and Missouri. The
cities of Chicago, Toledo, Cincinnati, Washington, Richmond, Charleston,
Atlanta and Nashville would all be included within its borders.



CHAPTER VIII.

LETTERS HOME.


THE trivial events of our daily life were chronicled in a weekly letter
home, and from a number of these school-girl effusions I cull a few
items, as they give an idea of my husband's recreations as well as his
duties.

"We are quartered in the Blind Asylum, which is large and comfortable.
The large rooms in the main part of the building we can use for
entertaining, while the staff occupy the wings and the building in the
yard, that was used for a schoolroom. Out there they can have all the
'walk-arounds' and 'high-jinks' they choose, without any one hearing
them."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Our room is large, and, mother, I have two bureaus and a wardrobe, and
lose my things constantly, I am so unused to so much room. We women
hardly knew what to make of the absence of looking-glasses, as the house
is otherwise furnished, until it occurred to us that the former
occupants wouldn't get much good out of a mirror. It isn't so necessary
to have one, after all, as I got on all summer very well, after I
learned to brush my hair straight back and not try to part it. I have a
mirror now, and am wrestling with back hair again."

"I confess to you, mother, it is a comfort to get out of bed on to a
carpet, and dress by a fire; but don't tell Armstrong I said so, as I
never mentioned to him that dressing before day, my eyes streaming with
tears from the camp-fire while I took an ice-water bath, was not the
mode of serving my country that I could choose."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Last Sunday it was uncomfortably warm. We wore thin summer clothes, and
were languid from the heat. The thermometer was eighty-two in the
shade. On Monday the weather changed from heat to cold in five minutes,
in consequence of the sudden and violent winds which are called
'northers.'"

"No one prepares for the cold in this country, but there was a general
scattering when our first norther attacked us. Tom rushed for wood, and
of course none was cut. He fished Tex out from the kitchen, borrowed an
axe from one of the headquarters men, and soon appeared with an armful.
As he took the sticks from Tex to build the fire, out dropped a scorpion
to add to the excitement. It was torpid, but nevertheless it was a
scorpion, and I took my usual safe position, in the middle of the bed,
till there was an _auto da fe_. The loose windows rattled, and the wind
howled around the corner of our room. I put a sack and shawl over my
summer dress, and we shivered over Tom's fire. I rather wondered at
Armstrong's huddling, as he is usually so warm, but each act of these
boys needs investigating. By and by he went off to write, while father
Custer took out his pipe, to calm the troubled scene into which the rush
of Nova Zembla had thrown us. He sat 'way under the mantel to let the
tobacco-smoke go up the chimney. Pretty soon Autie returned and threw
some waste paper on the fire, and the next thing we all started
violently back from a wild pyrotechnic display. With the papers went in
a handful of blank cartridges, and these innocent-looking scamps faced
their father and calmly asked him why he had jumped half-way across the
room. They often repeat this Fourth-of-July exhibition with
fire-crackers, either tied to his chair, or tossed carelessly on the
burning logs, when his attention is attracted elsewhere. But don't pity
him, mother. No matter what trick they play, he is never phased. He
matches them too, and I help him, though I am obliged to confess I often
join in the laugh, it is all so funny. This was not the last of the
hullabaloo. The wood gave out and Autie descended for more. Tex took
this occasion, when everyone was hunting a fire and shelter from the
cold, to right what he considered a grievous wrong. Autie found him
belaboring another colored boy, whom he had 'downed.' Autie
investigated, for if Tex was right he was bound to let the fight
proceed. You know in his West Point days he was arrested for allowing a
fisticuff to go on, and because he said, 'Stand back, boys, and let's
have a fair fight.' But finding our boy in the wrong, he arraigned him,
and began, 'Did you strike Jake with malice aforethought?' 'No sah! no
sah! I dun struck him with the back of the hatchet.' At this Autie found
himself no longer a 'most righteous judge.' This Daniel beat a quick
retreat, red with suppressed laughter, and made Tom go down to do the
punishing. Tom shut Tex in the chicken-coop; but it was hard for me to
see from my window his shiny eyes looking out from between the slats, so
they made the sentence light, and he was set free in the afternoon."

"Now, mother, I have established the only Yankee wood-pile in Texas. I
don't mean to be caught again, and shrivel up as we did this time. You
don't know how these storms deceive you. One hour we are so suffocated
with the heavy, oppressive air, we sit in the deep window-sills and pant
for breath. Along comes a roaring sound through the tree-tops, and
there's a scatter, I can tell you. We bang down the windows, and shout
for Texas to hunt the wood-pile, jump into warm clothes, and before we
are fairly prepared, the hurricane is upon us. We really don't mind it a
bit, as it doesn't last long (once it lasted three days), besides, it is
so good to be in something that isn't going to blow down, as we
momentarily expected in a tent. Our Sundays pass so slowly! The
traveling-wagon holds a good many, and we don't mind close quarters, so
we all squeeze in, and the bachelor officers ride with us to church. The
Episcopal church is still open, but as they have no fires we would be
glad if the rector warmed us up with his eloquence a little more.
However, it's church, and we begin to feel semi-civilized."

       *       *       *       *       *

"The citizens are constantly coming to pay their respects to Armstrong.
You see, we were welcomed instead of dreaded, as, Yankees or no Yankees,
a man's life is just as good, preserved by a Federal soldier as by a
Confederate, and everybody seems to be in a terrified state in this
lawless land. Among the callers is one man that will interest you,
father. I believe you are considered authority on the history of the
fight that took place at Monroe, when the Kentucky regiment fought the
British in 1812. Well, whom do you think we have found down here, but
the old Colonel Groome who distinguished himself that day? He is a
white-headed old soldier, and when Autie told him that we were right
from Monroe, he was so affected the tears came to his eyes. It was he
that set the barn on fire to prevent the British using it as a
fortification for sharp-shooters. He crawled away from the burning
building on his hands and knees, while their bullets cut his clothes and
wounded him several times. Years afterward he met an old British
officer, who told him, in their talk, that the man who fired the barn
was killed by his own army, but Colonel Groome, in quite a dramatic way,
said, 'No! I am the man.' He says that he would like to see you so much.
Autie is greatly interested in this veteran, and we are going to call on
him, and get two game chickens he is to give us."

"Now, father, don't wrinkle up your brows when I tell you that we race
horses. Even I race with Mrs. L----, and much as you may disapprove, I
know my father too well not to be sure he will be glad that his only
daughter beat. But let me explain to you that racing among ourselves is
not your idea of it. There is no money at stake, no rough crowd, none of
the evils of which you may well disapprove, as we know horse-racing at
home. Armstrong is considered the best judge of a horse here. The Texans
supposed no one in the world could ride as well as themselves, and they
do ride splendidly, but those who saw Armstrong keep his place in the
saddle when Don Juan ran away with him at the grand review in
Washington, concede that he does know how to ride, however mistaken his
views on patriotism may be. We have now three running horses and a fast
pony, none of which has beaten. Autie's bay pony beat a crack runner of
which the town boasts, by three full lengths. The races are near our
quarters, so we women can be in it all. Indeed, there is nothing they do
not share with us."

"Our stable-boy is a tiny mulatto, a handsome little fellow, weighing
about eighty pounds. Armstrong thinks he is the finest rider he has ever
seen. I have just made him a tight-fitting red jacket and a
red-white-and-blue skull cap, to ride in at races. We are running out to
the stables half our time. Armstrong has the horses exercised on a
quarter-of-a-mile track, holds the watch and times them, as we sit round
and enjoy their speed."

       *       *       *       *       *

"When I am so intent on my amateur dressmaking, and perplexed and tired,
dear mother, you wouldn't wonder when I tell you that one dress, of
which I am in actual need, I cut so that the figure ran one way on the
skirt and another on the waist, and caused Armstrong to make some
ridiculous remarks that I tried not to notice, but he was so funny, and
the dress itself was so very queer when I put it on, I had to give in.
Well, when I am so bothered, he comes in and throws my things all over
the room, kicks over the lapboard, and picks me up for a tramp to the
stable. Then he rubs down the horses' legs, and asks me to notice this
or that fine point, which is all Greek to me. The truth is, that I would
rather see a fine mane and tail than all the sinew, length of limb, etc.
Then we sit down on kegs and boxes, and contemplate our wealth. Custis
Lee greets me with a whinny. Dear mother, you would be simply horrified
by our back yard. Autie and I march to the stables through a dark cloud
of spectators. The negroes are upon us like the locusts of Egypt. It is
rumored that our Uncle Charley keeps a flourishing colored
boarding-house in the town, from what is decidedly more than the crumbs
that fall from his master's table. After all, though, considering our
house is filled with company, and we constantly give evening parties, I
don't think our mess-bills are very large. Autie teases father Custer,
by telling him he is going to brigade the colored troops and make him
chaplain. You are well aware how father Custer feels over the 'nigger'
question, and how he would regard a chaplaincy. I must not forget to
tell you that the wheel of time has rolled around, and among the
regiments in Armstrong's command is the Fourth Michigan Infantry. Don't
you remember that when he was a second lieutenant, he crossed the
Chickahominy with that regiment, and how, having started before dawn,
his comrades among whom he had just come, did not know him, till, while
they were lying low, he would pop up his head and call out their first
names, or their nicknames at school in Monroe, and when it was daylight,
and they recognized him, how glad they were to see him?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"We had a lovely Christmas. I fared beautifully, as some of our staff
had been to San Antonio, where the stores have a good many beautiful
things from Mexico. Here, we had little opportunity to buy anything, but
I managed to get up some trifle for each of our circle. We had a large
Christmas-tree, and Autie was Santa Claus, and handed down the presents,
making side-splitting remarks as each person walked up to receive his
gift. The tree was well lighted. I don't know how so many tapers were
gotten together. Of course it would not be _us_ if, with all the
substantial gifts, some jokes were not slipped in. You know well father
Custer's antipathy to the negro, and everybody gathered round to see him
open a box containing a nigger doll baby, while two of his other parcels
held a bunch of fire-crackers and a bunch of cards. Lately his sons have
spent a good deal of time and argument trying to induce him to play.
They, at last, taught him some simple game, easy enough for even me to
master. The rogues let him beat at first, but finally he discovered his
luck was so persistently bad there must be a screw loose, and those boys
up to some rascality. They had put him, with no apparent intention, with
his back to the mirror, and, of course, saw his hand, which, like an
amateur, he awkwardly held just right to enable them to see all his
cards. This ended his lessons, and we will return him to Monroe the same
good old Methodist that he left it. Everybody is fond of him, and his
real presents were a hat, handkerchief, necktie, pipe and tobacco."

"One of our lieutenants, having just received his brevet as major, had a
huge pair of yellow leaves cut out of flannel, as his insignia for the
new rank."

"One of the staff, now a teetotaler, was reminded of his past, which I
hoped everyone would ignore, by the present of a wooden faucet. No one
escapes in such a crowd."

"Tom, who is always drumming on the piano, had a Jew's-harp given him,
with an explanatory line from Autie attached, 'to give the piano a
rest.' Only our own military family were here, and Armstrong gave us a
nice supper, all of his own getting up. We played games, sang songs,
mostly for the chorus, danced, and finally the merriest imitated the
darkeys by jigs and patting juba, and walk-arounds. The rooms were
prettily trimmed with evergreens, and over one door a great branch of
mistletoe, about which the officers sang

    "Fair mistletoe!
       Love's opportunity!
     What trees that grow
       Give such sweet impunity?"

"But it is too bad that, pretty as two or three of our women are, they
belong to some one else. So kissing begins and ends with every man
saluting his own wife."

"I wish you could see the waxen white berries and the green leaves of
the parasite on the naked branches of the trees here, mother; and, oh!
to have you get one sniff of the December roses, which rival the summer
ones in richness of color and perfume, would make my pleasure greater, I
assure you. It is nearly spring here, and the grass on our lawn is
getting green, and the farmers began to plough in January.

"Nettie is such a nurse here! Her name is up for it, and she has even to
go out to the servants' quarters if the little nigs burn their heels or
toes. She is a great pleasure to us all, and enjoys every moment."

It seems that the general racing of which I wrote to my father, was too
tempting for me to resist entirely, and our household was beguiled one
day into a promise to bring my husband's war-horse, Jack Rucker, down to
the citizens' track. Every one was confident of success, and no one took
into consideration that the experiment of pitting gentlemen against turf
roughs has never been successful. Our officers entered into all the
preparations with high hopes, thinking that with one good whipping the
civilians would cease to send bantering messages or drag presuming
coat-tails before their eyes. They were accustomed to putting their
steeds to their best speed when a party of equestrians from our
headquarters were riding in their vicinity. Too fond of good horseflesh
not to admire the pace at which their thoroughbreds sped over the
smooth, firm roads about Austin, there was still a murmured word passed
around that the owners of these fleet animals would hang their proud
heads when "Jack" came into the field. We women were pressed into going.
All of us liked the trial of speed on our own territory, but the hatred
of a horse-track that was not conducted by gentlemen was imbedded deep
in our minds. The officers did not ask us to go for good luck, as army
women are so often told they bring it, but they simply said, "You could
not miss seeing our Jack beat!" Off we went, a gay, boisterous party,
till we reached the track; there we put on our quietest civilian manners
and took our place to watch the coming triumph. The track was good, and
the Texas men and women, more enthusiastic over a horse than over
anything else in the world, cheered their blanketed favorite as he was
led up and down before the judge's stand.

When the judge gave the final "Go!" our party were so excited, and our
hearts so swelling with assured success, I would have climbed up on the
saddle to see better, if it had not been that we were surrounded with
strangers. Off went the beautiful Texas horse, like an arrow from a bow;
but our Jack, in spite of the rider sticking the spur and cruelly
cutting his silken neck with the whip, only lumbered around the first
curve, and in this manner laboriously made his way the rest of the
distance. Of course it was plain that we were frightfully beaten, and
with loud and triumphant huzzas, the Texans welcomed their winning horse
long before poor Jack dragged himself up to the stand. Our officers
hurried out to look him over, and found the poor brute had been drugged
by the contesting side. There was no serious injury, except to our
pride. We were too disappointed, humiliated and infuriated to stand upon
the order of our going. We all turned our backs upon the crowd and fled.
The clatter of our horses' hoofs upon the hard road was the only sound,
as none of us spoke.

My husband met that, as everything else, as nothing worthy of serious
regret, and after the tempest of fury over our being so imposed upon, I
rather rejoiced, because the speed of our horses, after that first and
last essay, was confined to our own precincts. Nobody's pocket suffered,
and the wounded spirits of those who race horses are more easily soothed
if a wounded purse has not to be borne in addition.

There was one member of our family, to whom I have only referred, who
was our daily joy. It was the pointer, Ginnie, whom the Virginia family
in Hempstead had given us. My husband made her a bed in the hall near
our room, and she did every cunning, intelligent act of which a dog is
capable. She used to go hunting, walking and riding with us, and was _en
rapport_ with her master at all times. I often think, Who among our
friends pleases us on all occasions? How few there are who do not rub us
up the wrong way, or whom we ourselves are not conscious sometimes of
boring, and of taxing their patience! And do we not find that we
sometimes approach those of whom we are fond, and discover intuitively
that they are not in sympathy with our mood, and we must bide their time
for responding to our overtures? With that dear Ginnie there was no
question. She received us exactly in the spirit with which we approached
her, responded, with measure pressed down and running over, to our
affectionate demonstrations, and the blessed old girl never sulked if we
dropped her to attend to something else. George Eliot says, "Animals are
such agreeable friends! they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms."

A dog is so human to me, and dogs have been my husband's chosen friends
so many years, I cannot look upon the commonest cur with indifference.
Sometimes, as I stand now at my window, longing for the old pack that
whined with delight, quarreled with jealousy for the best place near us,
capered with excitement as we started off on a ride or walk, my eyes
involuntarily follow each dog that passes on the street. I look at the
master, to see if he realizes that all that is faithful and loving in
this world is at his heels. If he stops to talk to a friend, and the dog
leaps about him, licks his hand, rubs against him, and tries, in every
way that his devoted heart teaches him, to attract the attention of the
one who is all the world to him, all my sympathies are with the dog. I
watch with jealous solicitude to see if the affectionate brute gets
recognition. And if by instinct the master's hand goes out to the dog's
head, I am quite as glad and grateful as the recipient. If the man is
absorbed, and lets the animal sit patiently and adoringly watching his
very expression, it seems to me I cannot refrain from calling his
attention to the neglect.

My husband was as courteous in responding to his dogs' demonstrations,
and as affectionate, as he would be to a person. If he sent them away,
he explained, in dog talk, the reason, which might seem absurd if our
canine family had not been our companions so constantly that they seemed
to understand and accept his excuses as something unavoidable on his
part. The men of our family so appreciated kindness to dogs that I have
found myself this winter, involuntarily almost, calling to them to see
an evidence of affection. One of my neighbors is a beer saloon, and
though I am too busy to look out of the window much, I have noticed
occasionally an old express horse waiting for his master to take
"something warming." The blanket was humped up on his back mysteriously.
It turned out to be a dear little cur, which was thus kept warm by a
fond master. It recalls our men, and the ways they devised for keeping
their dogs warm, the times innumerable when they shared their own
blankets with them when caught out in a cold snap, or divided short
rations with the dogs they loved.

Returning to Ginnie, I remember a day when there was a strange
disappearance; she did not thump her tail on the door for entrance,
fetching our stockings in her mouth, as a gentle hint that it was time
to get up and have a fire, if the morning was chilly. It did not take
the General long to scramble into his clothes and go to investigate, for
he dearly loved her, and missed the morning call. Soon afterward he came
bounding up the stairs, two steps at a time, to announce that no harm
had come to our favorite, but that seven other little Ginnies were now
taking the breakfast provided by their mother, under the negro quarters
at the rear of the house. There was great rejoicing, and preparations to
celebrate this important event in our family. Eliza put our room in
order, and descended to the kitchen to tell what antics the General was
performing over the animal. When she was safely down-stairs, where she
could not intimidate us, my husband and I departed to fetch the new
family up near us. The General would not trust any one with the
responsibility of the removal. He crawled under the building, which was
set up on low piles, and handed out the baby canines, one by one, to me.
Ginnie ran beside us, frantic with anxiety, but her eloquent eyes full
of love and trust in our intentions.

Her bed in the hall was hardly good enough for such an epoch in her
life, so the whole litter, with the proud mother in their midst, was
safely deposited in the middle of our bed, where we paid court to this
royalty. My husband went over each little shapeless body, and called my
special attention to fine points, that, for the life of me, dog-lover as
I was, I could not discover in the pulpy, silken-skinned little rolls.
As he took them up, one by one, Ginnie understood every word of praise
he uttered. After all of these little blind atoms had been returned to
their maternal, and the General had congratulated the mother on a
restaurant where, he said, the advertisement of "warm meals at all
hours" was for once true, he immediately set about tormenting Eliza. Her
outraged spirit had suffered often, to see the kingly Byron reposing his
head on the pillow, but the General said, "We must get her up-stairs,
for there will be war in the camp now."

Eliza came peacefully up the stairs into our room, but her eyes blazed
when she saw Ginnie. She asked her usual question, "Did I come way off
down in this here no 'count country to wash white counterpanes for
dogs?" At each speech the General said something to Ginnie in reply, to
harrow her up more and more, and at last she had to give in and laugh at
some of his drolleries. She recalls to me now her recollection: "Miss
Libbie, do you mind how the Ginnel landed Ginnie and her whole brood of
pups in the middle of the bed, and then had the 'dacity to send for me?
But, oh! it was perfectly heartrendin', the way he would go on about his
dogs when they was sick."

And we both remembered, when one of these little puppies of our beloved
Ginnie was ill, how he walked the floor half the night, holding,
rubbing, trying to soothe the suffering little beast. And in spite of
his medical treatment--for he kept the dog-book on his desk, and
ransacked it for remedies--and notwithstanding the anointing and the
coddling, two died.

After Eliza had come down from her rampagious state, she was invited to
take notice of what a splendid family Ginnie had. Then all the staff and
the ladies came up to call. It was a great occasion for Ginnie, but she
bore her honors meekly, and offered her paw, as was her old custom, to
each new-comer, as if prepared for congratulations. When they were old
enough to run about and bark, Ginnie took up her former habit of
following at the General's heels; and as he crossed the yard to the
stables there was so absurd a procession that I could not help laughing
at the commanding officer, and question if he himself thought it added
to the dignity of his appearance, to see the court-like trail of mother
and five puppies in his wake. The independence of the chief was too
inborn to be laughed to scorn about appearances, and so he continued to
go about, as long as these wee toddlers followed their mother in quest
of supplies. I believe there were twenty-three dogs at this time about
our house, most of them ours. Even our father Custer accepted a bulky
old cur as a gift. There was no manner of doubt about the qualities that
had influenced our persecuted parent in selecting this one from the
numerous dogs offered him by his farmer friends. His choice was made
neither on account of breeding nor speed. The cur was selected solely as
a watch-dog. He was all growl and bark, and as devotion is not confined,
fortunately, to the canines of exalted paternity, the lumbering old
fellow was faithful. Nothing describes him better than some lines from
"The Outside Dog in the Fight;" for though he could threaten with savage
growls, and, I fancy, when aggravated, could have set savage teeth in
the enemy of his master, he trotted beside our father's horse very
peacefully, unmindful of the quarrelsome members of our canine family,
who bristled up to him, inviting an encounter merely to pass the time.

    "You may sing of your dog, your bottom dog,
       Or of any dog that you please;
     I go for the dog, the wise old dog,
       That knowingly takes his ease,
     And wagging his tail outside the ring,
      Keeping always his bone in sight,
     Cares not a pin, in his wise old head,
       For either dog in the fight.

    "Not his is the bone they are fighting for,
       And why should my dog sail in,
     With nothing to gain but a certain chance
       To lose his own precious skin?
     There may be a few, perhaps, who fail
       To see it in quite this light;
     But when the fur flies I had rather be
       The outside dog in the fight."

Affairs had come to such a pass that our father took his yellow cur into
his bedroom at night. It was necessary to take prompt, precautionary
measures to keep his sons from picking the lock of the door and
descending on him in their marauding expeditions. The dog saw
comparatively little of outside life, for, as time rounded, it became
necessary for the old gentleman to shut up his body-guard daytimes also,
as he found in his absence these same sons and their confederates had a
fashion of dropping a little "nig" over the transom, with directions to
fetch back to them anything he could lay his hands on. I have seen them
at the door while our father was away, trying to soothe and cajole the
old guardian of his master's effects into terms of peace. After all
overtures were declined, and the little bedroom was filled up with bark
and growl, the invaders contented themselves with tossing all sorts of
missiles over the transom, which did not sweeten the enraged dog's
temper. Nor did it render our father's bed as downy as it might have
been.

I find myself recalling with a smile the perfectly satisfied manner in
which this ungainly old dog was taken out by his venerable owner on our
rides over the country. Father Custer had chosen him, not for his
beauty, but as his companion, and finding him so successful in this one
capacity, he was just as serene over his possession as ever his sons
were with their high-bred hunters. The dog looked as if he were a
make-up from all the rough clay that was discarded after modeling the
sleek, high-stepping, springy, fleet-footed dogs of our pack. His legs
were massive, while his cumbersome tail curled over his plebeian back in
a tight coil, until he was tired--then, and only then, did it uncurl.
The droop of his head was rendered even more "loppy" by the tongue,
which dropped outside the sagging jaw. But for all that, he lumbered
along, a blotch of ungainly yellow, beside our splendid thoroughbreds;
he was never so tired that he could not understand the voice of a proud
old man, who assured his retrograde sons that he "would match his Bowser
'gainst any of their new-fangled, unreliable, highfalutin lot."

It was a strange sight, though, this one plebeian among patricians. Our
horses were fine, our father got good speed and some style out of his
nag, our dogs leaped over the country like deer, and there in the midst,
panting and faithfully struggling to keep up, was the rough, uncouth old
fellow, too absorbed in endeavoring not to be left behind to realize
that he was not all that a dog could finally become, after generations
of training and breeding had done its refining work.



CHAPTER IX.

DISTURBED CONDITION OF TEXAS.


TEXAS was in a state of ferment from one end to the other. There was
then no network of railroads running over its vast territory as there is
now. Lawless acts might be perpetrated, and the inciters cross the Rio
Grande into Mexico, before news of the depredations came to either
military or civil headquarters. The regiments stationed at various
points in the State had no easy duty. Jayhawkers, bandits and
bush-whackers had everything their own way for a time. I now find,
through official reports, what innumerable perplexities came up almost
daily, and how difficult it was for an officer in command of a division
to act in perfect justice to citizen, soldier and negro. It was the most
natural result in the world that the restless throng let loose over the
State from the Confederate service, should do what idle hands usually
find to do. Consider what a land of tramps we were at the North, after
the war; and if, in our prosperous States and Territories, when so many
business industries were at once resumed, we suffered from that class of
men who refused to work and kept outside the pale of the law by a
stealthy existence, what would naturally be the condition of affairs in
a country like Texas, for many years the hiding-place of outlaws?

My own father was one of the most patriotic men I ever knew. He was too
old to enter the service--an aged man even in my sight, for he had not
married till he was forty; but in every way that he could serve his
country at home he was foremost among the elderly patriots of the North.
I remember how little war moved me. The clash of arms and glitter of
the soldiery only appealed to me as it did to thoughtless, light-hearted
young girls still without soldier lovers or brothers, who lived too far
from the scenes of battle to know the tragic side. But my father
impressed me by his sadness, his tears, his lamentations over our
country's misfortunes. He was the first in town to get the news from the
front, and so eager to hear the result of some awful day, when lives
were being lost by thousands on a hotly contested field, that he walked
a bleak, lonely mile to the telegraph station, waiting till midnight for
the last despatches, and weeping over defeats as he wearily trod the
long way homeward. I remember his striding up and down the floor, his
grand head bent over his chest in grief, and saying, so solemnly as to
arrest the attention of my stepmother, usually absorbed in domestic
affairs, and even of me, too happy then with the very exuberance of
living to think, while the sadness of his voice touched even our
thoughtlessness: "Oh! the worst of this calamity will not be confined to
war: our land, even after peace is restored, will be filled with
cut-throats and villains."

The prediction came true immediately in Texas, and the troops had to be
stationed over the extensive territory. Before the winter was over, the
civil authorities began to be able to carry out the laws; they worked,
as they were obliged to do, in connection with the military, and the
rioting, oppressions and assassinations were becoming less common. It
was considered unnecessary to retain the division of cavalry as an
organization, since all anticipated trouble with Mexico was over, and
the troops need no longer be massed in great numbers. The necessity for
a special commander for the cavalry in the State was over, and the
General was therefore mustered out of service as a major-general of
volunteers, and ordered North to await his assignment to a new station.

We had very little to do in preparation, as our camp outfit was about
all our earthly possessions at that time. It was a trial to part with
the elderly dogs, which were hardly worth the experiment of transporting
to the North, especially as we had no reason to suppose we should see
another deer, except in zoological gardens. The hounds fell into good
and appreciative hands, being given either to the planter who had
presented them, or to the officers of the regular regiment that had just
been stationed in Texas for a five-years' detail. The cow was returned
to the generous planter who lent her to us. She was now a fat, sleek
creature, compared with her appearance when she came from among the
ranch cattle. The stables were emptied, and our brief enjoyment of an
embryo blue-grass farm, with a diminutive private track of our own, was
at an end. Jack Rucker, Custis Lee, Phil and the blooded mare were to
go; but the great bargains in fast ponies had to be sacrificed.

[Illustration: GENERAL CUSTER AT THE CLOSE OF THE WAR--AGED 25.]

My old father Custer had been as concerned about my horse education as
his sons. He also tried, as well as his boys, to attract my attention
from the flowing manes and tails, by which alone I judged the merits of
a horse, to the shoulders, length of limb, withers, etc. One day there
came an incentive for perfecting myself in horse lore, for my husband
said that if I would select the best pony in a number we then owned, I
should have him. I sat on a keg in the stable-yard, contemplating the
heels of the horses, and wishing fervently I had listened to my former
lessons in horseflesh more attentively. All three men laughed at my
perplexities, and even the soldiers who took care of the stable retired
to a safe place to smile at the witticisms of their commanding officer,
and were so deplorably susceptible to fun that even the wife of their
chief was a subject for merriment. I was in imminent danger of losing my
chance at owning a horse, and might to this day have remained ignorant
of the peculiarly proud sensation one experiences over that possession,
if my father Custer had not slyly and surreptitiously come over to my
side. How he cunningly imparted the information I will not betray; but,
since he was as good a judge of a horse as his sons, and had taught them
their wisdom in that direction, it is needless to say that my final
judgment, after repeated returns to the stable, was triumphant. Texas
made the old saw read, All is fair in love, war and horse-trades, so I
adapted myself to the customs of the country, and kept the secret of my
wise judgment until the money that the pony brought--forty dollars in
silver--was safely deposited in my grasping palm. I will not repeat the
scoffing of the outwitted pair, after I had spent the money, at
"Libbie's horse-dress," but content myself with my father's praise at
the gown he had secured to me, when I enjoyed at the North the serenity
of mind that comes of silken attire.

The planters came to bid us good-by, and we parted from them with
reluctance. We had come into their State under trying circumstances, and
the cordiality, generosity and genuine good feeling that I know they
felt, made our going a regret. There was no reason why they should come
from their distant plantations to say good-by and wish us godspeed,
except from personal friendship, and we all appreciated the wish they
expressed that we might remain.

The journey from Austin to Hempstead was made much more quickly than our
march over. We had relays of horses, the roads were good, and there was
no detention. I only remember one episode of any importance. At the
little hotel at which we stopped in Brennan, we found loitering about
the doors and stoop and inner court a lounging, rough lot of men,
evidently the lower order of Confederate soldiers, the lawless set that
infest all armies, the tramp and the bummer. They gathered in knots, to
watch and talk of us. As we passed them on our way to the dining-room,
they muttered, and even spoke audibly, words of spiteful insult. At
every such word I expected the fiery blood of the General and his staff
would be raised to fighting heat. But they would not descend to
altercation with fellows to whom even the presence of a woman was no
restraint. It was a mystery, it still is, to me, that hot-blooded men
can control themselves if they consider the foeman unworthy of the
steel. My husband was ever a marvel to me, in that he could in this
respect carry out his own oft-repeated counsel. I began very early with
that old maxim, "consider the source," as a subterfuge for the lack of
repartee, in choking senseless wrath; but it came to be a family
aphorism, and I was taught to live up to its best meaning. The
Confederates were only "barking," not "biting," as the General said
would be the case; but they gave me a genuine scare, and I had serious
objections to traveling in Texas unaccompanied by a Division of cavalry.
I think the cold nights, smoky camp-fires, tarantulas, etc., that we
encountered on our march over, would have been gladly undertaken rather
than run into the face of threatening men, unaccompanied by a single
trooper, as we then traveled.

I wonder what the present tourist would think of the bit of railroad
over which we journeyed from Brennan to Galveston! I scarcely think it
had been touched, in the way of repairs, during the war. The coaches
were not as good as our present emigrant cars. The rails were worn down
thin, and so loosely secured that they moved as we rolled slowly over
them. We were to be constantly in some sort of peril, it seemed. There
was a deep gully on the route, over which was stretched a cobweb
trestle, intended only as a temporary bridge. There was no sort of
question about its insecurity; it quivered and menacingly swayed under
us. The conductor told us that each time he crossed he expected to go
down. I think he imagined there could be no better time than that, when
it would secure the effectual departure of a few Yankee officers, not
only from what he considered his invaded State, but from the face of the
earth. At any rate, he so graphically described to me our imminent peril
that he put me through all the preliminary stages of sudden death. Of
course, our officers, inured to risks of all sorts, took it all as a
matter of course, and the General slyly called the attention of our
circle to the usual manner in which the "old lady" met danger, namely,
with her head buried in the folds of a cloak.

My husband knew what interest and admiration my father Bacon had for
"old Sam Houston," and he himself felt the delight that one soldier
takes in the adventures and vicissitudes of another. Consequently, we
had listened all winter to the Texans' laudation of their hero, and many
a story that never found its way into print was remembered for my
father's sake. We were only too sorry that Houston's death, two years
previous, had prevented our personal acquaintance. He was not, as I had
supposed, an ignorant soldier of fortune, but had early scholarly
tastes, and, even when a boy, could repeat nearly all of Pope's
translation of the Iliad. Though a Virginian by birth, he early went
with his widowed mother to Tennessee, and his roving spirit led him
among the Indians, where he lived for years as the adopted son of a
chief. He served as an enlisted man under Andrew Jackson in the war of
1812, and afterward became a lieutenant in the regular army. Then he
assumed the office of Indian agent, and befriended those with whom he
had lived.

From that he went into law in Nashville, and eventually became a
Congressman. Some marital difficulties drove him back to barbarism, and
he rejoined the Cherokees, who had been removed to Arkansas. He went to
Washington to plead for the tribe, and returning, left his wigwam among
the Indians after a time, and went to Texas. During the tumultuous
history of that State, when it was being shifted from one government to
another with such vehemence, no citizen could tell whether he would rise
in the morning a Mexican, or a member of an independent republic, or a
citizen of the United States.

With all that period Sam Houston was identified. He was evidently the
man for the hour, and it is no wonder that our officers dwelt with
delight upon his marvelous career. In the first revolutionary movement
of Texas against Mexican rule, he began to be leader, and was soon
commander-in-chief of the Texan army, and in the new Republic he was
reëlected to that office. The dauntless man confronted Santa Anna and
his force of 5,000 men with a handful of Texans--783 all told,
undisciplined volunteers, ignorant of war. But he had that rare personal
magnetism, which is equal to a reserve of armed battalions, in giving
men confidence and inciting them to splendid deeds. Out of 1,600 regular
Mexican soldiers, 600 were killed, and Santa Anna, disguised as a
common soldier, was captured. Then Houston showed his magnanimous heart;
for, after rebuking him for the massacres of Goliad and the Alamo, he
protected him from the vengeance of the enraged Texans. A treaty made
with the captive President resulted in the independence of Texas. When,
after securing this to the State of his adoption, Houston was made
President of Texas, he again showed his wonderful clemency--which I
cannot help believing was early fostered and enhanced by his labors in
behalf of the wronged Cherokees--in pardoning Santa Anna, and appointing
his political rivals to offices of trust. If Mr. Lincoln gave every
energy to promoting the perpetual annexation of California, by tethering
that State to our Republic with an iron lariat crossing the continent,
how quickly he would have seen, had he then been in office, what
infinite peril we were in of losing that rich portion of our country.

The ambition of the soldier and conqueror was tempered by the most
genuine patriotism, for Sam Houston used his whole influence to annex
Texas to the Union, and the people in gratitude sent him to Washington
as one of their first Senators. As President he had overcome immense
difficulties, carried on Indian wars, cleared off an enormous debt,
established trade with Mexico, made successful Indian treaties, and
steadily stood at the helm, while the State was undergoing all sorts of
upheavals. Finally he was made Governor of the State, and opposed
secession, even resigning his office rather than take the oath required
by the convention that assembled to separate Texas from the Union. Then,
poor old man, he died before he was permitted to see the promised land,
as the war was still in progress. His name is perpetuated in the town
called for him, which, as the centre of large railroad interests, and as
a leader in the march of improvement in that rapidly progressing State,
will be a lasting monument to a great man who did so much to bring out
of chaos a vast extent of our productive land, sure to become one of the
richest of the luxuriant Southern States.

At Galveston we were detained by the non-arrival of the steamer in which
we were to go to New Orleans. With a happy-go-lucky party like ours, it
mattered little; no important interests were at stake, no business
appointments awaiting us. We strolled the town over, and commented, as
if we owned it, on the insecurity of its foundations. Indeed, for years
after, we were surprised, on taking up the morning paper, not to find
that Galveston had dropped down into China. The spongy soil is so porous
that the water, on which rests the thin layer of earth, appears as soon
as a shallow excavation is attempted. Of course there are no wells, and
the ungainly cistern rises above the roof at the rear of the house. The
hawkers of water through the town amused us vastly, especially as we
were not obliged to pay a dollar a gallon, except as it swelled our
hotel-bill. I remember how we all delighted in the oleanders that grew
as shade-trees, whose white and red blossoms were charming. To the
General, the best part of all our detention was the shell drive along
the ocean. The island on which Galveston has its insecure footing is
twenty-eight miles long, and the white, firm beach, glistening with the
pulverized shells extending all the distance, was a delight to us as we
spent hours out there on the shore.

It must surely have been this white and sparkling thread bordering the
island, that drew the ships of the pirate Lafitte to moor in the harbor
early in 1800. The rose-pink of the oleander, the blue of the sky, the
luminous beach, with the long, ultramarine waves sweeping in over the
shore, were fascinating; but on our return to the town, all the desire
to remain was taken away by the tale of the citizens, of the frequent
rising of the ocean, the submerging of certain portions, and the
evidence they gave that the earth beneath them was honeycombed by the
action of the water.

We paid little heed at first to the boat on which we embarked. It was a
captured blockade-runner, built up with two stories of cabins and
staterooms for passengers. In its original condition, the crew and
passengers, as well as the freight, were down in the hull. The steamer
was crowded. Our staterooms were tiny, and though they were on the upper
deck, the odor of bilge water and the untidiness of the boat made us
uncomfortable from the first. The day was sunny and clear as we
departed, and we had hardly left the harbor before we struck a norther.
Such a hurricane as it was at sea! We had thought ourselves versed in
all the wind could do on land; but a norther in that maelstrom of a
Gulf, makes a land storm mild in comparison. The Gulf of Mexico is
almost always a tempest in a tea-pot. The waves seem to lash themselves
from shore to shore, and after speeding with tornado fleetness toward
the borders of Mexico, back they rush to the Florida peninsula. No one
can be out in one of these tempests, without wondering why that thin jet
of land which composes Florida has not long ago been swept out of
existence. How many of our troops have suffered from the fury of that
ungovernable Gulf, in the transit from New Orleans to Matamoras or
Galveston! And officers have spoken, over and over again, of the
sufferings of the cavalry horses, condemned to the hold of a Government
transport. Ships have gone down there with soldiers and officers who
have encountered, over and over again, the perils of battle. Transports
have only been saved from being engulfed in those rapacious waves by
unloading the ship of hundreds of horses; and to cavalrymen the throwing
overboard of noble animals that have been untiring in years of
campaigning, and by their fleetness and pluck have saved the lives of
their masters, is like human sacrifice. Officers and soldiers alike
bewail the loss, and for years after speak of it with sorrow.

Though the wind seems to blow in a circle much of the time on the Gulf,
we found it dead against us as we proceeded. The captain was a resolute
man, and would not turn back, though the ship was ill prepared to
encounter such a gale. We labored slowly though the constantly
increasing tempest, and the last glimpse of daylight lighted a sea that
was lashed to white foam about us. At home, when the sun sets the wind
abates; but one must look for an entire change of programme where the
norther reigns. There was no use in remaining up, so I sought to forget
my terror in sleep, and crept onto one of the little shelves allotted to
us. The creaking and groaning of the ship's timbers filled me with
alarm, and I could not help calling up to my husband to ask if it did
not seem to him that all the new portion of the steamer would be swept
off into the sea. Though I was comforted by assurances of its
impossibility, I wished with all my heart we were down in the hold.
Sleep, my almost never-failing friend, came to calm me, and I dreamed of
the strange days of the blockade-runner, when doubtless other women's
hearts were pounding against their ribs with more alarming terrors than
those that agitated me. For we well knew what risks Confederate women
took to join their husbands, in the stormy days on sea as well as on
land.

In the night I was awakened suddenly by a fearful crash, the quick
veering of the boat, and her violent rolling from side to side. At the
same instant, the overturning of the water-pitcher deluged me in my
narrow berth. My husband, hearing my cry of terror, descended from his
berth and was beside me in a moment. No one comprehended what had
happened. The crashing of timber, and the creaking, grinding sounds rose
above the storm. The machinery was stopped, and we plunged back and
forth in the trough of the sea, each time seeming to go down deeper and
deeper, until there appeared to be no doubt that the ship would be
eventually engulfed. There seemed to be no question, as the breaking of
massive beams went on, that we were going to pieces. The ship made a
brave fight with the elements, and seemed to writhe and struggle like
something human.

In the midst of this, the shouts of the sailors, the trumpet of the
captain giving orders, went on, and was followed by the creaking of
chains, the strain of the cordage, and the mad thrashing to and fro of
the canvas, which we supposed had been torn from the spars. Instant
disorder took possession of the cabin. Everything movable was in motion.
The trunks, which the crowded condition of the hold had compelled us to
put in the upper end of the cabin, slid down the carpet, banging from
side to side. The furniture broke from its fastenings, and slipped to
and fro; the smashing of lamps in our cabin was followed by the crash of
crockery in the adjoining dining-room; while above all these sounds rose
the cries and wails of the women. Some, kneeling in their night-clothes,
prayed loudly, while others sank in heaps on the floor, moaning and
weeping in their helpless condition. The calls of frantic women, asking
for some one to go and find if we were going down, were unanswered by
the terrified men. Meanwhile my husband, having implored me to remain in
one spot, and not attempt to follow him, hastily threw on his clothes
and left me, begging that I would remember, while he was absent, that
the captain's wife and child were with us, and if a man ever was nerved
to do his best, that brave husband and father would do so to-night.

It seemed an eternity to wait. I was obliged to cling to the door to be
kept from being dashed across the cabin. While I wept and shivered, and
endured double agony, knowing into what peril my husband had by that
time struggled, I felt warm, soft arms about me, and our faithful Eliza
was crooning over me, begging me to be comforted, that she was there
holding me. Awakened at the end of the cabin, where she slept on a sofa,
she thought of nothing but making her way through the demolished
furniture, to take me in her protecting arms. Every one who knows the
negro character is aware what their terrors are at sea. How, then, can I
recall the noble forgetfulness of self of that faithful soul, without
tears of gratitude as fresh as those that flowed on her tender breast
when she held me? There was not a vestige of the heroic about me. I
simply cowered in a corner, and let Eliza shelter me. Besides, I felt
that I had a kind of right to yield to selfish fright, for it was my
husband, of all the men on shipboard, who had climbed laboriously to the
deck to do what he could for our safety, and calm the agitated women
below.

Some of the noble Southern women proved how deep was their natural
goodness of heart; for the very ones who had coldly looked me over and
shrunk from a hated Yankee when we met the day before, crept slowly up
to calm my terrors about my husband, and instruct Eliza what to do for
me. At last--and oh, how interminable the time had seemed!--the General
opened the cabin door, and struggled along to the weeping women. They
all plied him with questions, and he was able to calm them, so the
wailing and praying subsided somewhat. When he climbed up the
companionway, the waves were dashing over the entire deck, and he was
compelled to creep on his hands and knees, clinging to ropes and spars
as best he could, till he reached the pilot-house. Only his superb
strength kept him from being swept overboard. Every inch of his progress
was a deadly peril. He found the calm captain willing to explain, and
paid the tribute that one brave man gives another in moments of peril.
The norther had broken in the wheel-house, and disabled the machinery,
so that, but for the sails, which we who were below had heard raised, we
must have drifted and tossed to shipwreck. If he could make any
progress, we were comparatively safe, but with such a hurricane all was
uncertain. This part of the captain's statement the General suppressed.
We women were told, after the fashion of men who desire to comfort and
calm our sex, only a portion of the truth.

The motion of the boat, as it rolled from side to side, made every one
succumb except Eliza and me. The General, completely subdued and
intensely wretched physically, crept into his berth, and though he was
so miserable, I remember, toward morning, a faint thrust of ridicule at
our adjoining neighbors, the Greenes, who were suffering also the
tortures of seasickness. A sarcastic query as to the stability of their
stomachs called forth a retort that he had better look to his own. Eliza
held me untiringly, and though the terror of uncertainty had subsided
somewhat, I could not get on without an assurance of our safety from
that upper berth. My husband, in his helplessness, and abandoned as he
was to physical misery, could scarcely turn to speak more than a word
or two at a time, and even then Eliza would tell him, "Ginnel, you jest
'tend to your own self, and I'll 'tend to Miss Libbie."

It is difficult to explain what a shock it is to find one who never
succumbs, entirely subjugated by suffering; all support seems to be
removed. In all our vicissitudes, I had never before seen the General go
under for an instant. He replied that he was intensely sorry for me; but
such deadly nausea made him indifferent to life, and for his part he
cared not whether he went up or down.

So the long night wore on. I thought no dawn ever seemed so grateful.
The waves were mountains high, and we still plunged into what appeared
to be solid banks of green, glittering crystal, only to drop down into
seemingly hopeless gulfs. But daylight diminishes all terrors, and there
was hope with the coming of light. A few crept out, and some even took
courage for breakfast. The feeble notes disappeared from my husband's
voice, and he began to cheer me up. Then he crept to our witty Mrs.
Greene (the dear Nettie of our home days), to send more sly thrusts in
her stateroom, regarding his opinion of one who yielded to seasickness;
so she was badgered into making an appearance. While all were
contributing experiences of the awful night, and commenting on their
terrors, we were amazed to see the door of a stateroom open, and a
German family walk out unconcernedly from what we all night supposed was
an unoccupied room. The parents and three children showed wide-eyed and
wide-mouthed wonder, when they heard of the night. Through all the din
and danger they had peacefully slept, and doubtless would have gone
down, had we been shipwrecked, unconscious in their lethargy that death
had come to them.

Then the white, exhausted faces of our officers, who had slept in the
other cabin, began to appear. Our father Custer came tottering in, and
made his son shout out with merriment, even in the midst of all the
wretched surroundings, when he laconically said to his boy, that "next
time I follow you to Texas, it will be when this pond is bridged over."
Two of the officers had a stateroom next the pilot-house, and begged the
General to bring me up there. My husband, feeling so deeply the terrible
night of terror and entire wakefulness for me, picked me up, and carried
me to the upper deck, where I was laid in the berth, and restored to
some sort of calm by an opportune glass of champagne. The wine seemed to
do my husband as much good as it did me, though he did not taste it; all
vestige of his prostration of the preceding night disappeared, and no
one escaped his comical recapitulation of how they conducted themselves
when we were threatened with such peril. My terrors of the sea were too
deep-rooted to be set aside, and even after we had left the hated Gulf,
and were safely moving up the Mississippi to New Orleans, I felt no
security. Nothing but the actual planting of our feet on _terra firma_
restored my equanimity. Among the petitions of the Litany asking our
Heavenly Father to protect us, none since that Gulf storm has ever been
emphasized to me as the prayer for preservation from "perils by land and
by sea."

New Orleans was again a pleasure to us, and this time we knew just where
to go for recreation or for our dinner. Nearly a year in Texas had
prepared us for gastronomic feats, and though the General was by no
means a _bon-vivant_, any one so susceptible to surroundings as he would
be tempted by the dainty serving of a French dinner. Our party had dined
too often with Duke Humphrey in the pine forests of Louisiana and Texas,
not to enjoy every delicacy served. All through the year it had been the
custom to refer to the luxuries of the French market, and now, with our
purses a little fuller than when we were on our way into Texas, we had
some royal times--that is, for poor folks.

We took a steamer for Cairo, and though the novelty of river travel was
over, it continued to be most enjoyable. And still the staff found the
dinner-hour an event, as they were making up for our limited bill of
fare the year past. A very good string band "charmed the savage" while
he dined. It was the custom, now obsolete, to march the white coated
and aproned waiters in file from kitchen to dining-room, each carrying
aloft some feat of the cook, and as we had a table to ourselves, there
was no lack of witty comments on this military serving of our food, and
smacking of lips over edibles we had almost forgotten in our year of
semi-civilization. The negroes were in a state of perpetual guffaws over
the remarks made, _sotto voce_, by our merry table, and they soon grew
to be skillful confederates in all the pranks practiced on our father
Custer. For instance, he slowly read over the bill of fare, or his sons
read it, and he chose the viands as they were repeated to him. Broiled
ham on coals seemed to attract his old-fashioned taste. Then my husband
said, "Of course, of course; what a good selection!" and gave the order,
accompanied by a significant wink to the waiter. Presently our parent,
feeling an unnatural warmth near his ear, looked around to find his
order filled literally, and the ham sizzling on red coals. He naturally
did not know what to do with the dish, fearing to set the boat on fire,
and his sons were preternaturally absorbed in talking with some one at
the end of the table, while the waiter slid back to the kitchen to have
his laugh out.

Our father Custer was of the most intensely argumentative nature. He was
the strongest sort of politician; he is now, and grows excited and
belligerent over his party affairs at nearly eighty, as if he were a
lad. He is beloved at home in Monroe, but it is considered too good fun
not to fling little sneers at his candidate or party, just to witness
the rapidity with which the old gentleman plunges into a defense.
Michigan's present Secretary of State, the Hon. Harry Conant, my
husband's, and now my father's, faithful friend, early took his cue from
the General, and loses no opportunity now to get up a wordy war with our
venerable Democrat, solely to hear the defense. And then, too, our
father Custer considers it time well spent to "labor with that young
man" over the error he considers he has made in the choice of politics.
As the old gentleman drives or rides his son's war-horse, Dandy, through
the town, his progress is slow, for some voice is certain to be raised
from the sidewalk, calling out, "Well, father Custer, to-day's paper
shows your side well whipped," or a like challenge to argument. Dandy is
drawn up at once, and the flies can nip his sides at will, so far as his
usually careful master is conscious of him, as he cannot proceed until
the one who has good-naturedly agitated him has been struggled over, to
convince him of the error of his belief.

I was driving with him in Monroe not long since, and as the train was
passing through the town, Dandy was driven up to the cars. I
expostulated, asking if he intended him to climb over or creep under;
but he persisted, only explaining that he wished me to see how gentle
Dandy could be. Suddenly the conductor swung himself from the platform,
and called out some bantering words about politics. Our father was then
for driving Dandy directly into the train. He fairly yelled some sort of
imputation upon the other party, and then kept on talking, gesticulating
with his whip and shaking it at the conductor, who laughed immoderately
as he was being carried out of sight. I asked what was the matter--did
he have any grudge or hatred for the man? "Oh, no, daughter, he's a good
enough fellow, only he's an onery scamp of a Republican."

His sons never lost a chance to enter into discussion with him. I have
known the General to "bone up," as his West Point phrase expressed it,
on the smallest details of some question at issue in the Republican
party, for no other reason than to incite his parent to a defense. The
discussion was so earnest, that even I would be deceived into thinking
it something my husband was all on fire about. But the older man was
never rasped or badgered into anger. He worked and struggled with his
boy, and mourned that he should have a son who had so far strayed from
the truth as he understood it. The General argued as vehemently as his
father, and never undeceived him for days, but simply let the old
gentleman think how misguided he really was. It served to pass many an
hour of slow travel up the river. Tom connived with the General to
deprive their father temporarily of his dinner. When the plate was well
prepared, as was the old-time custom, the potato and vegetables
seasoned, the meat cut, it was the signal for my husband to hurl a bomb
of inflammable information at the whitening hairs of his parent. The old
man would rather argue than eat, and, laying down his knife and fork, he
fell to the discussion as eagerly as if he had not been hungry. As the
argument grew energetic and more absorbing, Tom slipped away the
father's plate, ate all the nicely prepared food, and returned it empty
to its place. Then the General tapered off his aggravating threats, and
said, "Well, come, come, come, father, why don't you eat your dinner?"
Father Custer's blank face at the sight of the empty plate was a
mirth-provoking sight to his offspring, and they took good care to tip
the waiter and order a warm dinner for the still arguing man. In a
quaint letter, a portion of which I give below, father Custer tells how,
early in life, he began to teach his boys politics.


                           "TECUMSEH, Mich., Feb. 3, 1887.

      "MY DEAR DAUGHTER ELIZABETH: I received your letter,
      requesting me to tell you something of our trip up the
      Mississippi with my dear boys, Autie and Tommy. Well,
      as I was always a boy with my boys, I will try and
      tell you of some of our jokes and tricks on each
      other. I want to tell you also of a little incident
      when Autie was about four years old. He had to have a
      tooth drawn, and he was very much afraid of blood.
      When I took him to the doctor to have the tooth
      pulled, it was in the night, and I told him if it bled
      well it would get well right away, and he must be a
      good soldier. When he got to the doctor he took his
      seat, and the pulling began. The forceps slipped off,
      and he had to make a second trial. He pulled it out,
      and Autie never even scrunched. Going home, I led him
      by the arm. He jumped and skipped, and said, 'Father,
      you and me can whip all the Whigs in Michigan.' I
      thought that was saying a good deal, but I did not
      contradict him."

      "When we were in Texas, I was at Autie's headquarters
      one day, and something came up, I've forgotten what it
      was, but I said I would bet that it was not so, and he
      said, 'What will you bet?' I said, 'I'll bet my
      trunk.' I have forgotten the amount he put up against
      it, but according to the rule of betting he won my
      trunk. I thought that was the end of it, as I took it
      just as a joke, and I remained there with him for some
      time. To my great astonishment, here came an orderly
      with the trunk on his shoulder, and set it down before
      Autie. Well, I hardly knew what to think. I hadn't
      been there long, and didn't know camp ways very well.
      I had always understood that the soldiers were a
      pretty rough set of customers, and I wanted to know
      how to try and take care of myself, so I thought I
      would go up to my tent and see what had become of my
      goods and chattels. When I got there, all my things
      were on my bed. Tom had taken them out, and he had not
      been very particular in getting them out, so they were
      scattered helter-skelter, for I suppose he was hurried
      and thought I would catch him at it. I began to think
      that I would have to hunt quarters in some other
      direction."

      "The next trick Autie played me was on account of his
      knowing that I was very anxious to see an alligator.
      He was out with his gun one day, and I heard him
      shoot, and when he came up to his tent I asked him
      what he had been firing at. He said, an alligator, so
      I started off to see the animal, and when I found it,
      what do you think it was, but an old Government mule
      that had died because it was played out! Well, he had
      a hearty laugh over that trick."

      "Then, my daughter, I was going over my mess bill and
      some of my accounts with Tommy, and to my great
      astonishment I found I was out a hundred dollars. I
      could not see how I could have made such a mistake,
      but I just kept this to myself. I didn't say a word
      about it until Autie and Tom could not stand it any
      longer, so Autie asked me one day about my money
      matters. I told him I was out a hundred dollars, and I
      could not understand it. Then he just told me that
      Tommy had hooked that sum from me while he was
      pretending to help me straighten up. I went for Tom,
      and got my stolen money back."

      "The next outrage on me was about the mess bill. There
      was you, Libbie, Autie, Tom, Colonel and Mrs. Greene,
      Major and Mrs. Lyon, and we divided up the amount
      spent each month, and all took turns running the mess.
      Somehow or other, my bill was pretty big when Autie
      and Tom had the mess. I just rebelled against such
      extravagance, and rather than suffer myself to be
      robbed, I threatened to go and mess with the
      wagon-master or some other honest soldier, who
      wouldn't cheat an old man. That tickled the boys; it
      was just what they were aiming at. I wouldn't pay, so
      what do you think Tommy did, but borrow the amount of
      me to buy supplies, and when settling time came for
      mess bills, they said we came out about even in money
      matters!"

      "And so they were all the time playing tricks on me,
      and it pleased them so much to get off a good joke;
      besides, they knew I was just as good a boy with them
      as they were."

              "Your affectionate father,
                                 "E. H. CUSTER."



CHAPTER X.

GENERAL CUSTER PARTS WITH HIS STAFF AT CAIRO AND DETROIT.


ALL the smaller schemes to tease our father Custer gave way to a grand
one, concocted in the busy brains of his boys, to rob their parent.
While the patriarch sat in the cabin, reading aloud to himself--as is
still his custom--what he considered the soul-convincing editorial
columns of a favorite paper, his progeny were in some sheltered corner
of the guards, plotting the discomfiture of their father. The plans were
well laid; but the General was obliged to give as much time to it, in a
way, as when projecting a raid, for he knew he had to encounter a wily
foe who was always on guard. The father, early in their childhood,
playing all sorts of tricks on his boys, was on the alert whenever he
was with them, to parry a return thrust. I believe several attempts had
been made to take the old gentleman's money, but he was too wary. They
knew that he had sewed some bills in his waistcoat, and that his steamer
ticket and other money were in his purse. These he carefully placed
under his pillow at night. He continues in his letter: "Tommy and I had
a stateroom together, and on one night in particular, all the folks had
gone to bed in the cabin, and Tom was hurrying me to go to bed. I was
not sleepy, and did not want to turn in, but he hung round so, that at
last I did go to our stateroom. He took the upper berth. I put my vest
under the pillow, and was pulling off my boots, when I felt sure I saw
something going out over the transom. I looked under the pillow, and my
vest was gone. Then I waked Tommy, who was snoring already. I told him
both my purse and vest were gone, and, as the saying is, I 'smelt the
rat.' I opened the door, and felt sure that Autie had arranged to
snatch the vest and purse when it was thrown out. I ran out in the cabin
to his stateroom, but he had the start of me, and was locked in. I did
not know for sure which was his room, so I hit and I thundered at his
door. The people stuck their heads out of their staterooms, and over the
transom came a glass of water. So I, being rather wet, concluded I would
give it up till the next morning. And what do you think those scamps
did? Tom, though I gave it to him well, wouldn't own up to a thing, and
just said 'it was too bad such robberies went on in a ship like that;'
he was very sorry for me, and alluded to the fact that the door being
unlocked was proof that the thief had a skeleton key, and all that
nonsense. Next morning Autie met me, and asked what on earth I had been
about the night before. Such a fracas! all the people had come out to
look up the matter, and there I was pounding at a young lady's door, a
friend of Libbie's, and a girl I liked (indeed, I had taken quite a
shine to her). They made out--those shameless rogues, and very solemn
Autie was about it, too--that it was not a very fine thing for my
reputation to be pounding on a young lady's door late at night,
frightening her half to death, and obliging her to defend herself with a
pitcher of water. She thought I had been trying to break in her door,
and I had better go to her at once and apologize, as the whole party
were being compromised by such scandal. They failed there; for I knew I
was not at her door, and I knew who it was that threw the water on me. I
was bound to try and get even with them, so one morning, while they were
all at breakfast, I went to Autie's stateroom; Eliza was making up the
bed. I looked for Autie's pocket-book, and found it under the pillow. I
kept out of the way, and did not come near them for some days; but they
got desperate, and were determined to beat me; so they made it up that
Tommy was to get round me, seize me by my arms at the back, and Autie go
through my pockets. Well, they left me without a dime, and I had to
travel without paying, and those outlaws of boys got the clerk to come
to me and demand my ticket. I told him I had none, that I had been
robbed. He said he was sorry, but I would have to pay over again, as
some one who stole the ticket would be likely to use it. I tried to tell
him I would make it right before I left the boat, but I hadn't a penny
then. Well, daughter, I came out best at the last, for Autie, having
really all the money, though he wouldn't own up to it, had all the bills
to pay, and when I got home I was so much the gainer, for it did not
cost me anything from the time I left the boat, either, till we got
home, and then Autie gave me up my pocket-book with all the money, and
we all had a good laugh, while the boys told their mother of the pranks
they had played on me."

[Illustration: "STAND THERE, COWARDS, WILL YOU, AND SEE AN OLD MAN
ROBBED?"]

My father's story ceases without doing justice to himself; for the
cunning manner in which he circumvented those mischievous fellows I
remember, and it seems my husband had given a full account to our friend
the Hon. Harry Conant. He writes to me, what is very true, that "it
seems one must know the quaint and brave old man, to appreciate how
exquisitely funny the incident, as told by the General, really was. The
third day after the robbery the General and Tom, thinking their father
engaged at a remote part of the boat, while talking over their escapade
incautiously exhibited the pocket-book. Suddenly the hand that held it
was seized in the strong grasp of the wronged father, who, lustily
calling for aid, assured the passengers that were thronging up (and,
being strangers, knew nothing of the relationship of the parties) that
this purse was his, and that he had been robbed by these two scoundrels,
and if they would assist in securing their arrest and restoring the
purse, he would prove all he said. Seeing the crowd hesitate, he called
out: 'For shame! stand there, cowards, will you, and see an old man
robbed?' It was enough. The spectators rushed in, and the General was
outwitted by his artful parent and obliged to explain the situation. But
the consequent restoration of his property did not give him half the
satisfaction that it did to turn the tables on the boys. Though they
never acknowledged this robbery to their father, none were so proud of
his victory as Tom and the General."

I must not leave to the imagination of the literal-minded people who may
chance to read, the suspicion that my husband and Tom ever made their
father in the least unhappy by their incessant joking. He met them
half-way always, and I never knew them lack in reverence for his snowy
head. He was wont to speak of his Texas life with his sons as his
happiest year for many preceding, and used to say that, were it not for
our mother's constantly increasing feebleness, he would go out to them
in Kansas.

When he reached his own ground, he made Tom and the General pay for some
of their plots and plans to render him uncomfortable, by coming to the
foot of the stairs and roaring out (and he had a stentorian voice) that
they had better be getting up, as it was late. Father Custer thought 6
o'clock A. M. was late. His sons differed. As soon as they found the
clamor was to continue, assisted by the dogs, which he had released from
the stable, leaping up-stairs and springing on our beds in excitement,
they went to the head of the stairs, and shouted out for everything that
the traveler calls for in a hotel--hot water, boot-black, cocktail,
barber, morning paper, and none of these being forthcoming in the simple
home, they vociferated in what the outsider might have thought angry
voices, "What sort of hotel do you keep, any way?"

Father Custer had an answer for every question, and only by talking so
fast and loud that they talked him down did they get the better of him.
Our mother Custer almost invariably sided with her boys. It made no sort
of difference if father Custer stood alone, he never seemed to expect a
champion. He did seem to think that she was carrying her views to an
advanced point, when she endeavored to decline a new cur that he had
introduced into the house, on the strength of its having "no pedigree."
Her sons talked dog to her so much that one would be very apt to be
educated up to the demand for an authenticated grandfather. Besides,
the "Towsers" and "Rovers" and all that sort of mongrels, to which she
had patiently submitted in all the childhood of her boys and their
boyish father, entitled her to some choice in after years.

At Cairo our partings began, for there some of the staff left us for
their homes. We dreaded to give them up. Our harmonious life, and the
friendships welded by the sharing of hardships and dangers, made us feel
that it would be well if, having tested one another, we might go on in
our future together. At Detroit the rest of our military family
disbanded. How the General regretted them! The men, scarce more than
boys even then, had responded to every call to charge in his Michigan
brigade, and afterward in the Third Cavalry Division. Some, wounded
almost to death, had been carried from his side on the battle-field, as
he feared, forever, and had returned with wounds still unhealed. One of
those valiant men has just died, suffering all these twenty-three years
from his wound; but in writing, speaking in public when he could,
talking to those who surrounded him when he was too weak to do more, one
name ran through his whole anguished life, one hero hallowed his days,
and that was his "boy-general." Still another of our military family,
invalided by his eleven months' confinement in Libby Prison, set his
wan, white face toward the uncertain future before him, and began his
bread-winning, his soul undaunted by his disabled body. Another--oh,
what a brave boy he was!--took my husband's proffered aid, and received
an appointment in the regular army. He carried always, does now, a
shattered arm, torn by a bullet while he was riding beside General
Custer in Virginia. That did not keep him from giving his splendid
energy, his best and truest patriotism, to his country down in Texas
even after the war, for he rode on long, exhausting campaigns after the
Indians, his wound bleeding, his life sapped, his vitality slipping away
with the pain that never left him day or night. That summer when we were
at home in Monroe, the General sent for him to come to us, and get his
share of the pretty girls that Tom and the Michigan staff, who lived
near us, were appropriating. The handsome, dark-haired fellow carried
off the favors; for though the others had been wounded--Tom even then
bearing the scarlet spot on his cheek where the bullet had
penetrated--the last comer won, for he still wore his arm in a sling.
The bewitching girls had before them the evidence of his valor, and into
what a garden he stepped! He was a modest fellow, and would not demand
too much pity, but made light of his wound, as is the custom of
soldiers, who, dreading effeminacy, carry the matter too far, and ignore
what ought not to be looked upon slightingly. One day he appeared
without his sling, and a careless girl, dancing with him, grasped the
arm in the forgetfulness of glee. The waves of torture that swept over
the young hero's face, the alarm and pity of the girl, the instant
biting of the lip and quick smile of the man, dreading more to grieve
the pretty creature by him than to endure the physical agony--oh, how
proud the General was of him, and I think he felt badly that a soldier
cannot yield to impulse, and enfold his comrade in his arms, as is our
woman's sweet privilege with one another.

Proudly the General followed the career of those young fellows who had
been so near him in his war-life. Of all those in whom he continued
always to retain an interest, keeping up in some instances a desultory
correspondence, the most amazing evolution was that of the
provost-marshal into a Methodist minister. Whether he was at heart a
stern, unrelenting character, is a question I doubted, for he never
could have developed into a clergyman. But he had the strangest, most
implacable face, when sent on his thankless duty by his commanding
officer. He it was who conducted the ceremonies that one awful day in
Louisiana, when the execution and pardon took place. I remember the
General's amazement when he received the letter in which the
announcement of the new life-work was made. It took us both some time to
realize how he would set about evangelizing. It was difficult to imagine
him leading any one to the throne of grace, except at the point of the
bayonet, with a military band playing the Dead March in Saul. I know how
pleased my husband was, though, how proud and glad to know that a
splendid, brave soldier had given his talents, his courage--and oh, what
courage for a man of the world to come out in youth on the side of one
mighty Captain!--and taken up the life of poverty, self-denial, and
something else that the General also felt a deprivation, the roving life
that deprives a Methodist minister of the blessings of a permanent home.

The delightful letters we used to get from our military family when any
epoch occurred in their lives, like the choice of a profession or
business (for most of them went back to civil life), their marriage, the
birth of a son--all gave my husband genuine pleasure; and when their
sorrows came he turned to me to write the letter--a heart-letter, which
was his in all but the manipulation of the pen. His personal influence
he gave, time and time again, when it was needed in their lives, and,
best of all in my eyes, had patience with those who had a larger sowing
of the wild-oat crop, which is the agricultural feature in the early
life of most men.

Since I seek to make my story of others, I take the privilege of
speaking of a class of heroes that I now seldom hear mentioned, and over
whom, in instances of my husband's personal friends, we have grieved
together. It is to those who, like his young staff-officer, bear
unhealed and painful wounds to their life's end that I wish to beg our
people to give thought. We felt it rather a blessing, in one way, when a
man was visibly maimed; for if a leg or an arm is gone, the empty sleeve
or the halting gait keeps his country from forgetting that he has braved
everything to protect her. The men we sorrowed for were those who
suffered silently; and there are more, North and South, than anyone
dreams of, scattered all over our now fair and prosperous land.
Sometimes, after they die, it transpires that at the approach of every
storm they have been obliged to stop work, enter into the seclusion of
their rooms, and endure the racking, torturing pain, that began on the
battle-field so long ago. If anyone finds this out in their lifetime,
it is usually by accident; and when asked why they suffer without
claiming the sympathy that does help us all, they sometimes reply that
the war is too far back to tax anyone's memory or sympathy now. Oftener,
they attempt to ignore what they endure, and change the subject
instantly. People would be surprised to know how many in the community,
whom they daily touch in the jostle of life, are silent sufferers from
wounds or incurable disease contracted during the war for the Union. The
monuments, tablets, memorials which are strewn with flowers and bathed
with grateful tears, have often tribute that should be partly given to
the double hero who bears on his bruised and broken body the torture of
daily sacrifice for his country. People, even if they know, forget the
look, the word of acknowledgment, that is due the maimed patriot.

I recall the chagrin I felt on the Plains one day, when one of our
Seventh Cavalry officers, with whom we had long been intimately
associated--one whom our people called "Fresh Smith," or "Smithie," for
short--came to his wife to get her to put on his coat. I said something
in bantering tones of his Plains life making him look on his wife as the
Indian looks upon the squaw, and tried to rouse her to rebellion. There
was a small blaze, a sudden scintillation from a pair of feminine eyes,
that warned me of wrath to come. The captain accepted my banter, threw
himself into the saddle, laughed back the advantage of this new order of
things, where a man had a combination, in his wife, of servant and
companion, and tore out of sight, leaving me to settle accounts with the
flushed madame. She told me, what I never knew, and perhaps might not
even now, but for the outburst of the moment, that in the war "Smithie"
had received a wound that shattered his shoulder, and though his arm was
narrowly saved from amputation, he never raised it again, except a few
inches. As for putting on his coat, it was an impossibility.

One day in New York my husband and I were paying our usual homage to the
shop windows and to the beautiful women we passed, when he suddenly
seized my arm and said, "There's Kiddoo! Let's catch up with him." I was
skipped over gutters, and sped over pavements, the General unconscious
that such a gait is not the usual movement of the New Yorker, until we
came up panting each side of a tall, fine-looking man, apparently a
specimen of physical perfection. The look of longing that he gave us as
we ran up, flushed and happy, startled me, and I could scarcely wait
until we separated, to know the meaning. It was this: General Joseph B.
Kiddoo, shot in the leg during the war, had still the open wound, from
which he endured daily pain and nightly torture, for he got only
fragmentary sleep. To heal the hurt was to end his life, the surgeons
said. When at last I heard he had been given release and slept the
blessed sleep, what word of sorrow could be framed?

In the case of another friend, with whom we were staying in Tennessee,
from whom my husband and I extracted the information by dint of
questions and sympathy, when, late one night, we sat about the open
fire, and were warmed into confidence by its friendly glow, we found
that no single night for the twelve years after the war had such a boon
as uninterrupted sleep been known to him. A body racked by pain was
paying daily its loyal, uncomplaining tribute to his country. Few were
aware that he had unremitting suffering as his constant companion. I
remember that my husband urged him to marry, and get some good out of
life and from the sympathy that wells perpetually in a tender woman's
heart. But he denied himself the blessing of such companionship, from
unselfish motives, declaring he could not ask a woman to link her fate
with such a broken life as his. When we left his fireside, my husband
counted him a hero of such rare mettle that few in his experience could
equal him, and years afterward, when we sometimes read his name in
print, he said, "Poor ----! I wonder if there's any let-up for the brave
fellow."

Our home-coming was a great pleasure to us and to our two families. My
own father was proud of the General's administration of civil as well
as military affairs in Texas, and enjoyed the congratulatory letter of
Governor Hamilton deeply. The temptations to induce General Custer to
leave the service and enter civil life began at once, and were many and
varied. He had not been subjected to such allurements the year after the
war, when the country was offering posts of honor to returned soldiers,
but this summer of our return from Texas, all sorts of suggestions were
made. Business propositions, with enticing pictures of great wealth,
came to him. He never cared for money for money's sake. No one that
does, ever lets it slip through his fingers as he did. Still, his heart
was set upon plans for his mother and father, and for his brothers'
future, and I can scarcely see now how a man of twenty-five could have
turned his back upon such alluring schemes for wealth as were held out
to him. It was at that time much more customary than now, even, to
establish corporations with an officer's name at the head who was known
to have come through the war with irreproachable honor, proved possibly
as much by his being as poor when he came out of service as when he went
in, as by his conduct in battle. The country was so unsettled by the
four years of strife that it was like beginning all over again, when old
companies were started anew. Confidence had to be struggled for, and
names of prominent men as associate partners or presidents were sought
for persistently.

Politics offered another form of temptation. The people demanded for
their representatives the soldiers under whom they had served,
preferring to follow the same leaders in the political field that had
led them in battle. The old soldiers, and civilians also, talked openly
of General Custer for Congressman or Governor. It was a summer of
excitement and uncertainty. How could it be otherwise to a boy who, five
brief years before, was a beardless youth with no apparent future before
him? I was too much of a girl to realize what a summer it was--indeed,
we had little chance, so fast did one proposition for our future follow
upon the other. When the General was offered the appointment of foreign
Minister, I kept silence as best I could, but it was desperately hard
work. Honors, according to old saws, "were empty," but in that hey-day
time they looked very different to me. I was inwardly very proud, and if
I concealed the fact because my husband expressed such horror of
inflated people, it was only after violent effort.

Among the first propositions was one for the General to take temporary
service with Mexico. This scheme found no favor with me. It meant more
fighting and further danger for my husband, and anxiety and separation
for me. Besides, Texas association with Mexicans made me think their
soldiery treacherous and unreliable. But even in the midst of the
suspense pending the decision I was not insensible to this new honor
that was offered.

Carvajal, who was then at the head of the Juarez military government,
offered the post of Adjutant-General of Mexico to General Custer. The
money inducements were, to give twice the salary in gold that a
major-general in our army receives. As his salary had come down from a
major-general's pay of $8,000 to $2,000, this might have been a
temptation surely. There was a stipulation that one or two thousand men
should be raised in the United States, any debts assumed in organizing
this force to be paid by the Mexican Liberal Government. Señor Romero,
the Mexican Minister, did what he could to further the application of
Carvajal, and General Grant wrote his approval of General Custer's
acceptance, in a letter in which he speaks of my husband in unusually
flattering terms, as one "who rendered such distinguished service as a
cavalry officer during the war," adding, "There was no officer in that
branch of the service who had the confidence of General Sheridan to a
greater degree than General Custer, and there is no officer in whose
judgment I have greater faith than in Sheridan's. Please understand,
then, that I mean to endorse General Custer in a high degree."

The stagnation of peace was being felt by those who had lived a
breathless four years at the front. However much they might rejoice
that carnage had ceased and no more broken hearts need be dreaded, it
was very hard to quiet themselves into a life of inaction. No wonder our
officers went to the Khedive for service! no wonder this promise of
active duty was an inviting prospect for my husband! It took a long time
for civilians, even, to tone themselves down to the jog-trot of peace.

Everything looked, at that time, as if there was success awaiting any
soldier who was resolute enough to lead troops against one they
considered an invader. Nothing nerves a soldier's arm like the wrong
felt at the presence of foreigners on their own ground, and the prospect
of destruction of their homes. Maximilian was then uncertain in his hold
on the Government he had established, and, as it soon proved, it would
have been what General Custer then thought comparatively an easy matter
to drive out the usurper. The question was settled by the Government's
refusing to grant the year's leave for which application was made, and
the General was too fond of his country to take any but temporary
service in another.

This decision made me very grateful, and when there was no longer danger
of further exposure of life, I was also thankful for the expressions of
confidence and admiration of my husband's ability as a soldier that this
contemplated move had drawn out. I was willing my husband should accept
any offer he had received except the last. I was tempted to beg him to
resign; for this meant peace of mind and a long, tranquil life for me.
It was my father's counsel alone that kept me from urging each new
proposition to take up the life of a civilian. He advised me to forget
myself. He knew well what a difficult task it was to school myself to
endure the life on which I had entered so thoughtlessly as a girl. I had
never been thrown with army people, and knew nothing before my marriage
of the separations and anxieties of military life. Indeed, I was so
young that it never occurred to me that people could become so attached
to each other that it would be misery to be separated. And now that
this divided existence loomed up before me, father did not blame me for
longing for any life that would ensure our being together. He had a keen
sense of humor, and could not help reminding me occasionally, when I
told him despairingly that I could not, I simply _would_ not, live a
life where I could not be always with my husband, of days before I knew
the General, when I declared to my parents, if ever I did marry it would
not be a dentist, as our opposite neighbor appeared never to leave the
house. It seemed to me then that the wife had a great deal to endure in
the constant presence of her husband.

My father, strict in his sense of duty, constantly appealed to me to
consider only my husband's interests, and forget my own selfish desires.
In an old letter written at that time, I quoted to the General something
that father had said to me: "Why, daughter, I would rather have the
honor which grows out of the way in which the battle of Waynesboro was
fought, than to have the wealth of the Indies. Armstrong's battle is
better to hand down to posterity than wealth." He used in those days to
walk the floor and say to me, "My child, put no obstacles in the way to
the fulfillment of his destiny. He chose his profession. He is a born
soldier. There he must abide."

In the midst of this indecision, when the General was obliged to be in
New York and Washington on business, my father was taken ill. The one
whom I so sorely needed in all those ten years that followed, when I was
often alone in the midst of the dangers and anxieties and vicissitudes
attending our life, stepped into heaven as quietly and peacefully as if
going into another room. His last words were to urge me to do my duty as
a soldier's wife. He again begged me to ignore self, and remember that
my husband had chosen the profession of a soldier; in that life he had
made a name, and there, where he was so eminently fitted to succeed, he
should remain.

My father's counsel and his dying words had great weight with me, and
enabled me to fight against the selfishness that was such a temptation.
Very few women, even the most ambitious for their husbands' future, but
would have confessed, at the close of the war, that glory came with too
great sacrifices, and they would rather gather the husbands, lovers and
brothers into the shelter of the humblest of homes, than endure the
suspense and loneliness of war times. I am sure that my father was
right, for over and over again, in after years, my husband met his
brother officers who had resigned, only to have poured into his ear
regrets that they had left the service. I have known him to come to me
often, saying he could not be too thankful that he had not gone into
civil life. He believed that a business man or a politician should have
discipline in youth for the life and varied experience with all kinds of
people, to make a successful career. Officers, from the very nature of
their life, are prescribed in their associates. They are isolated so
much at extreme posts that they know little or nothing of the life of
citizens. After resigning, they found themselves robbed of the
companionship so dear to military people, unable, from want of early
training, to cope successfully with business men, and lacking, from
inexperience, the untiring, plodding spirit that is requisite to the
success of a civilian. An officer rarely gives a note--his promise is
his bond. It is seldom violated. It would be impossible for me, even in
my twelve years' experience, to enumerate the times I have known, when
long-standing debts, for which there was not a scrap of written proof,
were paid without solicitation on the part of the friend who was the
creditor. One of our New York hotels furnishes proof of how an officer's
word is considered. A few years since, Congress failed to make the usual
yearly appropriation for the pay of the army. A hotel that had been for
many years the resort of military people, immediately sent far and wide
to notify the army that no bills would be presented until the next
Congress had passed the appropriation. To satisfy myself, I have
inquired if they lost by this, and been assured that they did not.

Men reared to consider their word equal to the most binding legal
contract ever made, would naturally find it difficult to realize, when
entering civil life, that something else is considered necessary. The
wary take advantage of the credulity of a military man, and usually the
first experience is financial loss to an officer who has confidingly
allowed a debt to be contracted without all the restrictive legal
arrangements with which citizens have found it necessary to surround
money transactions. And so the world goes. The capital with which an
officer enters into business is lost by too much confidence in his
brother man, and when he becomes richer by experience, he is so poor in
pocket he cannot venture into competition with the trained and skilled
business men among whom he had entered so sanguinely.

Politics also have often proved disastrous to army officers. Allured by
promises, they have accepted office, and been allowed a brief success;
but who can be more completely done for than an office-holder whose
party goes out of power? The born politician, one who has grown wary in
the great game, provides for the season of temporary retirement which
the superseding of his party necessitates. His antagonist calls it
"feathering his nest," but a free-handed and sanguine military man has
done no "feathering," and it is simply pitiful to see to what obscurity
and absolute poverty they are brought. The men whose chestnuts the
ingenuous, unsuspecting man has pulled out of the fire, now pass him by
unnoticed. Such an existence to a proud man makes him wish he had died
on the field of battle, before any act of his had brought chagrin.

All these things I have heard my husband say, when we have encountered
some heartbroken man; and he worked for nothing harder than that they
might be reinstated in the service, or lifted out of their perplexities
by occupation of some sort. There was an officer, a classmate at West
Point, who, he felt with all his heart, did right in resigning. If he
had lived he would have written his tribute, and I venture to take up
his pen to say, in my inadequate way, what he would have said so well,
moved by the eloquence of deep feeling.

My husband believed in what old-fashioned people term a "calling," and
he himself had felt a call to be a soldier, when he could scarcely speak
plain. It was not the usual early love of boys for adventure. We realize
how natural it is for a lad to enjoy tales of hotly contested fields,
and to glory over bloodshed. The boy in the Sunday-school, when asked
what part of the Bible he best liked, said promptly, "The fightenest
part!" and another, when his saintly teacher questioned him as to whom
he first wished to see when he reached heaven, vociferated loudly,
"Goliath!" But the love of a soldier's life was not the fleeting desire
of the child, in my husband; it became the steady purpose of his youth,
the happy realization of his early manhood. For this reason he
sympathized with all who felt themselves drawn to a certain place in the
world. He thoroughly believed in a boy (if it was not a pernicious
choice) having his "bent." And so it happened, when it was our good
fortune to be stationed with his classmate, Colonel Charles C. Parsons,
at Leavenworth, that he gave a ready ear when his old West Point chum
poured out his longings for a different sphere in life. He used to come
to me after these sessions, when the Colonel went over and over again
his reasons for resigning, and wonder how he could wish to do so, but he
respected his friend's belief that he had another "calling" too
thoroughly to oppose him. He thought the place of captain of a battery
of artillery the most independent in the service. He is detached from
his regiment, he reports only to the commanding officer of the post, he
is left so long at one station that he can make permanent arrangements
for comfort, and, except in times of war, the work is garrison and guard
duty. Besides this, the pay of a captain of a battery is good, and he is
not subject to constant moves, which tax the finances of a cavalry
officer so severely. After enumerating these advantages, he ended by
saying, "There's nothing to be done, though, for if Parsons thinks he
ought to go into an uncertainty, and leave what is a surety for life,
why, he ought to follow his convictions."

The next time we saw the Colonel, he was the rector of a small mission
church on the outskirts of Memphis. We were with the party of the Grand
Duke Alexis when he went by steamer to New Orleans. General Sheridan had
asked General Custer to go on a buffalo-hunt with the Duke in the
Territory of Wyoming, and he in turn urged the General to remain with
him afterward, until he left the country. At Memphis, the city gave a
ball, and my husband begged his old comrade to be present. It was the
first time since his resignation that the Colonel and his beautiful wife
had been in society. Their parish was poor, and they had only a small
and uncertain salary. Colonel Parsons was not in the least daunted; he
was as hopeful and as enthusiastic as such earnest people alone can be,
as certain he was right as if his duty had been revealed to him as
divine messages were to the prophets of old. The General was touched by
the fearless manner in which he faced poverty and obscurity.

It would be necessary for one to know, by actual observation, what a
position of authority, of independence, of assured and sufficient
income, he left, to sink his individuality in this life that he
consecrated to his Master. When he entered our room, before we went to
the ballroom, he held up his gloved hands to us and said: "Custer, I
wish you to realize into what extravagance you have plunged me. Why, old
fellow, this is my first indulgence in such frivolities since I came
down here." Mrs. Parsons was a marvel to us. The General had no words
that he thought high enough praise for her sacrifice. Hers was for her
husband, and not a complaint did she utter.

Here, again, I should have to take my citizen reader into garrison
before I could make clear what it was that she gave up. The vision of
that pretty woman, as I remember her at Leavenworth, is fresh in my
mind. She danced and rode charmingly, and was gracious and free from the
spiteful envy that sometimes comes when a garrison belle is so
attractive that the gossips say she absorbs all the devotion. Colonel
Parsons, not caring much for dancing, used to stand and watch with pride
and complete confidence when the men gathered round his wife at our
hops. There were usually more than twice as many men as women, and the
card of a good dancer and a favorite was frequently filled before she
left her own house for the dancing-room. I find myself still wondering
how any pretty woman ever kept her mental poise when queening it at
those Western posts. My husband, who never failed to be the first to
notice the least sacrifice that a woman made for her husband, looked
upon Mrs. Parsons with more and more surprise and admiration, as he
contrasted the life in which we found her with her former fascinating
existence.

The Colonel, after making his concession and coming to our ball, asked
us in turn to be present at his church on the following Sunday, and gave
the General a little cheap printed card, which he used to find his way
to the suburbs of the city. Colonel Parsons told me, next day, that when
he entered the reading-desk and looked down upon the dignified, reverent
head of my husband, a remembrance of the last time he had seen him in
the chapel at West Point came like a flash of lightning into his mind,
and he almost had a convulsion, in endeavoring to suppress the gurgles
of laughter that struggled for expression. For an instant he thought,
with desperate fright, that he would drop down behind the desk and have
it out, and only by the most powerful effort did he rally. It seems that
a cadet in their corps had fiery red hair, and during the stupid chapel
sermon Cadet Custer had run his fingers into the boy's hair, who was in
front of him, pretending to get them into white heat, and then, taking
them out, pounded them as on an anvil. It was a simple thing, and a
trick dating many years back, but the drollery and quickness of action
made it something a man could not recall with calmness.

Colonel Parsons and his wife are receiving the rewards that only Heaven
can give to lives of self-sacrifice. Mrs. Parsons, after they came North
to a parish, only lived a short time to enjoy the comfort of an Eastern
home. When the yellow fever raged so in the Mississippi Valley, in 1878,
and volunteers came forward with all the splendid generosity of this
part of the world, Colonel Parsons did not wait a second call from his
conscience to enter the fever-scourged Memphis, and there he ended a
martyr life: not only ready to go because in his Master's service, but
because the best of his life, and one for whom he continually sorrowed,
awaited him beyond the confines of eternity.



CHAPTER XI.

ORDERS TO REPORT AT FORT RILEY, KANSAS.


GENERAL CUSTER was the recipient of much kindness from the soldiers of
his Michigan brigade while he remained in Michigan awaiting orders, and
he went to several towns where his old comrades had prepared receptions
for him. But when he returned from a reunion in Detroit to our saddened
home, there was no grateful, proud father to listen to the accounts of
the soldiers' enthusiasm. My husband missed his commendation, and his
proud way of referring to his son. His own family were near us, and off
he started, when he felt the absence of the noble parent who had so
proudly followed his career, and, running through our stable to shorten
the distance, danced up a lane through a back gate into his mother's
garden, and thence into the midst of his father's noisy and happy
household. His parents, the younger brother, Boston, sister Margaret,
Colonel Tom, and often Eliza, made up the family, and the uproar that
these boys and the elder boy, their father, made around the gentle
mother and her daughters, was a marvel to me.

If the General went away to some soldiers' reunion, he tried on his
return to give me a lucid account of the ceremonies, and how signally he
failed in making a speech, of course, and his subterfuge for hiding his
confusion and getting out of the scrape by proposing "Garry Owen" by the
band, or three cheers for the old brigade. It was not that he had not
enough to say: his heart was full of gratitude to his comrades, but the
words came forth with such a rush, there was little chance of arriving
at the meaning. I think nothing moved him in this coming together of his
dear soldiers, like his pride at their naming babies after him. His
eyes danced with pleasure, when he told that they stopped him in the
street and held up a little George Armstrong Custer, and the shy wife
was brought forward to be congratulated. I dearly loved, when I chanced
to be with him, to witness their pride and hear their few words of
praise.

Not long ago I was in a small town in Michigan, among some of my
husband's old soldiers. Our sister Margaret was reciting for the benefit
of the little church, and the veterans asked for me afterward, and I
shook hands with a long line of bronzed heroes, now tillers of the soil.
Their praise of their "boy General" made my grateful tears flow, and
many of their eyes moistened as they held my hand and spoke of war
times. After all had filed by, they began to return one by one and ask
to bring their wives and children. One soldier, with already silvering
head, said quaintly, "We have often seen you riding around with our
General in war days," and added, with a most flattering ignoring of
time's treatment of me, "You look _just_ the same, though you was a
young gal then; and now, tho' you followed your husband and took your
hardships with us, I want to show you an old woman who was also a purty
good soldier, for while I was away at the front she run the farm." Such
a welcome, such honest tribute to his "old woman," recalled the times
when the General's old soldiers gathered about him, with unaffected
words, and when I pitied him because he fidgeted so, and bit his lips,
and struggled to end what was the joy of his life, for fear he would cry
like a woman. Among those who sought him out that summer was an officer
who had commanded a regiment of troops in the celebrated Michigan
brigade--Colonel George Grey, a brave Irishman, with as much enthusiasm
in his friendships as in his fighting. His wife and little son were
introduced. The boy had very light hair, and though taught to reverence
and love the General by his gallant, impulsive father, the child had
never realized until he saw him that his father's hero also had a yellow
head. Heretofore the boy had hated his hair, and implored his mother to
dye it dark. But as soon as his interview with my husband was ended, he
ran to his mother, and whispered in eager haste that she need not mind
the dyeing now, he never would scold about his hair being light again,
since he had seen that General Custer's was yellow.

As I look back and consider what a descent the major-generals of the war
made, on returning to their lineal rank in the regular army after the
surrender at Appomattox, I wonder how they took the new order of things
so calmly, or that they so readily adapted themselves to the positions
they had filled before the firing on Sumter in 1861. General Custer held
his commission as brevet major-general for nearly a year after the close
of hostilities, and until relieved in Texas. He did not go at once to
his regiment, the Fifth Cavalry, and take up the command of sixty men in
place of thousands, as other officers of the regular army were obliged
to do, but was placed on waiting orders, and recommended to the
lieutenant-colonelcy of one of the new regiments of cavalry, for five
new ones had been formed that summer, making ten in all. In the autumn,
the appointment to the Seventh Cavalry came, with orders to go to Fort
Garland. One would have imagined, by the jubilant manner in which this
official document was unfolded and read to me, that it was the
inheritance of a principality. My husband instantly began to go over the
"good sides" of the question. He was so given to dwelling on the high
lights of any picture his imagination painted, that the background,
which might mean hardships and deprivations, became indefinite in
outline, and obscure enough in detail to please the most modern
impressionists. Out of our camp luggage a map was produced, and Fort
Garland was discovered, after long prowling about with the first finger,
in the space given to the Rocky Mountains. Then he launched into visions
of what unspeakable pleasure he would have, fishing for mountain trout
and hunting deer. As I cared nothing for fishing, and was afraid of a
gun, I don't recall my veins bounding as his did over the prospect; but
the embryo fisherman and Nimrod was so sanguine over his future, it
would have been a stolid soul indeed that did not begin to think Fort
Garland a sort of earthly paradise. The sober colors in this vivid
picture meant a small, obscure post, then several hundred miles from any
railroad, not much more than a handful of men to command, the most
complete isolation, and no prospect of an active campaign, as it was far
from the range of the warlike Indians. But Fort Garland soon faded from
our view, in the excitement and interest over Fort Riley, as soon as our
orders were changed to that post. We had no difficulty in finding it on
the map, as it was comparatively an old post, and the Kansas Pacific
Railroad was within ten miles of the Government reservation.

We ascertained, by inquiry, that it was better to buy the necessary
household articles at Leavenworth, than to attempt to carry along even a
simple outfit from the East. My attention had been so concentrated on
the war, that I found the map of Virginia had heretofore comprised the
only important part of the United States to me, and it was difficult to
realize that Kansas had a city of 25,000 inhabitants, with several daily
papers. Still, I was quite willing to trust to Leavenworth for the
purchase of household furniture, as it seemed to me, what afterward
proved true, that housekeeping in garrison quarters was a sort of
camping out after all, with one foot in a house and another in position
to put into the stirrup and spin "over the hills and far away." We
packed the few traps that had been used in camping in Virginia and
Texas, but most of our attention was given to the selection of a pretty
girl, who, it was held by both of us, would do more toward furnishing
and beautifying our army quarters than any amount of speechless
bric-à-brac or silent tapestry. It was difficult to obtain what seemed
the one thing needful for our new army home. In the first place, the
mothers rose _en masse_ and formed themselves into an anti-frontier
combination. They looked right into my eyes, with harassed expression,
and said, "Why, Libbie, they might marry an officer!" ignoring the fact
that the happiest girl among them had undergone that awful fate, and
still laughed back a denial of its being the bitterest lot that can
come to a woman. Then I argued that perhaps their daughters might escape
matrimony entirely, under the fearful circumstances which they shuddered
over, even in contemplation, but that it was only fair that the girls
should have a chance to see the "bravest and the tenderest," and, I
mentally added, the "livest" men, for our town had been forsaken by most
of the ambitious, energetic boys as soon as their school-days ended. The
"beau season" was very brief, lasting only during their summer
vacations, when they came from wide-awake Western towns to make love in
sleepy Monroe. One mother at last listened to my arguments, and said, "I
do want Laura to see what men of the world are, and she shall go." Now,
this lovely mother had been almost a second one to me in all my lonely
vacations, after my own mother died. She took me from the seminary, and
gave me treats with her own children, and has influenced my whole life
by her noble, large way of looking at the world. But, then, she has been
East a great deal, and in Washington in President Pierce's days, and
realized that the vision of the outside world, seen only from our
Monroe, was narrow. The dear Laura surprised me by asking to have over
night to consider, and I could not account for it, as she had been so
radiant over the prospect of military life. Alas! next morning the
riddle was solved, when she whispered in my ear that there was a youth
who had already taken into his hands the disposal of her future, and
"he" objected. So we lost her.

Monroe was then thought to have more pretty girls than any place of its
size in the country. In my first experience of the misery of being
paragraphed, it was announced that General Custer had taken to himself a
wife, in a town where ninety-nine marriageable girls were left. The fame
of the town had gone abroad, though, and the ninety-nine were not
without opportunities. Widowers came from afar, with avant couriers in
the shape of letters describing their wealth, their scholarly
attainments, and their position in the community. The "boys" grown to
men halted in their race for wealth long enough to rush home and
propose. Often we were all under inspection, and though demure and
seemingly unconscious, I remember the after-tea walks when a knot of
girls went off to "lovers' lane" to exchange experiences about some
stranger from afar, who had been brought around by a solicitous
match-maker to view the landscape o'er, and I am afraid we had some sly
little congratulations when he, having shown signs of the conquering
hero, was finally sent on his way, to seek in other towns, filled with
girls, "fresh woods and pastures new." I cannot account for the beauty
of the women of Monroe; the mothers were the softest, serenest,
smoothest-faced women, even when white-haired. It is true it was a very
quiet life, going to bed with the chickens, and up early enough to see
the dew on the lawns. There was very little care, to plant furrows in
the cheeks and those tell-tale radiating lines about the eyes. Nearly
everybody was above want, and few had enough of this world's goods to
incite envy in the hearts of the neighbors, which does its share in a
younger face. I sometimes think the vicinity of Lake Erie, and the moist
air that blew over the marsh, kept the complexions fresh. I used to feel
actually sorry for my husband, when we approached Monroe after coming
from the campaigns. He often said: "Shall we not stop in Detroit a day
or two, Libbie, till you get the tired look out of your face? I dread
going among the Monroe women and seeing them cast reproachful looks at
me, when your sunburned face is introduced among their fair complexions.
When you are tired in addition, they seem to think I am a wretch unhung,
and say, 'Why, General! what _have_ you done with Libbie's transparent
skin?' I am afraid it is hopelessly dark and irredeemably thickened!" In
vain I argued that it wouldn't be too thick to let them all see the
happy light shine through, and if his affection survived my altered
looks, I felt able to endure the wailing over what they thought I had
lost. After all, it was very dear and kind of them to care, and my
husband appreciated their solicitude, even when he was supposed to be in
disgrace for having subjected me to such disfigurement. Still, these
mothers were neither going to run the risk of the peach-bloom and cream
of their precious girls all running riot into one broad sunburn up to
the roots of the hair, and this was another reason, in addition to the
paramount one that "the girls _might_ marry into the army." The vagrant
life, the inability to keep household gods, giving up the privileges of
the church and missionary societies, the loss of the simple village
gayety, the anxiety and suspense of a soldier's wife, might well make
the mothers opposed to the life, but this latter reason did not enter
into all their minds. Some thought of the loaves and fishes. One said,
in trying to persuade me that it was better to break my engagement with
the General, "Why, girl, you can't be a poor man's wife, and, besides,
he might lose a leg!" I thought, even then, gay and seemingly
thoughtless as I was, that a short life with poverty and a wooden leg
was better than the career suggested to me. I hope the dear old lady is
not blushing as she reads this, and I remind her how she took me up into
a high mountain and pointed out a house that might be mine, with so many
dozen spoons, "solid," so many sheets and pillow-slips, closets filled
with jars of preserved fruit, all of which I could not hope to have in
the life in which I chose to cast my lot, where peaches ripened on no
garden-wall and bank-accounts were unknown.

[Illustration: GENERAL CUSTER WITH HIS HORSE VIC, STAG HOUNDS AND DEER
HOUNDS.]

When we were ready to set out for the West, in October, 1866, our
caravan summed up something like this list: My husband's three
horses--Jack Rucker, the thoroughbred mare he had bought in Texas, a
blooded colt from Virginia named Phil Sheridan--and my own horse, a fast
pacer named Custis Lee, the delight of my eyes and the envy of the
General's staff while we were in Virginia and Texas; several hounds
given to the General by the planters with whom he had hunted deer in
Texas; a superb greyhound, his head carried so loftily as he walked his
lordly way among the other dogs, that I thought he would have asked to
carry his family-tree on his brass collar, could he have spoken for his
rights. Last of all, some one had given us the ugliest white bull-dog
I ever saw. But in time we came to think that the twist in his lumpy
tail, the curve in his bow legs, the ambitious nose, which drew the
upper lip above the heaviest of protruding jaws, were simply beauties,
for the dog was so affectionate and loyal, that everything which at
first seemed a draw-back leaned finally to virtue's side. He was well
named "Turk," and a "set to" or so with Byron, the domineering greyhound
established his rights, so that it only needed a deep growl and an
uprising of the bristles on his back, to recall to the overbearing
aristocrat some wholesome lessons given him when the acquaintance began.
Turk was devoted to the colt Phil, and the intimacy of the two was
comical; Phil repaid Turk's little playful nips at the legs by lifting
him in his teeth as high as the feed-box, by the loose skin of his back.
But nothing could get a whimper out of him, for he was the pluckiest of
brutes. He curled himself up in Phil's stall when he slept, and in
traveling was his close companion in the box car. If we took the dog to
drive with us, he had to be in the buggy, as our time otherwise would
have been constantly engaged in dragging him off from any dog that
strutted around him and needed a lesson in humility. When Turk was
returned to Phil, after any separation, they greeted each other in a
most human way. Turk leaped around the colt, and in turn was rubbed and
nosed about with speaking little snorts of welcome. When we came home to
this ugly duckling, he usually made a spring and landed in my lap, as if
he were the tiniest, silkiest little Skye in dogdom. He half closed his
eyes, with that beatific expression peculiar to affectionate dogs, and
did his little smile at my husband and me by raising what there was of
his upper lip and showing his front teeth. All this with an ignoring of
the other dogs and an air of exclusion, as if we three--his master,
mistress, and himself--composed all there was of earth worth knowing.

We had two servants, one being Eliza, our faithful colored woman, who
had been with us in Virginia and Texas, and had come home with me to
care for my father in his last illness. We had also a worthless colored
boy, who had been trained as a jockey in Texas and had returned with the
horses. What intellect he had was employed in devising schemes to escape
work. Eliza used her utmost persuasive eloquence on him without effect,
and failed equally with a set of invectives that had been known
heretofore to break the most stubborn case of lethargy. My
tender-hearted mother Custer screened him, for he had soon discovered
her amazing credulity, and had made out a story of abuses to which he
had been subjected that moved her to confide his wrongs to me. Two years
before, I too would have dropped a tear over his history; but a life
among horses had enlightened me somewhat. Every one knows that a negro
will do almost anything to become a jockey. Their bitterest moment is
when they find that growing bone and muscle is making avoirdupois and
going to cut them off from all that makes life worth living. To reduce
their weight, so they can ride at races, they are steamed, and parboiled
if necessary. This process our lazy servant described to our mother as
having been enforced on him as a torture and punishment, and such a good
story did he make out, that he did nothing but lie in the sun and twang
an old banjo all summer long, all owing to mother's pity. We had to take
him with us, to save her from waiting on him and making reparation for
what she supposed had been a life of abuse before he came to us.

Last of all to describe in our party was Diana, the pretty belle of
Monroe. The excitement of anticipation gave added brightness to her
eyes, and the head, sunning over with a hundred curls, danced and
coquetted as she talked of our future among the "brass buttons and
epaulets."

My going out from home was not so hard as it had been, for the dear
father had gone home, saying in his last words, "Daughter, continue to
do as you have done; follow Armstrong everywhere." It had indeed been a
temptation to me to use all my influence to induce my husband to resign
and accept the places held out to him. I do not recollect that ambition
or a far look into his progress in the future entered my mind. I can
only remember thinking with envy of men surrounding us in civil life,
who came home to their wives, after every day's business. Even now, I
look upon a laborer returning to his home at night with his tin
dinner-pail as a creature to be envied, and my imagination follows the
husband into his humble house. The wife to whom he returns may have lost
much that ambition and success bring, but she has secured for herself a
lifetime of happy twilights, when all she cares for is safe under her
affectionate eyes.

Our father and mother Custer lived near us, and Sister Margaret and the
younger brother, "Bos," were then at home and in school. The parting
with his mother, the only sad hour to my blithe husband, tore his heart
as it always did, and he argued in vain with her, that, as he had come
home after five years of incessant battles, she might look for his safe
return again. Each time seemed to be the last to her, for she was so
delicate she hardly expected to live to see him again.

The summer had been one of such pleasure to her. Her beloved boy,
dashing in and out in his restless manner, was never too absorbed with
whatever took up his active mind, to be anything but gentle and
thoughtful for her. She found our Eliza a mine of information, and just
as willing as mother herself to talk all day about the one topic in
common--the General and his war experiences.

Then the dogs and horses, and the stir and life produced by the
introduction of ourselves and our belongings into her quiet existence,
made her recall the old farm life when her brood of children were all
around her. Brother Tom had spent the summer skipping from flower to
flower, tasting the sweets of all the rosebud garden of girls in our
pretty town. I had already taken to myself a good deal of the mothering
of this wild boy, and began to worry, as is the custom of mothers, over
the advances of a venturesome woman who was no longer young and playing
for high stakes. It was no small matter to me, as I knew Tom would live
with us always if he could manage to do so, and my prospective
sister-in-law would be my nearest companion. Lad as he was, he escaped,
and preserved his heart in an unbroken condition during the summer. Much
to our regret, he was appointed to a lieutenancy in a regiment stationed
South, after he was mustered out of the volunteer service; but the
General succeeded in effecting his transfer to the Seventh Cavalry, and
after a short service in the South he joined us at Fort Riley that year.

One of our Detroit friends invited us to go with a party of pretty
women, in a special car, to St. Louis; so we had a gay send-off for our
new home. I don't remember to have had an anxiety as to the future; I
was wholly given over to the joy of realizing that the war was over,
and, girl-like, now the one great danger was passed, I felt as if all
that sort of life was forever ended. At any rate, the magnetic influence
of my husband's joyous temperament, which would not look on the dark
side, had such power over those around him that I was impelled to look
upon our future as he did. In St. Louis we had a round of gayety. The
great Fair was then at its best, for every one was making haste to
dispel the gloom that our terrible war had cast over the land. There was
not a corner of the Fair-ground to which my husband did not penetrate.
He took me into all sorts of places to which our pretty galaxy of
belles, with their new conquests of St. Louis beaux, had no interest in
going--the stalls of the thoroughbred horses--when a chat with the
jockeys was included; the cattle, costing per head what, we whispered to
each other, would set us up in a handsome income for life and buy a
Blue-grass farm with blooded horses, etc., which was my husband's ideal
home. And yet I do not remember that money ever dwelt very long in our
minds, we learned to have such a royal time on so little.

There was something that always came before the Kentucky farm with its
thoroughbreds. If ever he said, "If I get rich, I'll tell you what I'll
do," I knew as well before he spoke just what was to follow--in all the
twelve years he never altered the first plan--"I'll buy a home for
father and mother." They owned their home in Monroe then, but it was not
good enough to please him; nothing was good enough for his mother, but
the dear woman, with her simple tastes, would have felt far from
contented in the sort of home in which her son longed to place her. All
she asked was to gather her boys around her so that she could see them
every day.

As we wandered round the Fair-grounds, side-shows with their
monstrosities came into the General's programme, and the prize pigs were
never neglected. If we bent over the pens to see the huge things rolling
in lazy contentment, my husband went back to his farm days, and
explained what taught him to like swine, in which, I admit, I could not
be especially interested. His father had given each son a pig, with the
promise exacted in return that they should be daily washed and combed.
When the General described the pink and white collection of pets that
his father distributed among his sons, swine were no longer swine to me;
they were "curled darlings," as he pictured them. And now I recall, that
long after he showed such true appreciation of his friend's stock on one
of the Blue-grass farms in Kentucky where we visited, two pigs of royal
birth, whose ancestors dated back many generations, were given to us,
and we sent them home to our farmer brother to keep until we should
possess a place of our own, which was one of the mild indulgences of our
imagination, and which we hoped would be the diversion of our old age. I
think it rather strange that my husband looked so fearlessly into the
future. I hardly know how one so active could so calmly contemplate the
days when his steps would be slow. We never passed on the street an old
man with gray curls lying over his coat-collar, but the General
slackened his steps to say in a whisper, "There, Libbie, that's me,
forty years from now." And if there happened to be John Anderson's obese
old wife by him, toddling painfully along, red and out of breath, he
teasingly added, "And that's what you would _like_ to be." It was a
never-ending source of argument that I would be much more successful in
the way of looks if I were not so slender; and as my husband, even when
a lad, liked women who were slenderly formed, he loved to torment me, by
pointing out to what awful proportions a woman weighing what was to me a
requisite number of pounds sometimes arrived in old age.

A tournament was given in the great amphitheatre of the Fair building in
St. Louis, which was simply delightful to us. The horsemanship so
pleased my husband that he longed to bound down into the arena, take a
horse, and tilt with their long lances at the rings. Some of the
Confederate officers rode for the prizes, and their knights' costume and
good horses were objects of momentary envy, as they recalled the riding
academy exercises at West Point. Finally, the pretty ceremony of
crowning the Queen of Love and Beauty by the successful knight ended a
real gala day to us. At night a ball at the hotel gave us an opportunity
to be introduced to the beautiful woman, who sat on a temporary throne
in the dancing-hall, and we thought her well worth tilting lances for,
and that nothing could encourage good horsemanship like giving as a
prize the temporary possession of a pretty girl.

While in St. Louis we heard Mr. Lawrence Barrett for the first time. He
was of nearly the same age as my husband, and after three years'
soldiering in our war, as a captain in the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts
Infantry, had returned to his profession, full of ambition and the sort
of "go" that called out instant recognition from the General.

Mr. Barrett, in recalling lately the first time he met General Custer,
spoke of the embarrassing predicament in which he was placed by the
impetuous determination of one whom from that hour he cherished as his
warmest friend. He was playing "Rosedale," and my husband was charmed
with his rendering of the hero's part. He recalled for years the
delicate manner with which the lover allows his wounded hand to be
bound, and the subtle cunning with which he keeps the fair minister of
his hurts winding and unwinding the bandages. Then Mr. Barrett sang a
song in the play, which the General hummed for years afterward. I
remember his going pell-mell into the subject whenever we met, even when
Mr. Barrett was justifiably glowing with pride over his success in the
legitimate drama, and interrupting him to ask why he no longer played
"Rosedale." The invariable answer that the play required extreme youth
in the hero, had no sort of power to stop the continued demand for his
favorite melodrama. After we had seen the play--it was then acted for
the first time--the General begged me to wait in the lobby until he had
sought out Mr. Barrett to thank him, and on our return from the theatre
we lay in wait, knowing that he stopped at our hotel. As he was going
quietly to his room--reserved even then, boy that he was, with not a
trace of the impetuous, ardent lover he had so lately represented before
the foot-lights--off raced the General up the stairs, two steps at a
time, to capture him. He demurred, saying his rough traveling suit of
gray was hardly presentable in a drawing-room, but the General
persisted, saying, "The old lady told me I must seize you, and go you
must, for I don't propose to return without fulfilling her orders." Mr.
Barrett submitted, and was presented to our party, who had accompanied
us on the special car to St. Louis. The gray clothes were forgotten in a
moment, in the reception we gave him; but music came out from the
dining-room, and all rose to go, as Mr. Barrett supposed, to our rooms.
The General took a lady on his arm, I, at my husband's suggestion, put
my hand on Mr. Barrett's arm, and before he had realized it, he was
being marched into the brilliantly lighted ballroom, and bowing from
force of capture before the dais on which sat the Queen of Love and
Beauty.

All this delighted the General. Unconventional himself, he nothing
heeded the chagrin of Mr. Barrett over his inappropriate garb, and
chuckled like a schoolboy over his successful raid. I think Mr. Barrett
was not released until he pleaded the necessity for time to work. He was
then reading and studying far into the night, to make up for the lapse
in his profession that his army life had caused. He was not so absorbed
in his literary pursuits, however, that he did not take in the charm of
those beautiful St. Louis girls, and we three, in many a jolly evening
since, have gone back to the beauty of the bewitching belles, as they
floated by us in that ballroom or paused to capture the new _Richmonds_
on their already crowded field. Mr. Barrett even remembers that the
Queen of Love and Beauty vouchsafed him the eighth of a dance--for her
royal highness dispensed favors by piecemeal to the waiting throng about
her throne.

Our roving life brought us in contact with actors frequently. If the
General found that Mr. Barrett was to play in any accessible city, he
hurried me into my traveling-gown, flung his own dress-coat and my best
bonnet in a crumpled mass into a little trunk, and off we started in
pursuit. It is hard to speak fittingly of the meeting of those two men.
They joyed in each other as women do, and I tried not to look when they
met or parted, while they gazed with tears into each other's eyes, and
held hands like exuberant girls. Each kept track of the other's
movements, through the papers, and rejoiced at every success, while Mr.
Barrett, with the voice my husband thought perfect in intonation and
expression, always called to him the moment they met, "Well, old fellow,
hard at work making history, are you?"

A few evenings since I chanced to see Mr. Barrett's dresser, the Irish
"Garry," who had charge of his costumes in those days when the General
used to haunt the dressing-room in the last winter we were together in
New York. As _Cassius_ he entered the room in armor, and found his "old
man Custer" waiting for him. Garry tells me that my husband leaped
toward the mailed and helmeted soldier, and gave him some rousing bangs
on the corseleted chest, for they sparred like boys. Mr. Barrett,
parrying the thrust, said, "Custer, old man, you ought to have one of
these suits of armor for your work." "Ye gods, no!" said the General, in
mimic alarm; "with that glistening breast-plate as a target, every arrow
would be directed at me. I'd rather go naked than in that!"

[Illustration: KANSAS IN 1866 AND KANSAS TO-DAY.

In 1866 there were three hundred miles of railroad; in 1886, six
thousand one hundred and forty-four.]



CHAPTER XII.

WESTWARD HO!--FIGHTING DISSIPATION IN THE SEVENTH CAVALRY--GENERAL
CUSTER'S TEMPTATIONS.


THE junketing and frolic at St. Louis came to an end in a few days, and
our faces were again turned westward to a life about as different from
the glitter and show of a gay city in a holiday week as can be imagined.
Leavenworth was our first halt, and its well-built streets and excellent
stores surprised us. It had long been the outfitting place for our
officers. The soldiers drew supplies from the military post, and the
officers furnished themselves with camp equipage from the city. Here
also they bought condemned ambulances, and put them in order for
traveling-carriages for their families. I remember getting a faint
glimmer of the climate we were about to endure, by seeing a wagon
floored, and its sides lined with canvas, which was stuffed to keep out
the cold, while a little sheet-iron stove was firmly fixed at one end,
with a bit of miniature pipe protruding through the roof. The journey
from Fort Leavenworth to Santa Fé, New Mexico, then took six weeks.
Everything was transported in the great army wagons called
prairie-schooners. These were well named, as the two ends of the wagon
inclined upward, like the bow and stern of a fore-and-after. It is hard
to realize how strangely a long train of supplies for one of the distant
posts looked, as it wound slowly over the plains. The blue wagon-beds,
with white canvas covers rising up ever so high, disclosed, in the small
circle where they were drawn together at the back, all kinds of material
for the clothing and feeding of the army in the distant Territories. The
number of mules to a wagon varies; sometimes there are four, and again
six. The driver rides the near-wheel mule. He holds in his hand a broad
piece of leather, an inch and a half in width, which divides over the
shoulders of the lead or pilot mule, and fastens to the bit on either
side of his mouth. The leaders are widely separated. A small hickory
stick, about five feet long, called the jockey-stick, not unlike a
rake-handle, is stretched between a pilot and his mate. This has a
little chain at either end, and is attached by a snap or hook to the bit
of the other leader.

When the driver gives one pull on the heavy strap, the pilot mule veers
to the left, and pulls his mate. Two quick, sudden jerks mean to the
right, and he responds, and pushes his companion accordingly; and in
this simple manner the ponderous vehicle and all the six animals are
guided. . . . The most spirited mules are selected from the train for
leaders. They cannot be reached by the whip, and the driver must rely
upon the emphasis he puts into his voice to incite them to effort. They
know their names, and I have seen them respond to a call, even when not
accompanied by the expletives that seem to be composed especially for
this branch of charioteering. The driver of our mules naturally
suppressed his invectives in my presence. The most profane soldier holds
his tongue in a vise when he is in the presence of a woman, but he is
sorely put to it to find a substitute for the only language he considers
a mule will heed. I have seen our driver shake his head and move his
jaws in an ominous manner, when the provoking leaders took a skittish
leap on one side of the trail, or turned round and faced him with a
protest against further progress. They were sometimes so afraid of
buffalo, and always of Indians, they became rebellious to such a degree
he was at his wits' end to get any further go out of them. It was in
vain he called out, "You Bet, there!" "What are you about, Sal?" He
plainly showed and said that he found "such 'ere tongue-lashing wouldn't
work worth a rap with them vicious creeturs."

The driver, if he is not a stolid Mexican, takes much pride in his
mules. By some unknown means, poor as he is, he possesses himself of
fox or small coyote tails, which he fastens to their bridle, and the
vagaries in the clipping of the poor beasts' tails, would set the
fashion to a Paris hair-dresser. They are shaved a certain distance, and
then a tuft is left, making a bushy ring. This is done twice, if Bet or
Sal is vouchsafed an appendage long enough to admit of it; while the
tuft on the end, though of little use to intimidate flies, is a marvel
of mule-dudism. The coats of the beasts, so valued sometimes, shine like
the fine hair of a good horse. Alas! not when, in the final stages of a
long march, the jaded, half-starved beasts dragged themselves over the
trail. Driver and lead mules even, lose ambition under the scorching
sun, and with the insufficient food and long water famines.

The old reliability of a mule-team is the off-wheeler. It is his
leathery sides that can be most readily reached by the whip called a
"black-snake," and when the descent is made into a stream with muddy
bed, the cut is given to this faithful beast, and on his powerful
muscles depends the wrench that jerks the old schooner out of a slough.
The nigh or saddle mule does his part in such an emergency, but he soon
reasons that, because he carries the driver, not much more is expected
of him.

[Illustration: CONESTOGA WAGON, OR PRAIRIE-SCHOONER.]

The General and I took great interest in the names given to the animals
that pulled our traveling-wagon or hauled the supplies. As we rode by,
the voice of the driver bringing out the name he had chosen, and
sometimes affectionately, made us sure that the woman for whom the beast
was christened was the sweetheart of the apparently prosaic teamster. I
was avowedly romantic, and the General was equally so, though, after the
fashion of men, he did not proclaim it. Our place at the head of the
column was sometimes vacant, either because we were delayed for our
luncheon, or because my husband remained behind to help the
quartermaster or the head teamster get the train over a stream. It was
then that we had the advantage of hearing the names conferred on the
mules. They took in a wide range of female nomenclature, and we found it
great fun to watch the family life of one human being and his six
beasts. My husband had the utmost respect for a mule's sense. When I
looked upon them as dull, half-alive animals, he bade me watch how
deceitful were appearances, as they showed such cunning, and evinced the
wisdom of a quick-witted thoroughbred, when apparently they were
unobserving, sleepy brutes. It was the General who made me notice the
skill and rapidity with which a group of six mules would straighten out
what seemed to be a hopeless tangle of chains and harness, into which
they had kicked themselves when there was a disturbance among them. One
crack of the whip from the driver who had tethered them after a march,
accompanied by a plain statement of his opinion of such "fools," would
send the whole collection wide apart, and it was but a twinkling before
they extricated themselves from what I thought a hopeless mess. No
chains or straps were broken, and a meek, subdued look pervading the
group left not a trace of the active heels that a moment before had
filled the air. "There," the General used to say, "don't ever flatter
yourself again that a mule hasn't sense. He's got more wisdom than half
the horses in the line." It took a good while to convince me, as a more
logy-looking animal can hardly be found than the army mule, which never
in his existence is expected to go off from a walk, or to vary his life,
from the day he is first harnessed until he drops by the way, old or
exhausted.

At the time we were first on the Plains, many of the teamsters were
Mexicans, short, swarthy, dull, and hardly a grade above the animal. The
only ambition of these creatures seemed to be to vie with one another as
to who could snap the huge "black-snake" the loudest. They learned to
whisk the thong at the end around the ears of a shirking off leader, and
crack the lash with such an explosive sound that I never got over
jumping in my whole Plains life. I am sorry to say my high-strung horse
usually responded with a spring that sent me into thin air anywhere
between his ears and his tail, with a good deal of uncertainty as to
where I should alight. I suspect it was an innocent little amusement of
the drivers, when occasionally we remained behind at nooning, and had
to ride swiftly by the long train to reach the head of the column.

The prairie-schooner disappeared with the advancing railroad; but I am
glad to see that General Meigs has perpetuated its memory, by causing
this old means of transportation to be made one of the designs in the
beautiful frieze carved around the outside of the Pension Office at
Washington. Ungainly and cumbersome as these wagons were, they merit
some such monument, as part of the history of the early days of frontier
life in our country. We were in the West several years before the
railroad was completed to Denver, and the overland trains became an
every-day sight to us. Citizens used oxen a great deal for
transportation, and there is no picture that represents the weariness
and laggard progress of life like an ox-train bound for Santa Fé or
Denver. The prairie-schooner might set out freshly painted, or perhaps
washed in a creek, but it soon became gray with layer upon layer of
alkali dust. The oxen--well, nothing save a snail can move more slowly,
and the exhaustion of these beasts, after weeks of uninterrupted travel,
was pitiful. Imagine, also, the unending vigil when the trains were
insecurely guarded; for in those days there was an immense unprotected
frontier, and seemingly only a handful of cavalry. The regiments looked
well on the roster, but there were in reality but few men. A regiment
should number twelve hundred enlisted men; but at no time, unless during
the war, does the recruiting officer attempt to fill it to the maximum;
seventy men to a company is a large number. The desertions during the
first years of the reorganization of the army after the war thinned the
ranks constantly. Recruits could not be sent out fast enough to fill up
the companies. The consequence was, that all those many hundred miles of
trail where the Government undertook to protect citizens who carried
supplies to settlements and the mines, as well as its own trains of
material for building new posts, and commissary and quartermaster's
stores for troops, were terribly exposed and very poorly protected.

"The Indians were, unfortunately, located on the great highway of
Western travel; and commerce, not less than emigration, demanded their
removal." There are many conflicting opinions as to the course pursued
to clear the way; but I only wish to speak now of the impression the
trains made upon me, as we constantly saw the long, dusty,
exhausted-looking column wending its serpentine way over the sun-baked
earth. A group of cavalry, with their drooping horses, rode in front and
at the rear. The wagon-master was usually the very quintessence of
valor, It is true he formed such a habit of shooting that he grew
indiscriminate, and should any of the lawless desperadoes whom he hired
as teamsters or trainmen ruffle his blood, kept up to boiling-heat by
suspense, physical exposure, and exasperating employees, he knew no way
of settling troubles except the effectual quietus that a bullet secures.
I well remember my husband and Tom, who dearly loved to raise my
indignation, and create signs of horror and detestation at their tales,
walking me down to the Government train to see a wagon-master who had
shot five men. He had emigrated from the spot where he bade fair to
establish a private cemetery with his victims. No one needed a reason
for his sudden appearance after the number of his slain was known. And
yet no questions were put as to his past. He made a capital
wagon-master; he was obedient to his superiors, faithful, and on time
every morning, and the prestige of his past record answered so well with
the citizen employees, that his pistol remained unused in the holster.

It seemed to be expected that the train-master would be a villain.
Whatever was their record as to the manner of arranging private
disputes, a braver class of men never followed a trail, and some of them
were far superior to their chance lot. Their tender care of women who
crossed in these slow-moving ox-trains, to join their husbands, ought to
be commemorated. I have somewhere read one of their remarks when a girl,
going to her mother, had been secreted in a private wagon and there was
no knowledge of her presence until the Indians were discovered to be
near. "Tain't no time to be teamin' women folks over the trail with sech
a fearsom sperit for Injuns as I be." He, like some of the bravest men I
have known, spoke of himself as timid, while he knew no fear. It
certainly unnerved the most valiant man when Indians were lurking near,
to realize the fate that hung over women entrusted to their care. In a
later portion of my story occurs an instance of an officer hiding the
woman whose husband had asked him to take her into the States, even
before firing a shot at the adversary, as he knew with what redoubled
ferocity the savage would fight, at sight of the white face of a woman.
It makes the heart beat, even to look at a picture of the old mode of
traversing the highway of Western travel. The sight of the pictured
train, seemingly so peacefully lumbering on its sleepy way, the scarcely
revolving wheels, creaking out a protest against even that effort,
recalls the agony, the suspense, the horror with which every inch of
that long route has been made. The heaps of stones by the wayside, or
the buffalo bones, collected to mark the spot where some man fell from
an Indian arrow, are now disappearing. The hurricanes beating upon the
hastily prepared memorials have scattered the bleached bones of the
bison, and rolled into the tufted grass the few stones with which the
train-men, at risk of their own lives, have delayed long enough to mark
their comrade's grave.

The faded photographs or the old prints of those overland trains speak
to me but one story. Instantly I recall the hourly vigilance, the
restless eyes scanning the horizon, the breathless suspense, when the
pioneers or soldiers knew from unmistakable signs that the Indian was
lying in wait. In what contrast to the dull, logy, scarcely moving oxen
were these keen-eyed heroes, with every nerve strained, every sense on
the alert. And how they were maddened by the fate that consigned them,
at such moments, to the mercy of "dull, driven cattle." When I have seen
officers and soldiers lay their hands lovingly on the neck of their
favorite horse, and perhaps, when no one was near to scoff at
sentiment, say to me, "He saved my life," I knew well what a man felt
when his horse took fire at knowledge of danger to his rider and sped on
the wings of the wind, till he was lost to his pursuers, a tiny black
speck on the horizon. The pathos of a soldier's parting with his horse
moved us to quick sympathy. It often happens that a trooper retains the
same animal through his entire enlistment, and it comes to be his most
intimate friend. There is nothing he will not do to provide him with
food; if the forage runs low or the grazing is insufficient, stealing
for his horse is reckoned a virtue among soldiers. Imagine, then, the
anxiety, the real suffering, with which a soldier watches his faithful
beast growing weaker day by day, from exhaustion or partial starvation.
He walks beside him to spare his strength, and finally, when it is no
longer possible to keep up with the column, and the soldier knows how
fatal the least delay may be in an Indian country, it is more pitiful
than almost any sight I recall, the sadness of his departure from the
skeleton, whose eyes follow his master in wondering affection, as he
walks away with the saddle and accoutrements. It is the most merciful
farewell if a bullet is lodged in the brain of the famished or exhausted
beast, but some one else than his sorrowing master has to do the trying
deed.

This is not the last act in the harrowing scene. The soldier overtakes
the column, loaded down with his saddle, if the train is too far away to
deposit it in the company wagon. Then begins a tirade of annoying
comments to this man, still grieving over the parting with his best
friend. No one can conceive what sarcasm and wit can proceed from a
column of cavalry. Many of the men are Irish, and their reputation for
humor is world-wide. "Hullo, there! joined the doe-boys, eh?" "How do
you like hoofing it?" are tame specimens of the remarks from these
tormenting tongues; such a fusillade of sneers is followed not long
after by perhaps the one most gibing of all flinging himself off from
his horse, and giving his mount to the one he has done his best to stir
into wrath. A cavalryman hates, beyond any telling, enforced
pedestrianism, and "Share and share alike" is a motto that our Western
soldiers keep in use.

If the wagons held merchandise only, by which the pioneer hoped to grow
rich, the risk and suspense attending these endless marches were not
worth commemorating; but the bulk of the freight was the actual
necessities of life. Conceive, if you can, how these brave men felt
themselves chained, as they drove or guarded the food for those living
far in advance. There were not enough to admit of a charge on the enemy,
and the defensive is an exasperating position for a soldier or
frontiersman. He longs to advance on the foe; but no such privilege was
allowed them, for in these toilsome journeys they had often to use
precautions to hide themselves. If Indians were discovered to be roaming
near, the camp was established, trains corralled, animals secured inside
a temporary stockade; the fires for coffee were forbidden, for smoke
rises like a funnel, and hangs out an instant signal in that clear air.
Even the consoling pipe was smoked under a sage-bush or in a hollow, if
there happened to be a depression of the ground. Few words were spoken,
the loud oaths sank into low mutterings, and the bray of a hungry mule,
the clank of wagon-chains, or the stamping of cattle on the baked earth,
sounded like thunder in the ears of the anxious, expectant men.

Fortunately, our journey in these trains was not at once forced upon us
at Leavenworth. The Kansas Pacific Railroad, projected to Denver, was
built within ten miles of Fort Riley, and it was to be the future duty
of the Seventh Cavalry to guard the engineers in building the remainder
of the road out to the Rocky Mountains. It did not take us long to
purchase an outfit in the shops, for, as usual, our finances were low,
and consequently our wants were curtailed. We had the sense to listen to
a hint from some practical officer who had been far beyond railroads,
and buy a cook-stove the first thing, and this proved to be the most
important of our possessions when we reached our post, so far from the
land of shops. Not many hours after we left Leavenworth, the
settlements became farther and farther apart, and we began to realize
that we were actual pioneers. Kansas City was then but a small town,
seemingly with a hopeless future, as the bluffs rose so steeply from the
river, and even when the summit was reached, the ups and downs of the
streets were discouraging. It seemed, then, as if it would never be
worth while to use it as a site for a town; there would be a lifetime of
grading. It is very easy to become a city forefather in such a town, for
in the twenty-one years since then, it has grown into a city of over
132,000 inhabitants--but they are still grading. The lots which we could
have had almost for the asking, sell now for $1,000 a front foot.
Topeka, the capital, showed no evidence of its importance, except the
little circle of stars that surrounded it on our atlas. There were but
three towns beyond Fort Riley then, and those were built, if I may so
express it, of canvas and dug-outs.

Our railroad journey came to an end about ten miles from Fort Riley. The
laborers were laying track from that point. It had been a sort of gala
day, for General Sherman, on one of his tours of inspection of the
frontier posts, had been asked by railroad officials to drive the final
spike of the division of the road then finished. We found a wagon
waiting for our luggage, and an ambulance to carry us the rest of the
journey. These vehicles are not uncomfortable when the long seats on
either side are so arranged that they make a bed for the ill or wounded
by spreading them out, but as traveling conveyances I could not call
them a success. The seats are narrow, with no back to speak of, and
covered with carriage-cloth, which can keep you occupied, if the country
is rough, in regaining the slippery surface for any number of miles at a
stretch. Fort Riley came in sight when we were pretty well tired out. It
was my first view of a frontier post. I had either been afraid to
confess my ignorance, or so assured there was but one variety of fort,
and the subject needed no investigation, that Fort Riley came upon me as
a great surprise. I supposed, of course, it would be exactly like
Fortress Monroe, with stone walls, turrets for the sentinels, and a
deep moat. As I had heard more and more about Indians since reaching
Kansas, a vision of the enclosure where we would eventually live was a
great comfort to me. I could scarcely believe that the buildings, a
story and a half high, placed around a parade-ground, were all there was
of Fort Riley. The sutler's store, the quartermaster and commissary
storehouses, and the stables for the cavalry horses, were outside the
square, near the post, and that was all. No trees, and hardly any signs
of vegetation except the buffalo-grass that curled its sweet blades
close to the ground, as if to protect the nourishment it held from the
blazing sun. The post was beautifully situated on a wide plateau, at the
junction of the Republican and Smoky Hill rivers. The Plains, as they
waved away on all sides of us, like the surface of a vast ocean, had the
charm of great novelty, and the absence of trees was at first forgotten
in the fascination of seeing such an immense stretch of country, with
the soft undulations of green turf rolling on, seemingly, to the setting
sun. The eye was relieved by the fringe of cottonwood that bordered the
rivers below us.

Though we came afterward to know, on toilsome marches under the
sweltering sun, when that orb was sometimes not even hidden for one
moment in the day by a grateful cloud, but the sky was spread over as a
vast canopy of dazzling blue, that enthusiasm would not outlast such
trials, still, a rarely exultant feeling takes possession of one in the
gallops over the Plains, when in early spring they are a trackless sea
of soft verdure. And the enthusiasm returns when the campaign for the
summer is over, and riding is taken up for pleasure. My husband was full
of delight over the exquisite haze that covered the land with a faint
purple light, and exclaimed, "Now I begin to realize what all that
transparent veil of faint color means in Bierstadt's paintings of the
Rocky Mountains and the West." But we had little time to take in
atmospheric effects, as evening was coming on and we were yet to be
housed, while servants, horses, dogs and all of us were hungry after our
long drive. The General halted the wagon outside the post, and left us
to go and report to the commanding officer.

At that time I knew nothing of the hospitality of a frontier post, and I
begged to remain in the wagon until our quarters were assigned us in the
garrison. Up to this time we had all been in splendid spirits; the
novelty, the lovely day and exhilarating air, and all the possibilities
of a future with a house of our own, or, rather, one lent to us by Uncle
Sam, seemed to fill up a delightful cup to the brim. We sat outside the
post so long--at least it seemed so to us--and grew hungrier and
thirstier, that there were evident signs of mutiny. The truth is,
whenever the General was with us, with his determination of thinking
that nothing could exceed his surroundings, it was almost impossible to
look upon anything except in the light that he did. He gave color to
everything, with his hopeful views. Eliza sat on the seat with the
driver, and both muttered occasional hungry words, but our Diana and I
had the worst of it. We had bumped over the country, sometimes violently
jammed against the framework of the canvas cover, and most of the time
sliding off from the slippery cushions upon the insulted dogs--for of
course the General had begged a place for two of them. He had kept them
in order all the way from the termination of the railroad; but now that
he was absent, Turk and Byron renewed hostilities, and in the narrow
space they scrambled and snarled and sprang at each other. When the
General came back he found the little hands of our curly-headed girl
clenched over the collar of Byron at one end of the ambulance, while
Turk sat on my lap, swelling with rage because my fingers were twisted
in the chain that held him, as I sat at the door shaking with terror. It
was quick work to jerk the burly brute out of the door, and end our
troubles for the time; but the General, after quieting our panic, threw
us into a new one by saying we must make up our minds to be the guests
of the commanding officer. Tired, travel-stained, and unaccustomed to
what afterward became comparatively easy, we were driven to one of the
quarters and made our entrance among strangers. I then realized, for
the first time, that we had reached a spot where the comforts of life
could not be had for love or money.

It is a strange sensation to arrive at a place where money is of little
use in providing shelter, and here we were beyond even the commonest
railroad hotel. Mrs. Gibbs, who received us, was put to a severe test
that night. Already a room in her small house had been prepared for
General Sherman, who had arrived earlier in the day, and now there were
five of us bearing down upon her. I told her how I had begged to be
allowed to go into quarters, even though there were no preparations, not
even a fireplace where Eliza could have cooked us food enough over the
coals to stay hunger; but she assured me that, having been on the Plains
before the war, she was quite accustomed to a state of affairs where
there was nothing to do but quarter yourself upon strangers; and then
gave up her own room to our use. From that night--which was a real trial
to me, because I felt so keenly the trouble we caused them all--dates
the beginning of a friendship that has lasted through the darkest as
well as the brightest hours of my life. I used to try to remember
afterward, when for nine years we received and entertained strangers who
had nowhere else to go, the example of undisturbed hospitality shown me
by my first friend on the frontier.

The next day my husband assumed command of the garrison, and our few
effects were moved into a large double house built for the commanding
officer. There were parlors on one side, whose huge folding doors were
flung open, and made our few articles of furniture look lonely and
meagre. We had but six wooden chairs to begin with, and when, a few
miles more of the railroad being completed, a party of one hundred and
fifty excursionists arrived, I seated six of them--yes, seven, for one
was tired enough to sit on a trunk--and then concluded I would own up
that in the larger rooms of the house, into which they looked
significantly, there were no more chairs concealed. I had done my best,
and tried to make up for not seating or feeding them, by very busy
talking. Meanwhile there were incessant inquiries for the General. It
seems that he had begun that little trick of hiding from strangers, even
then. He had seen the advancing column of tourists, and fled. One of the
servants finally unearthed him, and after they had gone and he found
that I had been so troubled to think I could do nothing for the
citizens, and so worried because he was _non est_, he did not leave me
in such strait again until I had learned to adapt myself to the customs
of the country where the maxim that "every man's house is his castle" is
a fallacy.

The officers who had garrisoned the post began to move out as our own
Seventh Cavalry officers reported for duty. The colonel of the regiment
arrived, and ranked us out of our quarters, in this instance much to our
relief, as the barrack of a building would never fill up from the slow
rate at which our belongings increased. This army regulation, to which I
have elsewhere referred, was then new to me. The manner in which the
Government sees fit to arrange quarters is still amusing to me, but I
suppose no better plan has ever been thought out. In the beginning of a
well-built post, there is but little choice. It is the aim to make the
houses, except that of the commanding officer, exactly alike. From time
to time new quarters are built. The original plan is not followed;
possibly a few improvements are added to the newer houses. Ah! then the
disturbance ensues! Fort Vancouver, in Washington Territory, is one of
the old posts, quite interesting from the heterogeneous collection of
quarters added through fifty years. I was spending a day or two, in
1875, with my husband's niece, whose husband was some distance down on
the list, and consequently occupied a low log building, that dated back
no one knows how far. Even in that little cabin they were insecure, for
in reply to my question, "Surely you are permanently fixed, and won't be
moved," they pathetically answered: "Not by any means! We live from hour
to hour in uncertainty, and there are worse quarters than these, which
we walk by daily with dread, as ---- ranks us, and he is going to be
married, so out we go!"

Assigning quarters according to rank goes on smoothly for a time, but
occasionally an officer reports for duty who ranks everyone. Not long
ago this happened at a distant post, and the whole line went down like a
row of bricks, as eight officers' families were ousted by his arrival,
the lowest in rank having to move out one of the non-commissioned
officers who had lived in a little cabin with two rooms. If possible, in
choosing a time to visit our frontier posts, let this climax of affairs
be avoided. Where there is little to vary life the monotony is apt to be
deeply stirred by private rages, which would blow away in smoke if there
was anything else to think of. It is rather harrowing to know that some
one has an eye on the home you have furnished with your own means. I
could hardly blame a man I knew, who, in an outburst of wrath concerning
an officer who had at last uprooted him, secretly rejoiced that a small
room that had been the object of envy, having been built at the
impoverished post of refuse lumber from the stables, was unendurable on
a warm day; and the new possessor was left to find it out when he had
settled himself in the coveted house.

[Illustration: THE OFFICER'S DRESS--A NEW-COMER FOR A CALL.]

After our quarters were chosen by the Colonel, we took another house, of
moderate size, bought a few pieces of furniture of an officer leaving
the post, and began to live our first homelike life. The arrival of the
new officers was for a time our only excitement. Most of them had been
in the volunteer service, and knew nothing of the regular army. There
was no one to play practical jokes on the first comers; but they had
made some ridiculous errors in dress and deportment, when reporting at
first, and they longed to take out their mortification at these harmless
mistakes, by laying pitfalls for the verdant ones who were constantly
arriving. The discipline of the regular army, and the punctilious
observance compelling the wearing of the uniform, was something totally
new to men who had known little of parades in their fighting days in the
tented field. If it was possible to intimidate a new officer by tales of
the strictness of the commanding officer regarding the personal
appearance of his regiment, they did so. One by one, those who had
preceded the last comer called in to pay their compliments; but by
previous agreement they one and all dwelt upon the necessity of his
making a careful toilet before he approached the august presence of the
Lieutenant-colonel. Then one or two offered carelessly to help him get
himself up for the occasion. Our brother Tom had arrived by this time,
but there was nothing to be made out of him, for he had served a few
months with a regular regiment before being transferred to ours. He was
therefore sent one day to prepare me for the call of an officer who had
been assisted into his new uniform by the mischievous knot of men who
had been longest with us. If I had known to what test I was to be put to
keep my face straight, or had dreamed what a gullible creature had come
into their roguish hands, I would not have consented to receive him. But
it was one of the imperative roles that each officer, after reporting
for duty, must pay a formal visit to the commanding officer and his
family. I went into the parlor to find a large, and at that time
awkward, man, in full uniform, which was undeniably a tight fit for his
rather portly figure. He wore cavalry boots, the first singularity I
noticed, for they had such expanse of top I could not help seeing them.
They are of course out of order with a dress coat. The red sash, which
was then _en règle_ for all officers, was spread from up under his arms
to as far below the waist line as its elastic silk could be stretched.
The sword-belt, with sabre attached, surrounded this; and, folded over
the wide red front, were his large hands, encased in white cotton
gloves. He never moved them; nor did he move an eyelash, so far as I
could discover, though it seems he was full of internal tremors, for the
officers had told him on no account to remove his regulation hat. At
this he demurred, and told them I would surely think he was no
gentleman; but they assured him I placed military etiquette far above
any ordinary rule for manners in the presence of ladies, while the truth
was I was rather indifferent as to military rules of dress. As this poor
man sat there, I could think of nothing but a child who is so
carefully dressed in new furbelows that it sits as if it were carved out
of wood, for fear of disarranging the finished toilet. Diana made an
almost instant excuse to leave the room. The General's mustache
quivered, and he moved restlessly around, even coming again to shake
hands with the automaton and bid him welcome to the regiment; but
finally he dashed out of the door to enjoy the outburst of mirth that he
could no longer control. I was thus left to meet the situation as best I
could, but was not as fortunate as the General, who had a friendly
mustache to curtain the quiver in his mouth. The poor victim apparently
recalled to himself the martial attitude of Washington crossing the
Delaware, or Napoleon at Waterloo, and did not alter the first position
he had assumed. In trying to prevent him from seeing my confusion, I
redoubled my efforts to entertain him, and succeeded only too well, for
when he slowly moved out of the door I found myself tired out, and full
of wrath toward my returning family. I never could remember that these
little spurts of rage were the primest fun for my people. The poor
officer who had been so guyed did not gratify his tormentors by getting
angry, but fell to planning new mischief for the next arrival. He lost
no time in begging my pardon for the hat, and though I never saw much of
him afterward, he left only pleasant impressions on my mind of a
kind-hearted man, and one of those rare beings who knew how to take a
joke.

We derived great pleasure from our horses and dogs during the autumn. A
very pretty sorrel horse was selected for Diana, but we had little
opportunity to have her for a companion. The young officers engaged her
a week in advance, and about all we saw of her riding was an avalanche
of flying curls as she galloped off beside some dashing cavalier. I
remember once, when she was engaged otherwise, and my horse temporarily
disabled, I took hers, and my husband kept begging me to guide the
animal better, for it was nettling his fiery beast by insisting upon too
close proximity. It finally dawned upon us that the little horse was a
constitutional snuggler, and we gave up trying to teach him new tricks.
But how the General shouted, and bent himself forward and back in his
saddle, after the horse had almost crushed his leg and nothing would
keep him at a distance. He could hardly wait to get back to garrison,
and when we did, he walked into the midst of a collection of the beaux
and told the whole story of how dreadfully demoralized a cavalry horse
in good and regular standing could become, in the hands of a belle. The
girl blushed, and the officers joined in the laughter, and yet every one
of them had doubtless been busy in teaching that little telltale animal
this new development of character.

It was delightful ground to ride over about Fort Riley. Ah! what happy
days they were, for at that time I had not the slightest realization of
what Indian warfare was, and consequently no dread. We knew that the
country they infested was many miles away, and we could ride in any
direction we chose. The dogs would be aroused from the deepest sleep at
the very sight of our riding costumes, and by the time we were well into
them and whip in hand, they leaped and sprang about the room, tore out
on the gallery, and tumbled over one another and the furniture in racing
back, and such a din of barking and joyful whining as they set up--the
noisier the better for my husband. He snapped his whip to incite them,
and bounded around crying out, "Whoop'em up! whoop'em up!" adding to the
mêlée by a toot on the dog-horn he had brought from the Texas
deer-hunts. All this excited the horses, and when I was tossed into the
saddle amidst this turmoil, with the dogs leaping around the horses'
heads, I hardly knew whether I was myself or the venturesome young woman
who spends her life in taking airy flights through paper-covered circles
in a sawdust ring. It took some years for me to accustom myself to the
wild din and hubbub of our starting for a ride or a hunt. As I have said
before, I had lived quietly at home, and my decorous, suppressed father
and mother never even spoke above a certain tone. The General's father,
on the contrary, had rallied his sons with a hallo and resounding
shouts from their childhood. So the hullabaloo of all our merry
startings was a thing of my husband's early days, and added zest to
every sport he undertook.

Coming from Michigan, where there is a liberal dispensation of swamp and
quagmire, having been taught by dear experience that Virginia had
quicksands and sloughs into which one could disappear with great
rapidity, and finally, having experienced Texas with its bayous, baked
with a deceiving crust of mud, and its rivers with quicksand beds, very
naturally I guided my horse around any lands that had even a depression.
Indeed, he spoke volumes with his sensitive ears, as the turf darkened
in hollows, and was ready enough to be guided by the rein on his
satin-like neck, to the safer ground. It was a long time before I
realized that all the Plains were safe. We chose no path, and stopped at
no suspicion of a slough. Without a check on the rein, we flew over
divide after divide, and it is beyond my pen to describe the wild sense
of freedom that takes possession of one in the first buoyant knowledge
that no impediment, seemingly, lies between you and the setting sun.
After one has ridden over conventional highways, the beaten path marked
out by fences, hedges, bridges, etc., it is simply an impossibility to
describe how the blood bounds in the veins at the freedom of an
illimitable sea. No spongy, uncertain ground checks the course over the
Plains; it is seldom even damp, and the air is so exhilarating one feels
as if he had never breathed a full breath before. Almost the first words
General Sherman said to me out there were, "Child, you'll find the air
of the Plains is like champagne," and so it surely was. Oh, the joy of
taking in air without a taint of the city, or even the country, as we
know it in farm life! As we rode on, speaking enthusiastically of the
fragrance and purity of the atmosphere, our horses neighed and whinnied
to each other, and snuffed the air, as if approving all that was said of
that "land of the free." My husband could hardly breathe, from the very
ecstasy of realizing that nothing trammeled him. He scarcely left the
garrison behind him, where he was bound by chains of form and
ceremony--the inevitable lot of an officer, where all his acts are under
surveillance, where he is obliged to know that every hour in the day he
is setting an example--before he became the wildest and most frolicsome
of light-hearted boys. His horse and he were one, not only as he sat in
the saddle, a part of the animal, swayed by every motion of the active,
graceful beast, but such unison of spirit took possession of each, it
was hard to believe that a human heart did not beat under the broad,
splendid chest of the high-strung animal.

It were well if human hearts responded to our fondness, and came
instantly to be _en rapport_ with us, as did those dear animals when
they flew with us out to freedom and frolic, over the divides that
screened us from the conventional proprieties. My husband's horse had
almost human ways of talking with him, as he leaned far out of the
saddle and laid his face on the gallant animal's head, and there was a
gleam in the eye, a proud little toss of the head, speaking back a whole
world of affection. The General could ride hanging quite out of sight
from the opposite side, one foot caught in the stirrup, his hand on the
mane; and it made no difference to his beloved friend, he took any mode
that his master chose to cling to him as a matter of course, and
curveted and pranced in the loftiest, proudest way. His manner said as
plainly as speech, "See what we two can do!" I rarely knew him to have a
horse that did not soon become so pervaded with his spirit that they
appeared to be absolutely one in feeling. I was obliged, usually, to
submit to some bantering slur on my splendid Custis Lee. Perhaps a dash
at first would carry the General and the dogs somewhat in advance. My
side had a trick of aching if we started off on a gallop, and I was
obliged to keep a tight rein on Custis Lee at first, as he champed at
the bit, tossed his impatient head, and showed every sign of ignominious
shame. The General, as usual, called out, "Come on, old lady! Hurry up
that old plug of yours; I have one orderly; don't want another"--this
because the soldier in attendance is instructed to ride at a certain
distance in the rear. After a spurt of tremendous speed, back flew the
master to beg me to excuse him; he was ready now to ride slowly till
"that side of mine came round to time," which it quickly did, and then I
revenged the insult on my swift Lee, and the maligner at last called
out, "That's not so bad a nag, after all."

The horses bounded from the springy turf as if they really hated the
necessity of touching the sod at all. They were very well matched in
speed, and as on we flew were "neck by neck, stride by stride, never
changing our place." Breathless at last, horses, dogs and ourselves made
a halt. The orderly with his slow troop horse was a speck in the
distance. Of course I had gone to pieces little by little, between the
mad speed and rushing through the wind of the Plains. Those were
ignominious days for women--thank fortune they are over! Custom made it
necessary to disfigure ourselves with the awkward waterfall, and, no
matter how luxuriant the hair, it seemed a necessity to still pile up
more. With many a wrathful opinion regarding the fashion, the General
took the hairpins, net and switch, and thrust them into the breast of
his coat, as he said, "to clear the decks for action for another race."
It was enough that he offered to carry these barbarities of civilization
for me, without my bantering him about his ridiculousness if some
accidental opening of his coat in the presence of the officers, who were
then strangers, revealed what he scoffingly called "dead women's hair."

A fresh repinning, an ignoring of hairpins this time, re-girthing of
saddles, some proud patting of the horses' quiving flanks, passing of
the hand over the full veins of their necks, praise of the beautiful
distended, blood-red nostrils, and on we started for another race. If
spur or whip had been used in speeding our horses, it would have spoiled
the sport for me, as the effort and strain looks so cruelly like work;
but the animals were as impatient for a run as we were to start them. It
must be a rare moment of pleasure to all horse-lovers, to watch an
animal flying over the ground, without an incentive save the love of
motion born in the beast. When we came to certain smooth stretches on
the road, where we were accustomed to give the horses the rein, they
grew excited and impatient, and teased for the run if we chanced to be
earnestly talking and forgot to take it. How fortunate is one who can
ride a mythological Pegasus as well as a veritable horse! There is
nothing left for the less gifted but to use others' words for our own
enthusiasm:

    "Now we're off, like the winds, to the plains whence they came;
     And the rapture of motion is thrilling my frame!
     On, on, speeds my courser, scarce printing the sod,
     Scarce crushing a daisy to mark where we trod;
     On, on, like a deer when the hounds' early bay
     Awakes the wild echoes, away and away!
     Still faster, still farther, he leaps at my cheer,
     Till the rush of the startled air whirs in my ear!"

Buchanan Read not only made General Sheridan's splendid black horse
immortal, but his grateful owner kept that faithful beast, when it was
disabled, in a paddock at Leavenworth, and then, when age and old wounds
ended his life, he perpetuated his memory by having the taxidermist set
him up in the Military Museum at Governor's Island, that the boys of
this day, to whom the war is only history, may remember what a splendid
part a horse took in those days, when soldiers were not the only heroes.
I thank a poet for having written thus for us to whom the horse is
almost human:

    "I tell thee, stranger, that unto me
         The plunge of a fiery steed
     Is a noble thought--to the brave and free
     It is music, and breath, and majesty--
         'Tis the life of a noble deed;
     And the heart and the mind are in spirit allied
     In the charm of a morning's glorious ride."

[Illustration: A SUSPENDED EQUESTRIENNE.]

There was a long, smooth stretch of land beyond Fort Riley, where we
used to speed our horses, and it even now seems one of the fair spots
of earth, it is so marked by happy hours. In reality it was a level
plain without a tree, and the dried buffalo-grass had then scarcely a
tinge of green. This neutral-tinted, monotonous surface continued for
many unvarying miles. We could do as we chose after we had passed out of
sight of the garrison, and our orderly, if he happened to have a decent
horse that could overtake us, kept drawing the muscles of his face into
a soldierly expression, trying not to be so undignified as to laugh at
the gamesomeness, the frolic, of his commanding officer. What a relief
for the poor fellow, in his uneventful life, to get a look at these
pranks! I can see him now, trying to keep his head away and look
unconscious, but his eyes turned in their sockets in spite of him and
caught it all. Those eyes were wild with terror one day, when our horses
were going full tilt, and the General with one powerful arm, lifted me
out of my saddle and held me poised in the air for a moment. Our horses
were so evenly matched in speed they were neck and neck, keeping close
to each other, seemingly regardless of anything except the delight at
the speed with which they left the country behind them. In the brief
moment that I found myself suspended between heaven and earth, I
thought, with lightning rapidity, that I must cling to my bridle and
keep control of my flying horse, and trust to good fortune whether I
alighted on his ear or his tail. The moment I was thus held aloft was an
hour in uncertainty, but nothing happened, and it taught me to prepare
for sudden raids of the commanding officer after that. I read of this
feat in some novel, but was incredulous until it was successfully
practiced on me. The Custer men were given to what their Maryland father
called "toting" us around. I've seen them pick up their mother and carry
her over the house as if she weighed fifty instead of one hundred and
fifty pounds. There was no chance for dignified anger with them. No
matter how indignant I might be, or how loftily I might answer back, or
try one of those eloquent silences to which we women sometimes resort in
moments of wrath, I was snatched up by either my husband or Tom, and
had a chance to commune with the ceiling in my airy flight up and down
stairs and through the rooms.

One of our rides marked a day with me, for it was the occasion of a very
successful exchange of horses. My husband used laughingly to refer to
the transaction as unfortunate for him; but as it was at his suggestion,
I clung with pertinacity to the bargain. My horse, Custis Lee, being a
pacer, my husband felt in the fascination of that smooth, swift gait I
might be so wedded to it I could never endure anything else; so he
suggested, while we were far out on our evening ride, that we change
saddles and try each other's horse. I objected, for though I could ride
a spirited horse when I had come to know him, I dreaded the early stages
of acquaintance. Besides, Phil was a high-strung colt, and it was a
venturesome experiment to try him with a long riding-skirt, loaded with
shot, knocking about his legs. At that time the safe fashion of short
habits was not in vogue, and the high winds of Kansas left no
alternative to loading our skirts. We kept opening the hem and inserting
the little shot-bags as long as we lived there. Fortunately for me, I
was persuaded into trying the colt. As soon as he broke into a long
swinging trot, I was so enchanted and so hilarious with the motion, that
I mentally resolved never to yield the honor temporarily conferred upon
me. It was the beginning of an eternal vigilance for my husband. The
animal was so high-strung, so quick, notwithstanding he was so large,
that he sprang from one side of the road to the other on all fours,
without the slightest warning. After I had checked him and recovered my
breath, we looked about for a cause for this fright, and found only the
dark earth where slight moisture had remained from a shower. In order to
get the smoothest trotting out of him, I rode with a snaffle, and I
never knew the General's eyes to be off him for more than an instant.
The officers protested, and implored my husband to change back and give
me the pacer. But his pride was up, and he enjoyed seeing the animal
quivering with delight at doing his best under a light weight, and he
had genuine love for the brute that, though so hard to manage in his
hands, responded to my lightest touch or to my voice.

As time advanced and our regiment gained better and better horseflesh,
it was a favorite scheme to pit Phil against new-comers. We all started
out, a gay cavalcade of noisy, happy people, and the stranger was given
the post of honor next to the wife of the commanding officer. Of course
he thought nothing of this, as he had been at the right of the hostess
at dinner. The other officers saw him take his place as if it were the
most natural thing in the world, but in reality it was a deep-laid plot.
Phil started off with so little effort that our visitor thought nothing
of keeping pace for a while, and then he began to use his spurs. As my
colt took longer and longer strides, there was triumph in the faces of
the officers, and a gleam of delight in the General's eye. Then came the
perplexity in my guest's face at a trotter outdoing the most splendid
specimen of a loping horse, as he thought. A little glance from my
husband, which incited me to give a sign and a low word or two that only
Phil and I understood, and off we flew, leaving the mystified man urging
his nag in vain. It was not quite my idea of hospitality so to introduce
a new-comer to our horses' speed; but then he was not a transient guest,
and the sooner he knew all our "tricks and our manners" the better,
while it was beyond my power of self-denial to miss seeing the proud
triumph in my husband's eyes as he rode up and patted the colt and
received the little return of affection from the knowing beast. Phil
went on improving in gait and swiftness as he grew in years, and I once
had the courage, afterward, to speed him on the Government race-track at
Fort Leavenworth, though to this day I cannot understand how I got up to
concert pitch; and I could never be induced to try such an experiment
again. I suppose I often made as good time, trotting beside my husband's
horse, but to go alone was something I was never permitted to do on a
roadway. The General and brother Tom connived to get this bit of
temporary courage out of me by an offhand conversation, as we rode
toward the track, regarding what Phil might be made to do under the
best circumstances, which I knew meant the snaffle-rein, a light weight,
and my hand, which the General had trained to be steady. I tried to beg
off and suggest either one of them for the trial; but the curb which
they were obliged to use, as Phil was no easy brute to manage with them,
made him break his gait, and a hundred and seventy pounds on his back
was another obstacle to speed. It ended in my being teased into the
experiment, and though I called out, after the first half-mile, that I
could not breathe any longer, the air rushed into my lungs so rapidly,
they implored and urged by gesture and enthusiastic praise, until I made
the mile they had believed Phil equal to in three minutes.

I wish I could describe what delight my husband took in his horse life,
what hours of recreation and untiring pleasure he got out of our
companionship with Jack Rucker, Phil and Custis Lee. On that day we
three and our orderly were alone on the track, and such a merry, noisy,
care-forgetting three as we were! the General, with his stop-watch in
hand, cheering me, urging the horse wildly, clapping his hands, and
hallooing with joy as the animal responded to his expectation. Phil's
coming up to their boasts and anticipations was just a little episode in
our life that went to prove what a rare faculty he had of getting much
out of little, and of how persistently the boy in him cropped out as
soon as an opportunity came to throw care aside. It is one of the
results of a life of deprivation, that pleasures, when they come, are
rarities, and the enjoyment is intensified. In our life they lasted so
short a time that we had no chance to learn the meaning of satiety.

One of the hardest trials, in our first winter with the regiment, was
that arising from the constantly developing tendency to hard drinking.
Some who came to us had held up for a time, but they were not restricted
in the volunteer service, as a man who fought well was forgiven much
else that came in the rare intervals of peace. In the new state of
affairs, as went the first few months of the regiment, so would it go
for all time. There was a regiment stationed in New Mexico at that
time, the record of which was shameful. We heard of its career by every
overland train that came into our post, and from officers who went out
on duty. General Sherman said that, with such a set of drunkards, the
regiment, officers and all, should be mustered out of the service.
Anything, then, rather than let our Seventh follow such a course. But I
must not leave the regiment at that point in its history. Eventually it
came out all right, ably officered and well soldiered, but it was the
terror of the country in 1867. While General Custer steadily fought
against drunkenness, he was not remorseless or unjust. I could cite one
instance after another, to prove with what patience he strove to reclaim
some who were, I fear, hopeless when they joined us. His own greatest
battles were not fought in the tented field; his most glorious combats
were those waged in daily, hourly fights on a more hotly contested field
than was ever known in common warfare. The truest heroism is not that
which goes out supported by strong battalions and reserve artillery. It
is when a warrior for the right enters into the conflict alone, and
dares to exercise his will in defiance of some established custom in
which lies a lurking, deadly peril or sin. I have known my husband to
almost stand alone in his opinion regarding temperance, in a garrison
containing enough people to make a good-sized village. He was thoroughly
unostentatious about his convictions, and rarely said much; but he stood
to his fixed purpose, purely from horror of the results of drinking. I
would not imply that in garrison General Custer was the only man
invariably temperate. There were some on pledge; some temperate because
they paid such a physical penalty by actual illness that they could not
drink; some restrained because their best-loved comrade, weak in his own
might, "swore off" on consideration that the stronger one of the two
backed him up; some (God bless them!) refused because the woman they
loved grieved, and was afraid of even one friendly glass. What I mean
is, that the general custom, against which there is little opposition in
any life, is, either to indulge in the social glass, or look leniently
upon the habit. Without preaching or parading his own strength in having
overcome the habit, General Custer stood among the officers and men as
firm an advocate of temperance as any evangelist whose life is devoted
to the cause.

I scarcely think I would have realized the constantly recurring
temptations of my husband's life, had I not been beside him when he
fought these oft-repeated battles. The pleasure he had in convivial
life, the manner in which men and women urged him to join them in
enjoyment of the sparkling wine, was enough to have swept every
resolution to the winds. Sometimes the keen blade of sarcasm, though set
with jewels of wit and apparent badinage, added a cut that my ears, so
quickened to my husband's hard position, heard and grieved over. But he
laughed off the carefully concealed thrust. When we were at home in our
own room, if I asked him, blazing anew with wrath at such a stab, how he
kept his temper, he replied, "Why notice it? Don't I know what I've been
through to gain my victory? That fellow, you must remember, has fought
and lost, and knows in his soul he'll go to the dogs if he doesn't hold
up, and, Libbie, he can't do it, and I am sorry for him." Our brother
Tom was less patient, less forbearing, for in one of his times of
pledge, when the noble fellow had given his word not to taste a drop for
a certain season if a man he loved, and about whom he was anxious, would
do the same, he was sneered at by a brother officer, with gibes at his
supposed or attempted superiority. Tom leaped across the table in the
tent where they sat at dinner, and shook up his assailant in a very
emphatic way. I laugh in remembrance of his choler, and am proud of it
now. I, as "gentlewoman," descended from a line of decorous gentlemen
and ladies, ought to be horrified at one man's seizing another by the
collar and pouncing upon him, regardless of the Marquis of Queensbury
rules. But I know that circumstances alter cases, and in our life an
occasional good shaking was better than the slow justice of a tedious
court-martial.

The General would not smile, but there was a noticeable twisting of his
mustache, and he took himself out of the way to conceal his feelings,
when I pointed my discerning finger at him and said, "You're laughing,
your own self, and you think Tom was right, even if you don't say a
word, and look so dreadfully commandery-officery at both of us!" The
General did not keep himself aloof, and sometimes, in convivial scenes,
when he joined in the increasing hilarity, was so infused with the
growing artificial joviality, and grew jollier and jollier, that he was
accused himself of being the wildest drinker of them all. But some one
was sure to speak up and say, as the morning approached, "I have sat
beside Custer the night through, and if he's intoxicated it's over
water, for he has not tasted a drop of wine--more loss to him, I say."

Only a short time before the final battle, he dined in New York, at a
house where General McDowell was also a guest. When no one else could
hear, he told me, with a warning not to talk of it, that he had some one
to keep him company, and described the bowl of ice that stood in the
midst of the untouched semicircle of glasses before General McDowell,
and how the ice seemed just as satisfactory as any of the rare
beverages. We listened once to John B. Gough, and the General's
enthusiasm over his earnestness and his eloquence was enhanced by the
well-known fact of his failures, and the plucky manner in which he
started anew. Everybody cries over Jefferson's _Rip Van Winkle_, even if
they have never encountered drunkenness, and my husband wept like a
child because of his intense sympathy for the weakness of the poor
tempted soul, harrowed as he was by a Xantippe.

If women in civil life were taken among men, as army women are, in all
sorts of festivities, they would get a better idea of what strength of
purpose it requires to carry out a principle. At some army posts the
women go to the sutler's store with their husbands, for billiards or
amusements. There is a separate room for the soldiers, so we see nothing
of those poor fellows who never can stay sober. The sutler's is not only
the store, but it is the club-house for the garrison, and I have known
posts where the officers were so guarded about their drinking, that
women could go among them and join in any amusement without being liable
to the distress that the sight of an intoxicated man invariably gives to
a sensitive woman. If I saw drunken soldiers reeling off after pay-day,
it was the greatest possible relief to me to know, that out of hundreds
only a few were married, as but a certain number of the laundresses were
allowed to a company. So no woman's heart was going to be wrung by
unsteady steps approaching her door, and the sight of the vacant eyes of
a weak husband. It took away half the sting and shock, to know that a
soldier's spree was not one that recoiled on an innocent woman.

As I look back upon our life, I do not believe there ever was any path
so difficult as those men on the frontier trod. Their failures, their
fights, their vacillations, all were before us, and it was an anxious
life to be watching who won and who lost in those moral warfares. You
could not separate yourself from the interests of one another. It was a
network of friendships that became more and more interwoven by common
hardships, deprivations, dangers, by isolation and the daily sharing of
joys and troubles. I am thankful for the certainty that there is some
one who scores all our fights and all our victories; for on His records
will be written the story of the thorny path over which an officer
walked if he reached the goal.

Women shielded in homes, supported by example, unconscious of any
temptation save the mildest, will realize with me what it was to watch
the quivering mouth of a man who voluntarily admitted that until he was
fifty he knew he was in hourly peril of being a drunkard. The tears
blind me as I go back in retrospection and think over the men that
warred against themselves.

In one respect, there never was such a life as ours; it was eminently
one of partings. How natural, then, that the last act before separation
be one of hospitable generosity! How little we had to offer! It was
often almost an impossibility to get up a good dinner. Then we had so
many coming to us from a distance, that our welcome could not be
followed up by any entertainment worthy of the name. Besides, there were
promotions to celebrate, an occasional son and heir to toast, birthdays
occurring so often, and nothing in the world that answered for an
expression of hospitality and good feeling but an old straw demijohn
behind the door. It was surprising what pertinacious lives the demijohns
of the garrison had. The driver of the wagon containing the few
appointments of an officer's outfit, was just as careful of the familiar
friend as one could wish servants to be with the lares and penates of an
æsthetic household. If he was rewarded with a drink from the sacred
demijohn, after having safely preserved it over muddy roads, where the
mules jerked the prairie-schooner out of ruts, and where, except for a
protecting hand, the contents would have saturated the wagon, he was
thankful. But such was his reverence for what he considered the most
valuable possession of the whole wagon, virtue alone would have been
sufficient reward. When in the regimental movings the crockery (the very
heaviest that is made) was smashed, the furniture broken, carpets,
curtains, clothes and bedding mildewed and torn, the old demijohn
neither broke, spilled nor suffered any injury by exposure to the
elements. It was, in the opinion of our lovers of good whiskey, a
"survival of the fittest."

It never came to be an old story with me, that in this constant,
familiar association with drinking, the General and those of his
comrades who abstained could continue to exercise a marvelous
self-control. I could not help constantly speaking to my husband of what
he went through; and it seemed to me that no liberty could be too great
to extend to men who, always keeping their heads, were clear as to what
they were about. The domestic lariat of a cavalryman might well be drawn
in, if the women waiting at home were uncertain whether the brains of
their liege lords would be muddled when absent from their influence.



CHAPTER XIII.

A MEDLEY OF OFFICERS AND MEN.


IT was well we had our horses at Fort Riley for recreation, as walking
was almost out of the question in autumn. The wind blew unceasingly all
the five years we were in Kansas, but it seemed to do its wildest work
in autumn. No one had told us of its incessant activity, and I watched
for it to quiet down for days after our arrival, and grew restless and
dull for want of exercise, but dared not go out. As the post was on a
plateau, the wind from the two river valleys swept over it constantly.
The flag was torn into ribbons in no time, and the storm-flag, made
smaller, and used in rainy weather, had to be raised a good deal, while
the larger and handsomer one was being mended. We found that the other
women of the garrison, who were there when we arrived, ventured out to
see one another, and even crossed the parade-ground, when it was almost
impossible to keep on one's feet. It seems to date very far back, when I
recall that our dresses then measured five yards around, and were
gathered as full as could be pressed into the waistband. These seven
breadths of skirt flew out in advance of us, if they did not lift
themselves over our heads. My skirts wrapped themselves around my
husband's ankles, and rendered locomotion very difficult for us both, if
we tried to take our evening stroll. He thought out a plan, which he
helped me to carry into effect, by cutting bits of lead in small strips,
and these I sewed into the hem. Thus loaded down, we took our
constitutional about the post, and outwitted the elements, which at
first bade fair to keep us perpetually housed.

There was very little social life in garrison that winter. The officers
were busy studying tactics, and accustoming themselves to the new order
of affairs, so very different from their volunteer experience. Had not
everything been so novel, I should have felt disappointed in my first
association with the regular army in garrison. I did not then consider
that the few old officers and their families were really the regular
army, and so was somewhat disheartened regarding our future associates.
As fast as our own officers arrived, a part of the regiment that had
garrisoned Fort Riley before we came went away; but it soon became too
late in the season to send the remainder. The post was therefore
crowded. The best manners with which all had made their début wore off,
and some jangling began. Some drank too freely, and were placed under
arrest, or released if they went on pledge. Nothing was said, of course,
if they were sober enough for duty; but there were some hopeless cases
from the first. For instance, a new appointee made his entrance into our
parlor, when paying the visit that military etiquette requires, by
falling in at the door, and after recovering an upright position,
proceeded to entangle himself in his sword again, and tumble into a
chair. I happened to be alone, and was, of course, very much frightened.
In the afternoon the officers met in one of their quarters, and drew up
resolutions that gave the new arrival the choice of a court-martial or
his resignation before night; and by evening he had written out the
papers resigning his commission. Another fine-looking man, whom the
General worked long and faithfully to make a sober officer, had really
some good instincts. He was so glad to get into our home circle, and was
so social, telling the drollest stories of far Western life, where he
had lived formerly, that I became greatly interested in his efforts at
reformation. He was almost the first to be court-martialed for
drunkenness on duty, and that was always a grief to us; but in those
early days of our regiment's history, arrest, imprisonment and trial had
to go on much of the time. The officer to whom I refer was getting into
and out of difficulty incessantly. He repented in such a frank,
regretful sort of way that my husband kept faith in his final
reformation long after it seemed hopeless. One day I asked him to
dinner. It was Thanksgiving, and on those days we tried to select the
officers that talked most to us of their homes and parents. To my
dismay, our reprobate came into the room with very uncertain gait. The
other men looked anxiously at him. My husband was not in the parlor. I
thought of other instances where these signs of intoxication had passed
away in a little while, and tried to ignore his condition. He was sober
enough to see the concerned look in his comrades' faces, and brought the
tears to my eyes by walking up to me and saying, "Mrs. Custer, I'm
sorry, but I think it would be best for me to go home." Who could help
being grieved for a man so frank and humble over his failings? There
were six years of such vicissitudes in this unfortunate man's life,
varied by brave conduct in the Indian campaigns, before the General gave
him up. He violated, at last, some social law that was considered an
outrage beyond pardon, which compelled his departure from the Seventh.
That first winter, while the General was trying to enforce one fact upon
the new-comers, that the Seventh must be a sober regiment, it was a
difficult and anything but pleasant experience.

[Illustration: GENERAL CUSTER AT HIS DESK IN HIS LIBRARY.]

Very few of the original appointments remained after a few years. Some
who served on to the final battle of 1876, went through many struggles
in gaining mastery of themselves. The General believed in them, and they
were such splendid fighters, and such fine men when there was anything
to occupy them, I know that my husband appreciated with all his soul
what trials they went through in facing the monotony of frontier life.
Indeed, he was himself enduring some hours of torture from restlessness
and inactivity. It is hard to imagine a greater change than from the
wild excitement of the Virginia campaigns, the final scenes of the war,
to the dullness of Fort Riley. Oh! how I used to feel when my husband's
morning duties at the office were over, and he walked the floor of our
room, saying, "Libbie, what shall I do?" There were no books to speak
of, for the Seventh was then too new a regiment to purchase company
libraries, as we did later. . . . My husband never cared much for
current novels, and these were almost the sole literature of the
households at that time. At every arrival of the mail, there was
absolute contentment for a while. The magazines and newspapers were
eagerly read, and I used to discover that even the advertisements were
scanned. If the General was caught at this, and accused of it, he slid
behind his paper in mock humility, peeping roguishly from one side when
a voice, pitched loftily, inquired whether reading advertisements was
more profitable than talking with one's wife? It was hard enough,
though, when the heaps of newspapers lay on the floor, all devoured, and
one so devoted to them as he was condemned to await the slow arrival of
another mail. The _Harper's Bazar_ fashion-pages were not scorned in
that dearth of reading, by the men about our fireside. We had among us a
famous newspaper-reader; the men could not outstrip her in extracting
everything that the paper held, and the General delighted in hunting up
accounts of "rapscallions" from her native State, cutting out the
paragraphs, and sending them to her by an orderly. But his hour of
triumph was brief, for the next mail was sure to contain an account of
either a Michigan or Ohio villain, and the promptness with which General
Custer was made aware of the vagabondage of his fellow-citizens was
highly appreciated by all of us. He had this disadvantage: he was a
native of Ohio, and appointed to the Military Academy from there, and
that State claimed him, and very proud we were to have them do so; but
Michigan was the State of his adoption during the war, he having married
there, and it being the home of his celebrated "Michigan brigade." . . .
He was enabled, by that bright woman's industry, to ascertain what a
large share of the population of those States were adepts in crime, as
no trifling account, or even a pickpocket was overlooked. I remember how
we laughed at her one day. This friend of ours was not in the least
sensational, she was the very incarnation of delicate refinement. All
her reading (aside from the search for Ohio and Michigan villains in
the papers) was of the loftiest type; but the blood rose in wild billows
over her sweet face when her son declared his mother such a newspaper
devotee that he had caught her reading the "personals." We knew it was a
fib; but it proves to what lengths a person might go from sheer
desperation, when stranded on the Plains.

Fortunately, I was not called much from home, as there were few social
duties that winter, and we devised all sorts of trumpery expedients to
vary our life. There was usually a wild game of romps before the day was
ended. We had the strangest neighbors. A family lived on each floor, but
the walls were not thick, as the Government had wasted no material in
putting up our plain quarters. We must have set their nerves on edge, I
suppose, for while we tore up stairs and down, using the furniture for
temporary barricades against each other, the dogs barking and racing
around, glad to join in the fracas, the din was frightful.

The neighbors--not belonging to our regiment, I am thankful to say,
having come from a circle where the husband brings the wife to terms by
brute force--in giving a minute description of the sounds that issued
from our quarters, accounted for the mêlée to those of the garrison they
could get to listen, by saying that the commanding officer was beating
his wife. While I was inclined to resent such accusations, they struck
the General very differently. He thought it was intensely funny, and the
gossip passed literally in at one ear and out at the other, though it
dwelt with him long enough to suggest something about the good
discipline a man _might_ have if the Virginia law, never repealed, were
now in vogue. I felt sure it would fare badly with me; for, though the
dimensions of the stick with which a man is permitted to beat his wife
are limited to the size of the husband's finger, my husband's hands,
though in good proportion, had fingers the bones of which were unusually
large. These strange fingers were not noticeable until one took hold of
them; but if they were carefully studied, with the old English law of
Virginia in mind, there well might be a family mutiny. I tried to beg
off from further visits to certain families of this stamp, but never
succeeded; the General insisted on my going everywhere. One of the women
asked me one day if I rose early. Not knowing why she asked, I replied
that I feared it was often 9 o'clock before we awoke, whereupon she
answered, in an affected voice, that "she never rose early--it was so
plebeian."

It was very discouraging, this first encounter with what I supposed
would be my life-long associates. There were many political appointments
in the army then. Each State was entitled to its quota, and they were
frequently given for favoritism, regardless of soldierly qualities.
There were also a good many non-commissioned officers, who, having done
good service during the war, were given commissions in the new
regiments. For several years it was difficult to arrange everything so
satisfactorily in social life that no one's feelings would be hurt. The
unvarying rule, which my husband considered should not be violated by
any who truly desired harmony, was to visit every one in their circle,
and exclude no one from invitations to our house, unless for positively
disgraceful conduct.

We heard, from other posts, of the most amusing and sometimes the most
uncomfortable of experiences. If I knew any one to whom this incident
occurred, I should not venture to make use of it as an example of the
embarrassing situations in the new order of affairs in the reorganized
army. The story is true; but the names, if I ever knew them, have long
since faded out of memory. One of the Irish laundresses at a Western
post was evidently infatuated with army life, as she was the widow of a
volunteer officer--doubtless some old soldier of the regular army, who
held a commission in one of the regiments during the war--and the woman
drew the pension of a major's widow. Money, therefore, could not have
been the inducement that brought her back to a frontier post. At one
time she left her fascinating clothes-line and went into the family of
an officer, to cook, but was obliged to leave, from illness. Her place
was filled satisfactorily, and when she recovered and came back to the
officer's wife, she was told that the present cook was entirely
satisfactory, but she might yet find a place, as another officer's wife
(whose husband had been an enlisted man, and had lately been appointed
an officer in the regular regiment stationed there) needed a cook. It
seems that this officer's wife also had been a laundress at one time,
and the woman applying for work squared herself off in an independent
manner, placed her arms akimbo, and announced her platform: "Mrs. Blank,
I ken work for a leddy, but I can't go there; there was a time when Mrs.
---- and I had our toobs side by side."

How often, in that first winter, I thought of my father's unstinted
praise of the regular army, as he had known it at Sackett's Harbor and
at Detroit, in Michigan's early days. I could not but wonder what he
would think, to be let down in the midst of us. He used to say, in
reference to my future, "Daughter, marrying into the army, you will be
poor always; but I count it infinitely preferable to riches with
inferior society. It consoles me to think you will be always associated
with people of refinement." Meanwhile, the General was never done
begging me to be silent about any new evidences of vulgarity. There were
several high-bred women at Fort Riley; but they were so discreet I never
knew but that they had been accustomed to such associations, until after
the queer lot had departed and we dared to speak confidentially to one
another.

Soon after the officers began to arrive in the autumn, an enlisted man,
whom the General had known about in the regular army, reported for duty.
He had reënlisted in the Seventh, hoping ultimately for a commission. He
was soldierly in appearance, from his long experience in military life,
and excellently well versed in tactics and regimental discipline. On
this account he was made sergeant-major, the highest non-commissioned
officer of a regiment; and, at his request, the General made application
almost at once for his appointment as a lieutenant in the Seventh
Cavalry. The application was granted, and the sergeant-major went to
Washington to be examined. The examining board was composed of old and
experienced officers, who were reported to be opposed to the appointment
of enlisted men. At any rate, the applicant was asked a collection of
questions that were seemingly unanswerable. I only remember one, "What
does a regiment of cavalry weigh?" Considering the differences in the
officers, men and horses, it would seem as if a correct answer were
impossible. The sergeant-major failed, and returned to our post with the
hopelessness before him of five years of association with men in the
ranks; for there is no escaping the whole term of enlistment, unless it
is found that a man is under age. But the General did not give up. He
encouraged the disappointed man to hope, and when he was ordered before
the board himself, he went to the Secretary of War and made personal
application for the appointment. Washington was then full of men and
their friends, clamoring for the vacancies in the new regiments; but
General Custer was rarely in Washington, and was guarded in not making
too many appeals, so he obtained the promise, and soon afterward the
sergeant-major replaced the chevrons with shoulder-straps. Then ensued
one of those awkward situations, that seem doubly so in a life where
there is such marked distinction in the social standing of an officer
and a private; and some of the Seventh Cavalry made the situation still
more embarrassing by conspicuous avoidance of the new lieutenant,
carefully ignoring him except where official relations existed. This
seemed doubly severe, as they knew of nothing in the man's conduct, past
or present, to justify them in such behavior. He had borne himself with
dignity as sergeant-major, living very much to himself, and performing
every duty punctiliously. Shortly before, he had been an officer like
themselves in the volunteer service, and this social ostracism, solely
on account of a few months of service as an enlisted man, was absurd.
They went back to his early service as a soldier, determined to show him
that he was not "to the manner born." The single men had established a
mess, and each bachelor officer who came was promptly called upon and
duly invited to join them at table. There was literally no other place
to be fed. There were no cooks to be had in that unsettled land, and if
there had been servants to hire, the exorbitant wages would have
consumed a lieutenant's pay. There were enough officers in the
bachelors' mess to carry the day against the late sergeant-major. My
husband was much disturbed by this discourteous conduct; but it did not
belong to the province of the commanding officer, and he was careful to
keep the line of demarkation between social and official affairs
distinct. Yet it did not take long for him to think a way out of the
dilemma. He came to me to ask if I would be willing to have him in our
family temporarily, and, of course, it ended in the invitation being
given. In the evening, when our quarters filled up with the bachelor
officers, they found the lieutenant whom they had snubbed established as
one of the commanding officer's family. He remained as one of us until
the officers formed another mess, as their number increased, and the new
lieutenant was invited to join them. This was not the end of General
Custer's marked regard for him, and as long as he lived he showed his
unswerving friendship, and, in ways that the officer never knew, kept up
his disinterested loyalty, making me sure, as years advanced, that he
was worthy of the old adage, "Once a friend, always a friend." Until he
was certain that there was duplicity and ingratitude, or that worst of
sins, concealed enmity, he kept faith and friendships intact. At that
time there was every reason in the world for an officer whose own
footing was uncertain, and who owed everything to my husband, to remain
true to him.

Many of the officers were learning to ride, as they had either served in
the infantry during the war, or were appointed from civil life, and came
from all sorts of vocations. It would seem that hardly half of the
number then knew how to sit or even to mount a horse, and the grand and
lofty tumbling that winter kept us in a constant state of merriment. It
was too bad to look on and laugh; but for the life of me I could not
resist every chance I had to watch them clambering up their horses'
sides, tying themselves hopelessly in their sabres, and contorting their
heels so wildly that the restive animal got the benefit of a spur in
unexpected places, as likely in his neck as in his flank. One officer,
who came to us from the merchant marine, used to insist upon saying to
his brother officers, when off duty and experimenting with his steed,
"If you don't think I am a sailor, see me shin up this horse's foreleg."

Some grew hot and wrathy if laughed at, and that increased our fun.
Others were good-natured, even coming into the midst of us and
deliberately narrating the number of times the horse had either slipped
from under them, turned them off over his head, or rubbed them off by
running against a fence or tree-trunk. Occasionally somebody tried to
hide the fact that he had been thrown, and then there was high carnival
over the misfortune. The ancient rule, that had existed as far back as
the oldest officer could remember, was, that a basket of champagne was
the forfeit of a first fall. Many hampers were emptied that winter; but
as there were so many to share the treat (and I am inclined to think,
also, it was native champagne, from St. Louis), I don't remember any
uproarious results, except the natural wild spirits of fun-loving
people. After the secret was out and the forfeit paid, there was much
more courage among the officers in letting the mishaps be known. They
did not take their nags off into gullys where they were hidden from the
post, and have it out alone, but tumbled off in sight of the galleries
of our quarters, and made nothing of a whole afternoon of voluntary
mounting and decidedly involuntary dismounting. One of the great
six-footers among us told me his beast had tossed him off half a dozen
times in one ride, but he ended by conquering. He daily fought a battle
with his horse, and, in describing the efforts to unseat him, said that
at last the animal jumped into the creek. How I admired his pluck and
the gleam in his eye; and what a glimpse that determination to master
gave of his successful future! for he won in resisting temptation, and
conquered in making himself a soldier, and his life, though short, was a
triumph.

I am obliged to confess that to this day I owe a basket of champagne,
for I belonged to those that went off the horse against their will and
then concealed the fact. My husband and one of his staff were riding
with me one day, and asked me to go on in advance, as they wanted to
talk over something that was not of interest to me. I forgot to keep
watch of my fiery steed, and when he took one of those mad jumps from
one side of the road to the other, at some imaginary obstacle, not being
on guard I lost balance, and found myself hanging to the saddle. There
was nothing left for me but an ignominious slide, and I landed in the
dust. The General found Phil trotting riderless toward him, was terribly
frightened, and rode furiously toward where I was. To save him needless
alarm, I called out, "All right!" from my lowly position, and was really
quite unharmed, save my crushed spirits. No one can serve in the cavalry
and not feel humiliated by a fall. I began to implore the two not to
tell, and in their relief at my escape from serious hurt they promised.
But for weeks they made my life a burden to me, by direct and indirect
allusions to the accident when a group of us were together. They brought
little All Right, the then famous Japanese acrobat, into every
conversation, and the General was constantly wondering, in a seemingly
innocent manner, "how an old campaigner _could_ be unseated, under any
circumstances." It would have been better to confess and pay the
penalty, than to live thus under the sword of Damocles. Still, I should
have deprived my husband of a world of amusement, and every joke counted
in those dull days, even when one was himself the victim.

The Board in Washington then examining the officers of the new
regiments, called old and new alike; but in the General's case, as in
that of most of the officers who had seen service before the war, or
were West Point graduates, it was but a form, and he was soon back in
our post.

He began then a fashion that he always kept up afterward, of having
regular openings of his trunk for my benefit. I was as interested in the
contents as any child. First putting me under promise to remain in one
spot without "peeking," as the children say, he took out from the trunk
in our room article after article for me. They comprised everything a
woman could wear, from gowns to stockings, with ribbons and hats. If all
the gowns he brought were not made, he had dress-materials and stored-up
recollections of the new modes of trimming. He enjoyed jokes on himself,
and gave us all a laughable description of his discovering in the city
some fashion that he had especially liked, when, turning in the crowded
street, he followed at a respectful distance the woman wearing it, in
order to commit to memory the especial style. Very naturally, he also
took in the gait and figure of the stylish wearer, even after he had
fixed the cut of her gown in his mind that he might eventually transfer
it to me. Ah, how we tormented him when he described his discomfiture,
and the sudden termination of his walk, when a turn in the street
revealed the face of a negress!

I shall have to ask that a thought be given to our surroundings, to make
clear what an immense pleasure a trunkful of finery was at that time.
There were no shops nearer than Leavenworth, and our faces were set
westward, so there seemed to be no prospect of getting such an outfit
for years. There was no one in that far country to prevent the screams
of delight with which each gift was received, and it is impossible to
describe how jubilant the donor was over the success of his purchases.
Brother Tom made a time always, because his name was left out, but he
noted carefully if the General's valise held a new supply of neckties,
gloves, etc., and by night he had usually surreptitiously transferred
the entire contents to his own room. The first notification would be his
appearance next morning at the breakfast-table wearing his brother's new
things, his face perfectly solemn and innocent, as if nothing peculiar
was going on. This sort of game never grew old, and it seemed to give
them much more amusement than if the purchases were formally presented.
My husband confided to me that, knowing Tom would take all he could lay
his hands on, he had bought twice as many as he needed. The truth is, it
was only for the boyish fun they got out of it, for he always shared
everything he had with his brother.

At some point in the journey East, the General had fallen into
conversation with an officer who, in his exuberance of spirits at his
appointment to the Seventh, had volunteered every detail about himself.
He was coming from his examination at Washington, and was full of
excitement over the new regiment. He had not the slightest idea who my
husband was, only that he was also an officer, but in the course of
conversation brought his name up, giving all the accounts he had heard
of him from both enemies and friends, and his own impressions of how he
should like him. The General's love of mischief, and curiosity to hear
himself so freely discussed, led the unsuspecting man to ramble on and
on, incited by an occasional query or reflection regarding the character
of the Lieutenant-colonel of the Seventh. The first knowledge the
Lieutenant had with whom he had been talking was disclosed to him when
he came to pay the customary call on the return of the commanding
officer at Fort Riley. His face was a study; perplexity and
embarrassment reddened his complexion almost to a purple, and he moved
about uneasily in his chair, abashed to think he had allowed himself to
speak so freely of a man to that person's very face. My husband left him
but a moment in this awkward predicament, and then laughed out a long
roll of merriment, grasping the man's hand, and assured him that he must
remember his very freely expressed views were the opinions of others,
and not his own. It was a great relief to the Lieutenant, when he
reached his quarters, to find that he had escaped some dire fate, either
long imprisonment or slow torture; for at that time the volunteer
officers had a deeply fixed terror of the stern, unflinching severity of
regular officers. Again he became confidential, and told the bachelor
mess. This was too good a chance to lose; they felt that some more fun
could still be extracted, and immediately planned a sham trial. The
good-natured man said his stupidity merited it, and asked for counsel.
The case was spun out as long as it could be made to last. We women were
admitted as audience, and all the grave dignity of his mock affair was a
novelty.

The court used our parlor as a Hall of Justice. The counsel for the
prisoner was as earnest in his defense as if great punishment was to be
averted by his eloquence. In the daytime he prepared arguments, while at
the same time the prosecuting attorney wrinkled his brows over the most
convincing assaults on the poor man, who, he vehemently asserted, ought
not to go at large laden with such unpardonable crime. The judge
addressed the jury, and that solemn body of men disappeared into our
room, perching on the trunks, the bed, the few chairs, to seriously
discuss the ominous "guilty" or "not guilty." The manner of the grave
and dignified judge, as he finally addressed the prisoner, admonishing
him as to his future, sorrowfully announcing the decision of the jury as
guilty, and condemning him to the penalty of paying a basket of
champagne, was worthy of the chief executor of an Eastern court.

We almost regretted that some one else would not, by some harmless
misdemeanor, put himself within the reach of such a court. This affair
gave us the first idea of the clever men among us, for all tried to
acquit themselves at their best, even in the burlesque trial.

Little by little it came out what varied lives our officers had led
heretofore. Some frankly spoke of the past, as they became acquainted,
while others, making an effort to ignore their previous history, were
found out by the letters that came into the post every mail, or by some
one arriving who had known them in their other life. The best bred among
them--one descended from a Revolutionary colonel and Governor of a
State, the other from Alexander Hamilton--were the simplest and most
unaffected in manner. The boaster and would-be aristocrat of our number
had the misfortune to come face to face with a townsman, who
effectually silenced further reference to his gorgeous past. There were
men who had studied law; there was one who had been a stump-speaker in
Montana politics, and at last a judge in her courts; another who had
been a sea-captain, and was distinguished from a second of his name in
the regiment by being called always thereafter "Salt Smith," while the
younger was "Fresh Smith," or, by those who were fond of him, "Smithie."
There was also a Member of Congress, who, having returned to his State
after the war, had found his place taken and himself quite crowded out.
When this officer reported for duty, I could not believe my eyes. But a
few months before, in Texas, he had been such a bitter enemy of my
husband's, that, with all the caution observed to keep official matters
out of my life, it could not be hidden from me. The General, when this
officer arrived, called me into our room and explained that, finding him
without employment in Washington when he went before the Board, he could
not turn away from his appeal for a commission in the service, and had
applied, without knowing he would be sent to our regiment. "And now,
Libbie, you would not hurt my feelings by showing animosity and dislike
to a man whose hair is already gray!" There was no resisting this
appeal, and no disguising my appreciation of the manner in which he
treated his enemies, so his words brought me out on the gallery with
extended hand of welcome, though I would sooner have taken hold of a
tarantula. I never felt a moment's regret, and he never forgot the
kindness, or that he owed his prosperity, his whole future, in fact, to
the General, and he won my regard by his unswerving fidelity to him from
that hour to this.

There were some lieutenants fresh from West Point, and some clerks, too,
who had tried to turn themselves into merchants, and groaned over the
wretched hours they had spent, since the close of the war, in measuring
tape. We had several Irish officers--reckless riders, jovial companions.
One had served in the Papal army, and had foreign medals. There was an
Italian who had a long, strange career to draw upon for our amusement,
and numbered, among his experiences, imprisonment for plotting the life
of his king. There were two officers who had served in the Mexican War,
and the ears of the subalterns were always opened to their stories of
those days when, as lieutenants, they followed Gen. Scott in his march
over the old Cortez highway to his victories and conquests. There was a
Prussian among the officers, who, though expressing his approval of the
justice and courtesy that the commanding officer showed in his charge of
the garrison, used to infuriate the others by making invidious
distinctions regarding foreign service and our own. We had an educated
Indian as an officer. He belonged to the Six Nations, and his father was
a Scotchman; but there was no Scotch about him, except that he was loyal
to his trusts and a brave soldier, for he looked like any wild man of
the Plains; and one of his family said to him, laughingly, "Dress you up
in a blanket, and you couldn't be told from a Cheyenne or Arrapahoe."
There was a Frenchman to add to the nationalities we represented, and in
our heterogeneous collection one company might have its three officers
with parentage from three of the four corners of the earth.

The immense amount of rank these new lieutenants and captains carried
was amusing, for those who had served in the war still held their titles
when addressed unofficially, and it was, to all appearances, a regiment
made up of generals, colonels and majors. Occasionally, an officer who
had served in the regular army many years before the war arrogantly
lorded it over the young lieutenants. One especially, who saw nothing
good in the service as it now was, constantly referred to "how it was
done in the old First." Having a young fellow appointed from civil life
as his lieutenant, who knew nothing of army tactics or etiquette, he
found a good subject over whom to tyrannize. He gave this lad to
understand that whenever the captain made his appearance he must jump
up, offer him a chair, and stand attention. It was, in fact, a servile
life he was mapping out for his subordinate. If the lad asserted
himself in the slightest way, the captain straightened up that Prussian
backbone, tapped his shoulder-strap, and grandiloquently observed,
"Remember the goolf" [gulf], meaning the great chasm that intervened
between a shoulder-strap with two bars and one with none. Even one
knowing little of military life is aware that the "goolf" between a
captain and a second lieutenant is not one of great magnitude. At last
the youth began to see that he was being imposed upon, and that other
captains did not so hold themselves toward their inferiors in rank, and
he confidentially laid the case before a new arrival who had seen
service, asking him how much of a stand he might make for his
self-respect without infringing on military rules. The reply was, "When
next he tries that game on you, tell him to go to h-- with his gulf."
The young fellow, not lacking in spirit, returned to his captain well
primed for the encounter, and when next the gulf was mentioned, he
stretched up his six feet of admirable physique, and advised the captain
to take the journey "with his gulf," that had been previously suggested
by his friend.

This same young fellow was a hot-headed youth, though a splendid
soldier, and had a knack of getting into little altercations with his
brother-officers. On one occasion at our house during a garrison hop, he
and another officer had some dispute about dancing with a young lady,
and retired to the coat-room, too courteous to enter into a discussion
in the presence of women. It occurred to them, as words grew hotter and
insufficient for the gravity of the occasion, that it would be well to
interview the commanding officer, fearing that they might be placed in
arrest. One of them descended to the dancing-room, called the General
one side, told the story, and asked permission to pound his antagonist,
whom he considered the aggressor. The General, knowing well how it was
himself, having, at West Point, been known as the cadet who said, "Stand
back, boys, and let's have a fair fight!" gave his permission. The door
of the coat-room closed on the contestants for the fair lady's favor,
and they had it out alone. It must not, from this incident, be inferred
that our officers belonged to a class whose idea of justice was
"knocking down and dragging out," but, in the newness of our regiment,
there seemed to be occasions when there was no recourse for impositions
or wrongs, except in the natural way. The mettle of all was being tested
with a large number of men turned suddenly from a free life into the
narrow limits of a garrison. Where everybody's elbow knocked his
neighbor's, and no one could wholly escape the closest sort of
intercourse, it was the most natural consequence that some jarring and
grating went on.

None of us know how much the good-nature that we possess is due to the
fact that we can take refuge in our homes or in flight, sometimes, from
people who rasp and rub us up the wrong way.

Our regiment was then a medley of incongruous elements, and might well
have discouraged a less persevering man, in the attempt to mould such
material into an harmonious whole. From the first, the effort was to
establish among the better men, who had ambition, the proper _esprit de
corps_ regarding their regiment. The General thought over carefully the
future of this new organization, and worked constantly from the first
days to make it the best cavalry regiment in the service. He assured me,
when occasionally I mourned the inharmonious feeling that early began to
crop out, that I must neither look for fidelity nor friendship, in its
best sense, until the whole of them had been in a fight together; that
it was on the battle-field, when all faced death together, where the
truest affection was formed among soldiers. I could not help noting,
that first year, the change from the devotion of my husband's Division
of cavalry in the Army of the Potomac, to these new officers, who, as
yet, had no affection for him, nor even for their regiment. He often
asked me to have patience, not to judge too quickly of those who were to
be our companions, doubtless for years to come, and reminded me that, as
yet, he had done nothing to win their regard or command their respect;
he had come among officers and men as an organizer, a disciplinarian,
and it was perfectly natural they should chafe under restraints they had
never known before. It was a hard place for my husband to fill, and a
most thankless task, to bring that motley crowd into military
subjection. The mischief-makers attempted to report unpleasant
criticisms, and it was difficult to keep in subjection the jealousy that
existed between West Point graduates, volunteer officers, and civil
appointees. Of course a furtive watch was kept on the graduates of the
Military Academy for any evidences of assumed superiority on their part,
or for the slightest dereliction of duty. The volunteer, no matter how
splendid a record he had made during the war, was excessively sensitive
regarding the fact that he was not a graduated officer. My husband
persistently fought against any line of demarkation between graduates
and non-graduates. He argued personally, and wrote for publication, that
the war had proved the volunteer officers did just as good service as,
and certainly were not one whit less brave than, West Pointers. I
remember how every little slip of a West Pointer was caught at by the
others. One morning a group of men were gathered about the flag-staff at
guard-mount, making the official report as officer of the day and
officer of the guard, when a West Pointer joined them in the
irreproachable uniform of a lieutenant, walking as few save graduates
ever do walk. He gravely saluted, but, instead of reporting for duty,
spoke out of the fullness of his heart, "Gentlemen, it's a boy." Of
course, not a man among them was insensible to the honor of being the
father of a first son and heir, and all suspended military observances
belonging to the morning duties, and genuinely rejoiced with the
new-made parent; but still they gloated over the fact that there had
been, even in such a moment of excitement, this lapse of military
dignity in one who was considered a cut-and-dried soldier.

An embarrassing position for General Custer was, that he had under him
officers much older than himself. He was then but twenty-seven years of
age, and the people who studied to make trouble (and how rarely are
they absent from any community!) used this fact as a means of stirring
up dissension. How thankful I was that nothing could draw him into
difficulty from that question, for he either refused to listen, or heard
only to forget. One day he was deeply moved by the Major of our
regiment, General Alfred Gibbs, who had commanded the brigade of regular
cavalry in the Army of the Potomac during the war, and whose soul was so
broad and his heart so big that he was above everything petty or mean.
My husband called me into our room and shut the door, in order to tell
me, quietly, that some gossip had endeavored to spread a report that
General Gibbs was galled by his position, and unwilling to submit to the
authority of so young a man. On hearing this, he came straightway to
General Custer--ah, what worlds of trouble we would be saved if there
were courage to inquire into slander!--and in the most earnest, frank
manner assured him that he had never expressed such sentiments, and that
their years of service together during the war had established an
abiding regard for his soldierly ability that made it a pleasure to be
in his regiment. This, from an officer who had served with distinction
in the Mexican War, as well as done gallant service in an Indian
campaign before the Civil War, was a most grateful compliment to my
husband. General Gibbs was a famous disciplinarian, and he had also the
quaintest manner of fetching every one to the etiquettical standard he
knew to be necessary. He was witty, and greatly given to joking, and yet
perfectly unswerving in the performance of the most insignificant duty.
We have exhausted ourselves with laughter as he described, by
contortions of feature and really extraordinary facial gymnastics, his
efforts to dislodge a venturesome and unmilitary fly, that had perched
on his nose when he was conducting a dress-parade. To lift his hand and
brush off the intruder, with a long line of soldiers facing him, was an
example he would scarcely like them to follow; and yet the tantalizing
tickling of those fly-legs, slowly traveling over his moist and heated
face, was almost too exasperating to endure. If General Gibbs felt the
necessity of reminding any one of carelessness in dress, it was managed
in so clever a manner that it gave no lasting offense. My husband,
absorbed in the drilling, discipline, and organization of the regiment,
sometimes overlooked the necessity for social obligations, and
immediately came under the General's witty criticisms. If a strange
officer visited our post, and any one neglected to call, as is
considered obligatory, it was remarked upon by our etiquettical mentor.
If the officers were careless in dress, or wore semi-military clothes,
something quite natural in young fellows who wanted to load on
everything that glittered, our General Etiquette made mention of it. One
wore an English forage-cap with a lot of gilt braid on top, instead of
the plain visored cap of the regulations. The way he came to know that
this innovation must be suppressed, was by a request from General Gibbs
to purchase it for his bandmaster. He himself was so strictly military
that he could well afford to hold the others up to the mark. His coats
were marvelous fits, and he tightly buckled in his increasing rotundity
with a superb belt and clasp that had belonged to his grandfather, a
Wolcott in the Revolutionary War.

Most women know with what obstinate determination and adoring fondness a
man clings to some shabby article of wearing apparel. There was in our
family an ancient dressing-gown, not the jaunty smoking-jacket that I
fortunately learned afterward to make; but a long, clumsy, quilted
monstrosity that I had laboriously cobbled out with very ignorant
fingers. My husband simply worshiped it. The garment appeared on one of
his birthdays, and I was praised beyond my deserts for having put in
shape such a success, and he could hardly slide out of his uniform, when
he came from the office, quickly enough to enable him to jump into this
soft, loose abomination. If he had vanity, which it is claimed is lodged
somewhere in every human breast, it was spasmodic, for he not only knew
that he looked like a fright, but his family told him this fact, with
repeated variations of derision. When at last it became not even
respectable, it was so ragged, I attempted to hide it, but this did no
earthly good. The beloved possession was ferreted out, and he gaily
danced up and down in triumph before his discomfited wife, all the rags
and tags flaunting out as he moved. In vain General Gibbs asked me why I
allowed such a disgraceful "old man's garment" about. The truth was,
there was not half the discipline in our family that there might have
been had we been citizens. A woman cannot be expected to keep a man up
to the mark in every little detail, and surely she may be excused if she
do a little spoiling when, after months of separation, she is returned
to the one for whom her heart has been wrung with anxiety. No sooner are
you together than there comes the ever-present terror of being divided
again.

General Gibbs won at last in suppressing the old dressing-gown, for he
begged General Custer to picture to himself the appearance of his entire
regiment clad in long-tailed, ragged gowns modeled after that of their
commanding officer! In dozens of ways General Gibbs kept us up to the
mark socially. He never drew distinctions between the old army and the
new, as some were wont to do, and his influence in shaping our regiment
in social as well as military affairs was felt in a marked manner, and
we came to regard him as an authority, and to value his suggestions.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE.


SOON after my husband returned from Washington, he found that Ristori
was advertised in St. Louis, and as he had been delighted with her
acting when in the East, he insisted upon my going there, though it was
a journey of several hundred miles. The young officers urged, and the
pretty Diana looked volumes of entreaty at me, so at last I consented to
go, as we need be absent but a few days. At that time the dreaded
campaign looked far off, and I was trying to cheat myself into the
belief that there might possibly be none at all.

Ristori, heard under any circumstances, was an event in a life; but to
listen to her as we did, the only treat of the kind in our winter, and
feeling almost certain it was the last of such privileges for years to
come, was an occasion never to be forgotten.

I do not know whether Diana collected her senses enough to know, at any
one time, that she was listening to the most gifted woman in histrionic
art. A civilian lover had appeared on the scene, and between our young
officers, already far advanced in the dazed and enraptured state, and
the new addition to her retinue, she was never many moments without
"airy nothings" poured into her ear. The citizen and the officers
glowered on each other, and sought in vain to monopolize the inamorata.
Even when the thoughtless girl put a military cap on the head of a
civilian, and told him that an improvement in his appearance was
instantly visible, he still remained, and held his ground valiantly.
Finally the most desperate of them called me to one side, and implored
my championship. He complained bitterly that he never began to say what
trembled on his tongue but one of those interfering fellows appeared and
interrupted him, and now, as the time was passing, there remained but
one chance before he went home, where he would again be among a dozen
other men who were sure to get in his way. He said he had thought over
every plan, and if I would engage the interfering ones for a half hour,
he would take Diana to the hotel cupola, ostensibly to see the view, and
if, after they were up there, she saw anything but him, it would not be
his fault; for say his say he must. No one could resist such a piteous
appeal, so I engaged the supernumerary men in conversation as best I
could, talking against time and eyeing the door as anxiously as they
did. I knew, when the pair returned, that the pent-up avowal had found
utterance; but the coquetting lass had left him in such a state of
uncertainty that even "fleeing to the house-top" had not secured his
future. So it went on, suspense and agitation increasing in the
perturbed hearts, but the dallying of this coy and skillful strategist,
wise beyond her years in some ways, seemed to prove that she believed
what is often said, that a man is more blissful in uncertainty than in
possession.

Our table was rarely without guests at that time. A great many of the
strangers came with letters of introduction to us, and the General
superintended the arrangements for buffalo-hunts, if they were to be in
the vicinity of our post. Among the distinguished visitors was Prince
Ourosoff, nephew of the Emperor of Russia. He was but a lad, and only
knew that if he came west far enough, he was very likely to find what
the atlas put down as the "Great American Desert." None of us could tell
him much more of the Sahara of America than of his own steppes in
Russia. As the years have advanced, the maps have shifted that imaginary
desert from side to side. The pioneer does such wonders in cultivating
what was then supposed to be a barren waste, that we bid fair in time
not to have any Sahara at all. I hardly wonder now at the surprise this
royal scion expressed at finding himself among men and women who kept up
the amenities of refined life, even when living in that subterranean
home which our Government provided for its defenders--the dug-out. It
seems strange enough, that those of us who lived the rough life of
Kansas's early days, did not entirely adopt the careless, unconventional
existence of the pioneer, but military discipline is something not
easily set aside.

Almost our first excursionists were such a success that we wished they
might be duplicated in those who flocked out there in after years.
Several of the party were old travelers, willing to undergo hardships
and encounter dangers to see the country before it was overrun with
tourists. They were our guests, and the manner in which they beguiled
our time made their departure a real regret. They called themselves
"Gideon's Band." The youngest of the party, a McCook, from the fighting
Ohio family, was "Old Gid," while the oldest of all answered when they
called "Young Gid." As they were witty, clever, conversant by actual
experience with most things that we only read of in the papers, we found
them a godsend.

When such people thanked us for what simple hospitality we could offer,
it almost came as a surprise, for we felt ourselves their debtors. After
having written to this point in my narrative of our gay visit from
Gideon's Band, a letter in response to one that I had sent to Mr.
Charles G. Leland arrived from London. I asked him about his poem, and
after twenty years, in which we never saw him, he recalls with
enthusiasm his short stay with us. I have only eliminated some
descriptions that he gives in the extract of the private letter sent
then from Fort Riley--descriptions of the wife of the commanding officer
and the pretty Diana. Women being in the minority, it was natural that
we were never undervalued. Grateful as I am that he should so highly
appreciate officers' wives, and much as I prize what he says regarding
"the influences that made a man, and kept him what he was," I must
reserve for Mr. Leland's correspondent of twenty years back, and for
myself, his opinion of frontier women.


                         "LANGHAM HOTEL, PORTLAND PLACE,
                             "LONDON, W., June 14, 1887.

      "DEAR MRS. CUSTER:--It is a thousand times more likely
      that you should forget me than that I should ever
      forget you, though it were at an interval of twice
      twenty years; the more so since I have read your
      admirable book, which has revived in me the memory of
      one of the strangest incidents and some of the most
      agreeable impressions of a somewhat varied and
      eventful life. I was with a party of gentlemen who had
      gone out to what was then the most advanced surveyor's
      camp for the Pacific Railway, in western Kansas. On
      returning, we found ourselves one evening about a mile
      from Fort Riley, where we were to be the guests of
      yourself and your husband. We had been all day in a
      so-called ambulance or wagon. The one that I shared
      with my friend, J. R. G. Hassard, of the New York
      _Tribune_, was driven by a very intelligent and
      amusing frontiersman, deeply experienced in Indian and
      Mexican life, named Brigham. Brigham thought, by
      mistake, that we had all gone to Fort Riley by some
      other conveyance, and he was thirty or forty yards in
      advance, driving on rapidly. We, encumbered with
      blankets, packs and arms, had no mind to walk when we
      could 'wagon.' One man whistled, and all roared aloud.
      Then one discharged his rifle. But the wind was
      blowing away from Brigham towards us, and he heard
      nothing. The devil put an idea in my head, for which I
      have had many a regret since then. _Infandum regina
      jubes renovare dolorem._ ('Thou, my queen, dost
      command me to revive a wretched sorrow.') For it
      occurred that I could send a rifle-ball so near to
      Brigham's head that he could hear the whistle, and
      that this would very naturally cause him to stop. If I
      could only know all, I would sooner have aimed between
      my own eyes.

      "'Give me a gun,' I said to Colonel Lambourn.

      "'You won't shoot at him!' said the Colonel.

      "'If you'll insure the mules,' I replied, 'I will
      insure the driver.'

      "I took aim and fired. The ambulance was covered, and
      I did not know that Mr. Hassard, the best fellow in
      the world--_nemini secundus_--was sitting inside and
      talking to Brigham. The bullet passed between their
      faces, which were a foot apart--less rather than
      more.

      "'What is that?' cried Hassard.

      "'_Injuns!_' replied Brigham, who knew by many an
      experience how wagons were Apached, Comanchied, or
      otherwise aboriginated.

      "'Lay down flat!'

      "He drove desperately till he thought he was out of
      shot, and then put out his head to give the Indians a
      taunting war-whoop. I shall never forget the
      appearance of that sunburned face, with gold ear-rings
      and a vast sombrero! What was his amazement at seeing
      only friends! I did not know what Brigham's state of
      mind might be toward me, but I remembered that he
      gloried in his familiarity with Spanish, so I said to
      him in the Castile-soap dialect, 'I fired that shot;
      is it to be hand or knife between us?' It is to his
      credit that he at once shook my hand, and said, '_La
      mano!_' He drove on in grim silence, and then said,
      'I've driven for twelve years on this frontier, but I
      never heard, before, of anybody trying to stop one by
      shooting the driver.'

      "Another silence, broken by the following remark: 'I
      wish to God there was a gulch any where between here
      and the fort! I'd upset this party into it d----n
      quick.'

      "But I had a great fear. It was of General Custer and
      what he would have to say to me, for recklessly
      imperiling the life of one of his drivers, to say
      nothing of what might have happened to a valuable team
      of mules and the wagon. It was with perturbed
      feelings--and, _ay de mi!_ with an evil
      conscience--that I approached him. He had been
      informed of the incident, but was neither angry nor
      vindictive. All he did was to utter a hearty laugh and
      say, 'I never heard before of such an original way of
      ringing a bell to call a man.'

      "In a letter written about this time to a friend, I
      find the following:

      "'We had not for many days seen a lady. Indeed, the
      only woman I had met for more than a week was a poor,
      sad soul, who, with her two child-daughters, had just
      been brought in by Lieutenant Hesselberger from a
      six-months' captivity of outrage and torture among the
      Apaches. You may imagine how I was impressed with Mrs.
      General Custer and her friend, Miss ----. . . .

      "'General Custer is an ideal--the ideal of frank
      chivalry, unaffected, genial humor, and that
      earnestness allied to originality which is so
      characteristic of the best kind of Western army man. I
      have not, in all my life, met with so many interesting
      types of character, as during this, my first journey
      to Kansas, but first among all, I place this trio.

      "'In the evening a great musical treat awaited me. I
      had once passed six months in Bavaria, where I had
      learned to love the zither. This instrument was about
      as well known twenty years ago in America, as a harp
      of a thousand strings. But there was at the fort a
      Bavarian soldier, who played charmingly on it, and he
      was brought in. I remember asking him for many of his
      best-loved airs. The General and his wife impressed me
      as two of the best entertainers of guests whom I ever
      met. The perfection of this rare talent is, to enjoy
      yourself while making others at their ease and merry,
      and the proof lies in this, that seldom, indeed, have
      I ever spent so pleasant an evening as that in the
      fort.'

      "My personal experience of General Custer does not
      abound in anecdotes, but is extremely rich in my
      impressions of him, as a type and a character, both as
      man and gentleman. There is many a man whom I have met
      a thousand times, whom I hardly recollect at all,
      while I could never forget him. He was not only an
      admirable but an impressive man. One would credit
      anything to his credit, because he was so frank and
      earnest. One meets with a somewhat similar character
      sometimes among the Hungarians, but just such a man is
      as rare as the want of them in the world is great.

                "With sincere regards, yours truly,
                                       "CHARLES G. LELAND."

As Mr. Leland's poem, "Breitmann in Kansas," was inspired partly by the
buffalo-hunt and visit at our quarters, I quote a few stanzas:[G]

      "Vonce oopen a dimes, der Herr Breitmann vent oud
      West. Von efenings he was drafel mit some ladies und
      shendlemans, und he shtaid incognitus. Und dey singed
      songs dill py and py one of de ladies say: 'Ish any
      podies here ash know de crate pallad of "Hans
      Breitmann's Barty?"' Den Hans said, 'I am dat
      rooster!' Den der Hans took a drink und a let pencil
      und a biece of baper, und goes indo himself a little
      dimes, and den coomes out again mit dis boem:

    "Hans Breitmann vent to Kansas;
       He drafel fast und far.
     He rided shoost drei dousand miles
       All in one railroot car.
     He knowed foost rate how far he goed--
       He gounted all de vile.
     Dar vash shoost one bottle of champagne,
       Dat bopped at efery mile.

    "Hans Breitmann vent to Kansas;
       He went in on de loud.
     At Ellsvort in de prairie land,
       He found a pully croud.
     He looked for bleeding Kansas,
       But dat's 'blayed out,' dey say;
     De whiskey keg's de only dings
       Dat's bleedin' dere to-day.

    "Hans Breitmann vent to Kansas;
       Py shings! I dell you vot,
     Von day he met a crisly bear
       Dat rooshed him down, bei Gott!
     Boot der Breitmann took und bind der bear,
       Und bleased him fery much--
     For efry vordt der crisly growled
       Vas goot Bavarian Dutch!

    "Hans Breitmann vent to Kansas!
       By donder, dat is so!
     He ridit out upon de plains
       To chase de boofalo.
     He fired his rifle at de bools,
       Und gallop troo de shmoke
     Und shoomp de canyons shoost as if
       Der tyfel vas a choke!"

Not only were a large number of officers brought together that winter
from varied walks in life and of different nationalities, but the men
that enlisted ranged from the highest type of soldier to the lowest
specimens of humanity recruited in the crowded cities. It often happened
that enlisted men had served an honorable record as officers in the
volunteer service. Some had entered the regular army because their life
was broken up by the war and they knew not how to begin a new career;
others had hopes of promotion, on the strength of their war record, or
from the promises of influential friends. My heart is moved anew as I
recall one man, who sank his name and individuality, his very self, it
seemed, by enlistment, and as effectually disappeared as if he had flung
himself into the river that rushed by our post. One night there knocked
at the door of one of our officer's quarters a man who, though in
citizen's dress, was at once recognized as an old comrade in the war. He
had been a brigadier-general of volunteers. After he had been made
welcome, he gave some slight account of himself, and then said he had
about made up his mind to enlist. Our Seventh Cavalry officer implored
him not to think of such a thing, pictured the existence of a man of
education and refinement in such surroundings, and offered him financial
help, should that be needed. He finally found the subject was adroitly
withdrawn, and the conversation went back to old times. They talked on
in this friendly manner until midnight, and then parted. The next day a
soldier in fresh, bright blue uniform, passed the officer, formally
saluting as he went by, and to his consternation he discovered in this
enlisted man his friend of the night before. They never met again; the
good-by of the midnight hour was in reality the farewell that one of
them had intended it to be.

This is but one of many instances where superior men, for one reason or
another, get into the ranks of our army. If they are fortunate enough to
fall into the hands of considerate officers, their lot is endurable; but
to be assigned to one who is unjust and overbearing is a miserable
existence. One of our finest men was so constantly looking, in his
soldiers, for the same qualities that he possessed, and insisted so upon
the superiority of his men that the officers were wont to exclaim in
good-natured irony, "Oh, yes, we all know that Hamilton's company is
made up of dukes and earls in disguise."

[Illustration: GUN-STAND IN GENERAL CUSTER'S LIBRARY.]

There were some clever rogues among the enlisted men, and the officers
were as yet scarcely able to cope with the cunning of those who
doubtless had intimate acquaintance with courts of justice and prisons
in the Eastern States. The recruiting officer in the cities is not
compelled, as in other occupations, to ask a character from a former
employer. The Government demands able-bodied men, and the recruiting
sergeant casts his critical eye over the anatomical outlines, as he
would over the good points of a horse destined for the same service. The
awful hereafter is, when the officer that receives this physical
perfection on the frontier aims to discover whether it contains a soul.

Our guard-house at Fort Riley was outside the garrison a short distance,
and held a goodly number of violators of the regulations. For several
nights, at one time, strange sounds for such a place issued from the
walls. Religion in the noisiest form seemed to have taken up its
permanent abode there, and for three hours at a time singing, shouting
and loud praying went on. There was every appearance of a revival among
those trespassers. The officer of the day, in making his rounds, had no
comment to pass upon this remarkable transition from card-playing and
wrangling; he was doubtless relieved to hear the voice of the exhorters
as he visited the guard, and indulged in the belief that the prisoners
were out of mischief. On the contrary, this vehement attack of religion
covered up the worst sort of roguery. Night after night they had been
digging tunnels under the stone foundation-walls, removing boards and
cutting beams in the floor, and to deaden the sound of the pounding and
digging some of their number were told off to sing, pray and shout. One
morning the guard opened the door of the rooms in which the prisoners
had been confined, and they were empty! Even two that wore ball and
chains for serious offences had in some manner managed to knock them
off, as all had swum the Smoky Hill River, and they were never again
heard from.

As with the history of all prisons, so it was of our little one. The
greatest rogues were not incarcerated; they were too cunning to be
caught. It often happened that some excellent soldiers became innocently
involved in a fracas and were marched off to the guard-house, while the
archvillain slipped into his place in the ranks and answered to his name
at roll-call, apparently the most exemplary of soldiers. Several
instances of what I thought to be unjust imprisonment came directly
under my notice, and I may have been greatly influenced by Eliza's
pleas in their behalf. We made the effort, and succeeded in extricating
one man from his imprisonment. Whether he was in reality wronged, or had
only worked upon our sympathies, will never be known, but he certainly
made an excellent soldier from that time until the end of his
enlistment. Eliza, in her own quaint way, is saying to me now: "Do you
mind, Miss Libbie, how me and you got J---- his parole? He used to come
to our house with the rest of the prisoners, to police the yard and cut
the wood, and they used to hang round my door; the guard could hardly
get 'em away. Well, I reckon he didn't try very hard, for he didn't like
hard-tack no better than they did. One of them would speak up the minute
they saw me, and say, 'Eliza, you hain't got no hot biscuit, have you?'
Hot biscuits for prisoners! do you hear _that_, Miss Libbie? The Ginnel
would be standin' at the back window, just to catch a chance to laugh at
me if I gave the prisoners anythin' to eat. He'd stand at that window,
movin' from one foot to the other, craning of his neck, and when I did
give any cold scraps, he just bided his time, and when he saw me he
would say, 'Well, been issuin' your rations again, Eliza? How many
apple-dumplin's and biscuit did they get this time?' Apple-dumplin's,
Miss Libbie! He jest said that 'cause he liked 'em better than anythin'
else, and s'posed I'd been givin' away some of his. But as soon as he
had teased me about it, that was the end; he would go along about his
way and pick up his book, when he had done his laugh. But, Miss Libbie,
he used to kinder mistrust, if me and you was talkin' one side. He would
say, 'What you two conspirin' up now? Tryin' to get some one out of
jail, I s'pose.' I remember how we worked for J----. He came to me and
told me I must 'try to get Mrs. Custer to work for him; two words from
her would do him more good than all the rest,' and he would come along
sideways by your window, carrying his ball over his arm with the chain
adanglin', and look so pitiful like, so you would see him and beg him
off." This affair ended entirely to Eliza's satisfaction. I saw the
captain of his company; for though it was against my husband's wish
that I should have anything to do with official matters, he did not
object to this intervention; he only laughed at my credulity. The
captain politely heard my statement of what Eliza had told me were
J----'s wrongs, and gave him parole. His sentence was rescinded
eventually, as he kept his promises and was a most faithful soldier. The
next morning after J---- was returned to duty and began life anew, one
of the young officers sauntered into our quarters and, waving his hand
with a little flourish, said, "I want to congratulate you on having
obtained the pardon of the greatest scamp in the regiment; he wouldn't
steal a red-hot stove, but would wait a mighty long time for it to
cool." Later in my story is my husband's mention, in his letters, of the
very man as bearing so good a record that he sent for him and had him
detailed at headquarters, for nothing in the world, he confessed, but
because I had once interceded for him.

Eliza kept my sympathies constantly aroused, with her piteous tales of
the wrongs of the prisoners. They daily had her ear, and she appointed
herself judge, jury and attorney for the defense. On the coldest days,
when we could not ride and the wind blew so furiously that we were not
able to walk, I saw from our windows how poorly clad they were, for they
came daily, under the care of the guard, to cut the wood and fill the
water-barrels. The General quietly endured the expressions of sympathy,
and sometimes my indignant protests against unjust treatment. He knew
the wrathful spirit of the kitchen had obeyed the natural law that heat
must rise, and treated our combined rages over the prisoners' wrongs
with aggravating calmness. Knowing more about the guard-house occupants
than I did, he was fortified by facts that saved him from expending his
sympathies in the wrong direction. He only smiled at the plausible
stories by which Eliza was first taken in at the kitchen door. They lost
nothing by transmission, as she had quite an imagination and decidedly a
dramatic delivery; and finally, when I told the tale, trying to perform
the monstrously hard feat of telling it as it was told to me, youth,
inexperience and an emotional temperament made a narrative so absolutely
distressing that the General was likely to come over bodily to our side,
had he not recalled the details of the court-martial that had tried the
soldier. We were routed, yet not completely, for we fell back upon his
clothes, and pleaded that, though he was thought to be wicked, he might
be permitted to be warm. But the colored and white troops had to leave
the field, "horse, foot and dragoons," when, on investigation, we found
that the man for whom we pleaded had gambled away his very shirt.

The unmoved manner in which my husband listened to different accounts of
supposed cruelty--dropping his beloved newspaper with the injured air
that men assume, while I sat by him, half crying, gesticulating,
thoroughly roused in my defense of the injured one--was exasperating, to
say the least; and then, at last, to have this bubble of assumed
championship burst, and see him launch into such uproarious conduct when
he found that the man for whom I pleaded was the archrogue of all--oh,
women alone can picture to themselves what the situation must have been
to poor me!

After one of these seasons of good-natured scoffing over the frequency
with which I was taken in, I mentally resolved that, though the proof I
heard of the soldier's depravity was too strong for me to ignore, there
was no contesting the fact that the criminal was cold, and if I had
failed in freeing him I might at least provide against his freezing. He
was at that time buttoning a ragged blouse up to his chin, not only for
warmth, but because in his evening game of poker, his comrade had won
the undergarment, quite superfluous, he thought, while warmed by the
guard-house fire. I proceeded to shut myself in our room, and go through
the General's trunk for something warm. The selection that I made was
unfortunate. There were some navy shirts of blue flannel that had been
procured with considerable trouble from a gunboat in the James River the
last year of the war, the like of which, in quality and durability,
could not be found in any shop. The material was so good that they
neither shrunk nor pulled out of shape. The broad collar had a star
embroidered in solid silk in either corner. The General had bought these
for their durability, but they proved to be a picturesque addition to
his gay dress; and the red necktie adopted by his entire Third Division
of Cavalry gave a dash of vivid color, while the yellow hair contrasted
with the dark blue of the flannel. The gunboats were overwhelmed with
applications to buy, as his Division wished to adopt this feature of his
dress also, and military tailors had many orders to reproduce what the
General had "lighted upon," as the officers expressed it, by accident.
Really, there was no color so good for campaigning, as it was hard to
harmonize any gray tint with the different blues of the uniform. Men
have a way of saying that we women never seize their things, for barter
or other malevolent purposes, without selecting what they especially
prize. But the General really had reason to dote upon these shirts.

The rest of the story scarcely needs telling. Many injured husbands,
whose wardrobes have been confiscated for eleemosynary purposes, will
join in a general wail. The men that wear one overcoat in early spring,
and carry another over their arm to their offices, uncertain, if they
did not observe this precaution, that the coming winter would not find
these garments mysteriously metamorphosed into lace on a gown, or mantel
ornaments, may fill in all that my story fails to tell. In the General's
case, it was perhaps more than ordinarily exasperating. It was not that
a creature who bargains for "gentlemen's cast-offs" had possession of
something that a tailor could not readily replace, but we were then too
far out on the Plains to buy even ordinary blue flannel.

As I remember myself half buried in the trunk of the commanding officer,
and suddenly lifted into the air with a shirt in one hand, my own escape
from the guard-house seems miraculous. As it was, I was let off very
lightly, ignoring some remarks about its being "a pretty high-handed
state of affairs, that compels a man to lock his trunk in his own
family; and that, between Tom's pilfering and his wife's, the commanding
officer would soon be obliged to receive official reports in bed."

There was very little hunting about Fort Riley in the winter. The
General had shot a great many prairie chickens in the autumn, and hung
them in the wood-house, and while they lasted we were not entirely
dependent on Government beef. As the season advanced, we had only
ox-tail soup and beef. Although the officers were allowed to buy the
best cuts, the cattle that supplied the post with meat were far from
being in good condition. One day our table was crowded with officers,
some of whom had just reported for duty. The usual great tureen of soup
was disposed of, and the servant brought in an immense platter, on which
generally reposed a large roast. But when the dish was placed before the
General, to my dismay there appeared in the centre of its wide
circumference a steak hardly larger than a man's hand. It was a painful
situation, and I blushed, gazed uneasily at the new-comers, but
hesitated about apologies as they were my husband's detestation. He
relieved us from the awful silence that fell upon all, by a peal of
laughter that shook the table and disturbed the poor little steak in its
lonesome bed. Eliza thrust her head in at the door, and explained that
the cattle had stampeded, and the commissary could not get them back in
time to kill, as they did daily at the post. The General was perfectly
unmoved, calling those peculiar staccato "all right!" "all right!" to
poor Eliza, setting affairs at ease again, and asking the guests to do
the best they could with the vegetables, bread and butter, coffee and
dessert.

The next day beef returned to our table, but, alas! the potatoes gave
out, and I began to be disturbed about my housewifely duties. My husband
begged me not to give it a thought, saying that Eliza would pull us
through the temporary famine satisfactorily, and adding, that what was
good enough for us was good enough for our guests. But an attack of
domestic responsibility was upon me, and I insisted upon going to the
little town near us. Under any circumstances the General opposed my
entering its precincts, as it was largely inhabited by outlaws and
desperadoes, and to go for so small a consideration as marketing was
entirely against his wishes. I paid dearly for my persistence; for when,
after buying what I could at the stores, I set out to return, the chain
bridge on which I had crossed the river in the morning had been swept
away, and the roaring torrent, that had risen above the high banks, was
plunging along its furious way, bearing earth and trees in its turbid
flood. I spent several dreary hours on the bank, growing more uneasy and
remorseful all the time. The potatoes and eggs that so short a time
since I had triumphantly secured, seemed more and more hateful to me, as
I looked at them lying in the basket in the bottom of the ambulance. I
made innumerable resolves that, so long as my husband did not wish me to
concern myself about providing for our table, I never would attempt it
again; but all these resolutions could not bring back the bridge, and I
had to take the advice of one of our officers, who was also waiting to
cross, and go back to the house of one of the merchants who sold
supplies to the post. His wife was very hospitable, as frontier men and
women invariably are, and next morning I was down on the bank of the
river early, more impatient than ever to cross. What made the detention
more exasperating was that the buildings of the garrison on the plateau
were plainly visible from where we waited. Then ensued the most
foolhardy conduct on my part, and so terrified the General when I told
him afterward, that I came near never being trusted alone again. The
most vexing part of it all was that I involved the officer, who was in
town by accident, in imminent danger, for when he heard what I was
determined to do, he had no alternative but to second my scheme, as no
persuasion was of any avail. I induced a sergeant in charge of a small
boat to take me over. I was frantic to get home, as for some time
preparations had been going on for a summer campaign, and I had kept it
out of our day as much as I could.

The General never anticipated trouble, reasoning that it was bad enough
when it came, and we both felt that every hour must hold what it could
of enjoyment, and not be darkened a moment if we could help it. The
hours of delay on the bank were almost insupportable, as each one was
shortening precious time. I could not help telling the sergeant this,
and he yielded to my entreaties--for what soldier ever refused our
appeals? The wind drove through the trees on the bank, lashing the limbs
to and fro and breaking off huge branches, and it required almost
superhuman strength to hold the frail boat to the slippery landing long
enough to lift me in. The soldier at the prow held in his muscular hands
a pole with an iron pin at the end, with which he used all his energy to
push away the floating logs that threatened to swamp us. It was almost
useless to attempt to steer, as the river had a current that it was
impossible to stem. The only plan was to push out into the stream filled
with debris, and let the current shoot the boat far down the river,
aiming for a bend in its shores on the opposite side. I closed my eyes
to the wild rush of water on all sides, shuddering at the shouts of the
soldiers, who tried to make themselves heard above the deafening clamor
of the tempest. I could not face our danger and retain my self-control,
and I was tortured by the thought of having brought peril to others. I
owed my life to the strong and supple arms of the sergeant and the
stalwart soldier who assisted him, for with a spring they caught the
limbs of an overhanging tree, just at the important moment when our
little craft swung near the bank at the river bend, and, clutching at
branches and rocks, we were pulled to the shore and safely landed. Why
the brave sergeant even listened to such a wild proposition I do not
know. It was the maddest sort of recklessness to attempt such a
crossing, and the man had nothing to gain. With the strange, impassable
gulf that separates a soldier from his officers and their families, my
imploring to be taken over the river, and my overwhelming thanks
afterward, were the only words he would ever hear me speak. With the
officer who shared the peril, it was different. When we sat around the
fireside again, he was the hero of the hour. The gratitude of the
officers, the thanks of the women putting themselves in my place and
giving him praise for encountering danger for another, were some sort of
compensation. The poor sergeant had nothing; he went back to the
barracks, and sank his individuality in the ranks, where the men look so
alike in their uniform it is almost impossible to distinguish the
soldier that has acted the hero from one who is never aught but a
poltroon. After the excitement of the peril I had passed was over, I no
longer wondered that there was such violent opposition to women
traveling with troops. The lesson lasted me a long time, as I was well
aware what planning and preparation it cost to take us women along, in
any case, when the regiment was on the move, and to make these efforts
more difficult by my own heedlessness was too serious a mistake to be
repeated.

In spite of the drawbacks to a perfectly successful garrison, which was
natural in the early career of a regiment, the winter had been full of
pleasure to me; but it came to a sad ending when the preparations for
the departure of the troops began. The stitches that I put in the
repairs to the blue flannel shirts were set with tears. I eagerly sought
every opportunity to prepare the camping outfit. The mess-chest was
filled with a few strong dishes, sacks were made and filled with coffee,
sugar, flour, rice, etc., and a few cans of fruit and vegetables were
packed away in the bottom of the chest. The means of transportation were
so limited that every pound of baggage was a matter of consideration,
and my husband took some of the space that I thought ought to be devoted
to comforts, for a few books that admitted of reading and rereading.
Eliza was the untiring one in preparing the outfit for the summer. She
knew just when to administer comforting words, as I sighed over the
preparations, and reminded me that "the Ginnel always did send for you
every chance he got, and war times on the Plains wa'n't no wuss than in
Virginia."

[Illustration: TROPHIES OF THE CHASE IN GENERAL CUSTER'S LIBRARY.]

There was one joke that came up at every move we ever made, over which
the General was always merry. The officers, in and out of our quarters
daily, were wont to observe the unusual alacrity that I displayed when
orders came to move. As I had but little care or anxiety about household
affairs, the contrast with my extreme interest in the arrangements of
the mess-chest, bedding and campaigning clothes was certainly marked. I
longed for activity, to prevent me from showing my heavy heart, and
really did learn to be somewhat successful in crowding a good deal into
a small space, and choosing the things that were most necessary. As the
officers came in unannounced, they found me flying hither and thither,
intent on my duties, and immediately saw an opportunity to tease the
General, condoling with him because, having exhausted himself in arduous
packing for the campaign, he would be obliged to set out totally
unfitted for the summer's hardships. After their departure, he was sure
to turn to me, with roguery in his voice, and asked if I had noticed how
sorry all those young fellows were for a man who was obliged to work so
hard to get his traps ready to move.

It was amusing to notice the indifferent manner in which some of the
officers saw the careful and frugal preparing for the campaign. That
first spring's experience was repeated in every after preparation. There
were always those who took little or nothing themselves, but became
experts at casual droppings in to luncheon or dinner with some
painstaking provider, who endeavored vainly to get himself out of sight
when the halt came for eating. This little scheme was occasionally
persisted in merely to annoy one who, having shown some signs of
parsimony, needed discipline in the eyes of those who really did a great
deal of good by their ridicule. Among one group of officers, who had
planned to mess together, the only provision was a barrel of eggs. It is
only necessary to follow a cavalry column over the crossing of one
creek, to know the exact condition that such perishable food would be in
at the end of the first day. There were two of the "plebes," as the
youngest of the officers were called--as I recall them, bright, boyish,
charming fellows--who openly rebelled against the rebuffs they claimed
were given them, when they attempted to practice the dropping-in plan at
another's meals.

After one of these sallies on the enemy, they met the repulse with the
announcement that if "those stingy old mollycoddles thought they had
nothing to eat in their own outfit, they would show them," and took the
occasion of one of their birthdays to prove that their resources were
unlimited. Though the two endeavored to conceal the hour and place of
this fête, a persistent watcher discovered that the birthday breakfast
consisted of a bottle of native champagne and corn bread. The
hospitality of officers is too well known to make it necessary to
explain that those with any tendency to penuriousness were exceptions.
An army legend is in existence of an officer who would not allow his
hospitality to be set aside, even though he was very short of supplies.
Being an officer of the old army, he was as formal over his repast as if
it were abundant, and, with all ceremony, had his servant pass the rice.
The guest, thinking it the first course, declined, whereupon the host,
rather offended, replied, "Well, if you don't like the rice, help
yourself to the mustard." This being the only other article on the bill
of fare, there need be no doubt as to his final choice. When several
officers decide to mess together on a campaign, each one promises to
provide some one necessary supply. On one of these occasions, after the
first day's march was ended, and orders for dinner were given to the
servant, it was discovered that all but one had exercised his own
judgment regarding what was the most necessary provision for comfort,
and the one that had brought a loaf of bread instead of a demijohn of
whiskey was berated for his choice.

In the first days of frontier life, our people knew but little about
preparations for the field, and it took some time to realize that they
were in a land where they could not live upon the country. It was a
severe and lasting lesson to those using tobacco, when they found
themselves without it, and so far from civilization that there was no
opportunity of replenishing their supply. On the return from the
expedition, the injuries as well as the enjoyments are narrated.
Sometimes we women, full of sympathy for the privations that had been
endured, found that these _were_ injuries; sometimes we discovered that
imagination had created them. We enjoyed, maliciously I am afraid, the
growling of one man who never erred in any way, and consequently had no
margin for any one that did; calculating and far-seeing in his life, he
felt no patience for those who, being young, were yet to learn those
lessons of frugality that were born in him. He was still wrathful when
he gave us an account of one we knew to be delightfully impudent when he
was bent on teasing. When the provident man untied the strings of his
tobacco-pouch, and settled himself for a smoke, the saucy young
lieutenant was sure to stroll that way, and in tones loud enough for
those near to hear him, drawl out, "I've got a match; if any other
fellow's got a pipe and tobacco, I'll have a smoke."

The expedition that was to leave Fort Riley was commanded by General
Hancock, then at the head of the Department of the Missouri. He arrived
at our post from Fort Leavenworth with seven companies of infantry and a
battery of artillery. His letters to the Indian agents of the various
tribes give the objects of the march into the Indian country. He wrote:

"I have the honor to state, for your information, that I am at present
preparing an expedition to the Plains, which will soon be ready to move.
My object in doing so at this time is, to convince the Indians within
the limits of this Department that we are able to punish any of them who
may molest travelers across the Plains, or who may commit other
hostilities against the whites. We desire to avoid, if possible, any
troubles with the Indians, and to treat them with justice, and according
to the requirements of our treaties with them; and I wish especially, in
my dealings with them, to act through the agents of the Indian
Department as far as it is possible to do so. If you, as their agent,
can arrange these matters satisfactorily with them, we shall be pleased
to defer the whole subject to you. In case of your inability to do so,
I would be pleased to have you accompany me when I visit the country of
your tribes, to show that the officers of the Government are acting in
harmony. I shall be pleased to talk with any of the chiefs whom we may
meet. I do not expect to make war against any of the Indians of your
agency, unless they commence war against us."

In General Custer's account, he says that "the Indians had been guilty
of numerous thefts and murders during the preceding summer and autumn,
for none of which had they been called to account. They had attacked the
stations of the overland mail-route, killed the employees, burned the
stations and captured the stock. Citizens had been murdered in their
homes on the frontier of Kansas; and murders had been committed on the
Arkansas route. The principal perpetrators of these acts were the
Cheyennes and Sioux. The agent of the former, if not a party to the
murder on the Arkansas, knew who the guilty persons were, yet took no
steps to bring the murderers to punishment. Such a course would have
interfered with his trade and profits. It was not to punish for these
sins of the past that the expedition was set on foot, but, rather, by
its imposing appearance and its early presence in the Indian country, to
check or intimidate the Indians from a repetition of their late conduct.
During the winter the leading chiefs and warriors had threatened that,
as soon as the grass was up, the tribes would combine in a united
outbreak along the entire frontier."

There had been little opportunity to put the expedition out of our minds
for some time previous to its departure. The sound from the blacksmith's
shop, of the shoeing of horses, the drilling on the level ground outside
of the post, and the loading of wagons about the quartermaster and
commissary storehouses, went on all day long. At that time the sabre was
more in use than it was later, and it seemed to me that I could never
again shut my ears to the sound of the grindstone, when I found that the
sabres were being sharpened. The troopers, when mounted, were
curiosities, and a decided disappointment to me. The horse, when
prepared for the march, barely showed head and tail. My ideas of the
dashing trooper going out to war, clad in gay uniform and curbing a
curveting steed, faded into nothingness before the reality. Though the
wrapping together of the blanket, overcoat and shelter-tent is made a
study of the tactics, it could not be reduced to anything but a
good-sized roll at the back of the saddle. The carbine rattled on one
side of the soldier, slung from the broad strap over his shoulder, while
a frying-pan, a tin-cup, a canteen, and a haversack of hardtack
clattered and knocked about on his other side. There were possibly a
hundred rounds of ammunition in his cartridge-belt, which took away all
the symmetry that his waist might otherwise have had. If the company
commander was not too strict, a short butcher-knife, thrust into a
home-made leather case, kept company with the pistol. It was not a
murderous weapon, but was used to cut up game or slice off the bacon,
which, sputtering in the skillet at evening camp-fire, was the main
feature of the soldier's supper. The tin utensils, the carbine and the
sabre, kept up a continual din, as the horses seemingly crept over the
trail at the rate of three to four miles an hour. In addition to the
cumbersome load, there were sometimes lariats and iron pichet-pins slung
on one side of the saddle, to tether the animals when they grazed at
night. There was nothing picturesque about this lumbering cavalryman,
and, besides, our men did not then sit their horses with the serenity
that they eventually attained. If the beast shied or kicked--for the
poor thing was itself learning to do soldiering, and occasionally flung
out his heels, or snatched the bit in his mouth in protest--it was a
question whether the newly made Mars would land on the crupper or hang
helplessly among the domestic utensils suspended to his saddle. How
sorry I was for them, they were so bruised and lamed by their first
lessons in horsemanship. Every one laughed at every one else, and this
made it seem doubly trying to me. I remembered my own first lessons
among fearless cavalrymen--a picture of a trembling figure, about as
uncertain in the saddle as if it were a wave of the sea, the hands cold
and nerveless, and, I regret to add, the tears streaming down my cheeks!
These recollections made me writhe when I saw a soldier describing an
arc in the air, and his self-freed horse galloping off to the music of
tin and steel in concert, for no such compulsory landing was ever met
save by a roar of derision from the column. Just in proportion as I had
suffered for their misfortunes, did I enjoy the men when, after the
campaign, they returned, perfect horsemen and with such physiques as
might serve for a sculptor's model.

At the time the expedition formed at Fort Riley, I had little
realization what a serious affair an Indian campaign was. We had heard
of the outrages committed on the settlers, the attacking of the overland
supply-trains, and the burning of the stage-stations; but the rumors
seemed to come from so far away that the reality was never brought home
to me until I saw for myself what horror attends Indian depredations.
Even a disaster to one that seemed to be of our own family, failed to
implant in me that terror of Indians which, a month or two later, I
realized to its fullest extent by personal danger. I must tell my
reader, by going back to the days of the war, something of the one that
first showed us what Indian warfare really was. It was a sad preparation
for the campaign that followed.

After General Custer had been promoted from a captain to a
brigadier-general, in 1863, his brigade lay quietly in camp for a few
days, to recruit before setting out on another raid. This gave the
unusual privilege of lying in bed a little later in the morning, instead
of springing out before dawn. For several mornings in succession, my
husband told me, he saw a little boy steal through a small opening in
the tent, take out his clothes and boots, and after a while creep back
with them, brushed and folded. At last he asked Eliza where on earth
that cadaverous little image came from, and she explained that it was "a
poor little picked sparrow of a chile, who had come hangin' aroun' the
camp-fire, mos' starved," and added, "Now, Ginnel, you mustn't go and
turn him off, for he's got nowhar to go, and 'pears like he's crazy to
wait on you." The General questioned him, and found that the boy, being
unhappy at home, had run away. Enough of his sad life was revealed to
convince the General that it was useless to attempt to return him to his
Eastern home, for he was a determined little fellow, and there was no
question that he would have fled again. His parents were rich, and my
husband evidently knew who they were; but the story was confidential, so
I never knew anything of him, except that he was always showing signs of
good-breeding, even though he lived about the camp-fire. A letter that
my husband wrote to his own home at that time, spoke of a hound puppy
that one of his soldiers had given to him, and then of a little waif,
called Johnnie, whom he had taken as his servant. "The boy," he wrote,
"is so fond of the pup he takes him to bed with him." Evidently the
child began his service with devotion, for the General adds; "I think he
would rather starve than to see me go hungry. I have dressed him in
soldier's clothes, and he rides one of my horses on the march. Returning
from the march one day, I found Johnnie with his sleeves rolled up. He
had washed all my soiled clothes and hung them on the bushes to dry.
Small as he is, they were very well done."

Soon after Johnnie became my husband's servant, we were married, and I
was taken down to the Virginia farm-house, that was used as brigade
headquarters. By this time, Eliza had initiated the boy into all kinds
of work. She, in turn, fed him, mended his clothes, and managed him,
lording it over the child in a lofty but never unkind manner. She had
tried to drill him to wait on the table, as she had seen the duty
performed on the old plantation. At our first dinner he was so bashful I
thought he would drop everything. My husband did not believe in having a
head and foot to the table when we were alone, so poor little Johnnie
was asked to put my plate beside the General's. Though he was so
embarrassed in this new phase of his life, he was never so intimidated
by the responsibility Eliza had pressed upon him that he was
absent-minded or confused regarding one point: he invariably passed
each dish to the General first. Possibly my husband noticed it. I
certainly did not. There was a pair of watchful eyes at a crack in the
kitchen-door, which took in this little incident. One day the General
came into our room laughing, his eyes sparkling with fun over Eliza's
description of how she had noticed Johnnie always serving the General
first, and had labored with him in secret, to teach him to wait on the
lady first. "It's manners," she said, believing that was a crushing
argument. But Johnnie, usually obedient, persistently refused, always
replying that the General was the one of us two that ranked, and he
ought to be served first.

At the time of General Kilpatrick's famous raid, when he went to take
Richmond, General Custer was ordered to make a détour in an opposite
direction, in order to deceive the Confederate army as to the real
object to be accomplished. This ruse worked so successfully, that
General Custer and his command were put in so close and dangerous a
situation it was with difficulty that any of them escaped. The General
told me that when the pursuit of the enemy was hottest, and everyone
doing his utmost to escape, he saw Johnnie driving a light covered wagon
at a gallop, which was loaded with turkeys and chickens. He had received
his orders from Eliza, before setting out, to bring back something for
the mess, and the boy had carried out her directions with a vengeance.
He impressed into his service the establishment that he drove, and
filled it with poultry. Even in the mêlée and excitement of retreat, the
General was wonderfully amused, and amazed too, at the little fellow's
fearlessness. He was too fond of him to leave him in danger, so he
galloped in his direction and called to him, as he stood up lashing his
horse, to abandon his capture or he would be himself a prisoner. The boy
obeyed, but hesitatingly, cut the harness, sprang upon the horse's
unsaddled back, and was soon with the main column. The General, by his
delay, was obliged to take to an open field to avoid capture, and leap a
high fence in order to overtake the retreating troops.

He became more and more interested in the boy, who was such a
combination of courage and fidelity, and finally arranged to have him
enlist as a soldier. The war was then drawing to its close, and he
secured to the lad a large bounty, which he placed at interest for him,
and after the surrender, persuaded Johnnie to go to school. It was
difficult to induce him to leave; but my husband realized what injustice
it was to keep him in the menial position to which he desired to return,
and finally left him, with the belief that he had instilled some
ambition into the boy.

A year and a half afterward, as we were standing on the steps of the
gallery of our quarters at Fort Riley, we noticed a stripling of a lad
walking toward us, with his head hanging on his breast, in the shy,
embarrassed manner of one who doubts his reception. With a glad cry, my
husband called out that it was Johnnie Cisco, and bounded down the steps
to meet him. After he was assured of his welcome, he told us that it had
been impossible for him to stay away, he longed so constantly to be
again with us, and added that if we would only let him remain, he would
not care what he did. Of course, the General regretted the giving up of
his school; but, now that he had made the long journey, there was no
help for it, and he decided that he should continue with us until he
could find him employment, for he was determined that he should not
reënlist. The boy's old and tried friend, Eliza, at once assumed her
position of "missus," and, kind-hearted tyrant! gave him every comfort
and made him her vassal, without a remonstrance from the half-grown man,
for he was only too glad to be in the sole home he knew, no matter on
what terms. Soon after his coming, the General obtained from one of the
managers of the Wells Fargo Express Company a place of messenger; and
the recommendation he gave the boy for honesty and fidelity was
confirmed over and over again by the officers of the express line. He
was known on the entire route from Ogden to Denver, and was entrusted
with immense amounts of gold in its transmission from the Colorado mines
to the States. Several times he came to our house for a vacation, and
my husband had always the unvarying and genuine welcome that no one
doubted when once given, and he did not fail to praise and encourage the
friendless fellow. Eliza, after learning what the lad had passed
through, in his dangers from Indians, treated him like a conquering
hero, but alternately bullied and petted him still. At last there came a
long interval between his visits, and my husband sent to the express
people to inquire. Poor Johnnie had gone like many another brave
employee of that venturesome firm. In a courageous defense of the
passengers and the company's gold, when the stage was attacked, he had
been killed by the Indians. Eliza kept the battered valise that her
favorite had left with us, and mourned over it as if it had been
something human. I found her cherishing the bag in a hidden corner, and
recalling to me, with tears, how warm-hearted Johnnie was, saying that
the night the news of her old mother's death came to her from Virginia,
he had sat up till daybreak to keep the fire going. "Miss Libbie, I tole
him to go to bed, but he said, 'No, Eliza, I can't do it, when you are
in trouble: when I had no friends, and couldn't help myself, you helped
me.'" After that, the lad was always "poor Johnnie," and many a boy with
kinsfolk of his own is not more sincerely mourned.

As the days drew nearer for the expedition to set out, my husband tried
to keep my spirits up by reminding me that the council to be held with
the chiefs of the warlike tribes, when they reached that part of the
country infested with the marauding Indians, was something he hoped
might result in our speedy reunion. He endeavored to induce me to think,
as he did, that the Indians would be so impressed with the magnitude of
the expedition, that, after the council, they would accept terms and
abandon the war-path. Eight companies of our own regiment were going
out, and these, with infantry and artillery, made a force of fourteen
hundred men. It was really a large expedition, for the Plains; but the
recollections of the thousands of men in the Third Cavalry Division,
which was the General's command during the war, made the expedition seem
too small, even for safety.

No one can enumerate the terrors, imaginary and real, that filled the
hearts of women on the border in those desperate days. The buoyancy of
my husband had only a momentary effect in the last hours of his stay.
That time seemed to fly fast; but no amount of excitement and bustle of
preparation closed my eyes, even momentarily, to the dragging hours that
awaited me. Such partings are such a torture that it is difficult even
to briefly mention them. My husband added another struggle to my lot by
imploring me not to let him see the tears that he knew, for his sake, I
could keep back until he was out of sight. Though the band played its
usual departing tune, "The Girl I Left Behind Me," if there was any
music in the notes, it was all in the minor key to the men who left
their wives behind them. No expedition goes out with shout and song, if
loving, weeping women are left behind. Those who have not assumed the
voluntary fetters that bind us for weal or for woe, and render it
impossible to escape suffering while those we love suffer, or rejoicing
while those to whom we are united are jubilant, felt too keenly for
their comrades when they watched them tear themselves from clinging arms
inside the threshold of their homes, even to keep up the stream of idle
chaffing that only such occasions can stop. There was silence as the
column left the garrison. Alas! the closed houses they left were as
still as if death had set its seal upon the door; no sound but the
sobbing and moans of women's breaking hearts.

Eliza stood guard at my door for hours and hours, until I had courage,
and some degree of peace, to take up life again. A loving, suffering
woman came to sleep with me for a night or two. The hours of those first
wakeful nights seemed endless. The anxious, unhappy creature beside me
said, gently, in the small hours, "Libbie, are you awake?" "Oh, yes," I
replied, "and have been for ever so long." "What are you doing?" "Saying
over hymns, snatches of poetry, the Lord's Prayer backward, counting,
etc., to try to put myself to sleep." "Oh, say some rhyme to me, in
mercy's name, for I am past all hope of sleep while I am so unhappy!"
Then I repeated, over and over again, a single verse, written, perhaps,
by some one who, like ourselves, knew little of the genius of poetry,
but, alas! much of what makes up the theme of all the sad verses of the
world:

    "There's something in the parting hour
       That chills the warmest heart;
     But kindred, comrade, lover, friend,
       Are fated all to part.
     But this I've seen, and many a pang
       Has pressed it on my mind--
     The one that goes is happier
       Than he who stays behind."

Perhaps after I had said this, and another similar verse, over and over
again, in a sing-song, droning voice, the regular breathing at my side
told me that the poor, tired heart had found temporary forgetfulness;
but when we came to the sad reality of our lonely life next day, every
object in our quarters reminded us what it is to "stay behind." There
are no lonely women who will not realize how the very chairs, or
anything in common use, take to themselves voices and call out reminders
of what has been and what now is. Fill up the time as we might, there
came each day, at twilight, an hour that should be left out of every
solitary life. It is meant only for the happy, who need make no
subterfuges to fill up hours that are already precious.

FOOTNOTE:

[G] From "Hans Breitmann's Ballads," by permission of Messrs. T. B.
Peterson & Brothers, publishers.



CHAPTER XV.

A PRAIRIE FIRE.


IT was a great change for us from the bustle and excitement of the
cavalry, as they prepared for the expedition, to the dull routine of an
infantry garrison that replaced the dashing troopers. It was intensely
quiet, and we missed the clatter of the horses' hoofs, the click of the
curry-comb, which had come from the stables at the morning and evening
grooming of the animals, the voices of the officers drilling the
recruits, the constant passing and repassing of mounted men in front of
our quarters; above all, the enlivening trumpet-calls ringing out all
day, and we rebelled at the drum and bugle that seemed so tame in
contrast. There were no more long rides for me, for Custis Lee was taken
out at my request, as I feared no one would give him proper care at the
post. Even the little chapel where the officers' voices had added their
music to the chants, was now nearly deserted. The chaplain was an
interesting man, and the General and most of the garrison had attended
the services during the winter. Only three women were left to respond,
and, as we had all been reared in other churches, we quaked a good deal,
for fear our responses would not come in the right place. They did not
lack in earnestness, for when had we lonely creatures such cause to send
up petitions as at that time, when those for whom we prayed were
advancing into an enemy's country day by day! Never had the beautiful
Litany, that asks deliverance for all in trouble, sorrow, perplexity,
temptation, borne such significance to us as then. No one can dream,
until it is brought home to him, how space doubles, trebles, quadruples,
when it is impossible to see the little wire that, fragile as it seems,
chains one to the absent. It is difficult to realize, now that our
country is cobwebbed with telegraph lines, what a despairing feeling it
was, in those days, to get far beyond the blessed nineteenth-century
mode of communication. He who crosses the ocean knows a few days of such
uncertainty, but over the pathless sea of Western prairie it was chaos,
after the sound of the last horse's hoof was lost in the distance.

We had not been long alone when a great danger threatened us. The level
plateau about our post, and the valley along the river near us, were
covered with dry prairie grass, which grows thickly and is matted down
into close clumps. It was discovered one day, that a narrow thread of
fire was creeping on in our direction, scorching these tufts into
shrivelled brown patches that were ominously smoking when first seen. As
I begin to write of what followed, I find it difficult; for even those
living in Western States and Territories regard descriptions of
prairie-fires as exaggerated, and are apt to look upon their own as the
extreme to which they ever attain. I have seen the mild type, and know
that a horseman rides through such quiet conflagrations in safety. The
trains on some of our Western roads pass harmless through belts of
country when the flames are about them; there is no impending peril,
because the winds are moderate. When a tiny flame is discovered in
Kansas, or other States, where the wind blows a hurricane so much of the
time, there is not a moment to lose. Although we saw what was hardly
more than a suspicion of smoke, and the slender, sinuous, red tongue
along the ground, we women had read enough of the fires in Kansas to
know that the small blaze meant that our lives were in jeopardy. Most of
us were then unacquainted with those precautions which the experienced
Plainsman takes, and, indeed, we had no ranchmen near us to set us the
example of caution which the frontiersman so soon learns. We should have
had furrows ploughed around the entire post in double lines, a certain
distance apart, to check the approach of fire. There was no time to
fight the foe with a like weapon, by burning over a portion of the
grass between the advancing blaze and our post. The smoke rose higher
and higher beyond us, and curling, creeping fire began to ascend into
waves of flame with alarming rapidity, and in an incredibly short time
we were overshadowed with a dark pall of smoke.

The Plains were then new to us. It is impossible to appreciate their
vastness at first. The very idea was hard to realize, that from where we
lived we looked on an uninterrupted horizon. We felt that it must be the
spot where some one first said, "The sky fits close down all around." It
fills the soul with wonder and awe to look upon the vastness of that sea
of land for the first time. As the sky became lurid, and the blaze swept
on toward us, surging to and fro in waving lines as it approached nearer
and nearer, it seemed that the end of the world, when all shall be
rolled together as a scroll, had really come. The whole earth appeared
to be on fire. The sky was a sombre canopy above us, on which flashes of
brilliant light suddenly appeared as the flames rose, fanned by a fresh
gust of wind. There were no screams nor cries, simply silent terror and
shiverings of horror, as we women huddled together to watch the
remorseless fiend advancing with what appeared to be inevitable
annihilation of the only shelter we had. Every woman's thoughts turned
to her natural protector, now far away, and longed with unutterable
longing for one who, at the approach of danger, stood like a bulwark of
courage and defense. The river was half a mile away, and our feet could
not fly fast enough to reach the water before the enemy would be upon
us. There was no such a thing as a fire-engine. The Government then had
not even provided the storehouses and quarters with the Babcock
Extinguisher. We were absolutely powerless, and could only fix our
fascinated gaze upon the approaching foe.

In the midst of this appalling scene, we were startled anew by a roar
and shout from the soldiers' barracks. Some one had, at last, presence
of mind to marshal the men into line, and, assuming the commanding tone
that ensures action and obedience in emergencies, gave imperative
orders. Every one--citizen employees, soldiers and officers--seized
gunny sacks, blankets, poles, anything available that came in their way,
and raced wildly beyond the post into the midst of the blazing grass.
Forming a cordon, they beat and lashed the flames with the blankets, so
twisted as to deal powerful blows. It was a frenzied fight. The soldiers
yelled, swore and leaped frantically upon beds of blazing grass,
condensing a lifetime of riotous energy into these perilous moments. We
women were not breathless and trembling over fears for ourselves alone:
our hearts were filled with terror for the brave men who were working
for our deliverance. They were men to whom we had never spoken, nor were
we likely ever to speak to them, so separated are the soldiers in
barracks from an officer's household. Sometimes we saw their eyes
following us respectfully, as we rode about the garrison, seeming to
have in them an air of possession, as if saying, "That's our captain's
or our colonel's wife." Now, they were showing their loyalty, for there
are always a few of a regiment left behind to care for the company
property, or to take charge of the gardens for the soldiers. These men,
and all the other brave fellows with them, imperiled their lives in
order that the officers who had gone out for Indian warfare, might come
home and find "all's well." Let soldiers know that a little knot of
women are looking to them as their saviors, and you will see what nerves
of iron they have, what inexhaustible strength they can exhibit.

No sooner had the flames been stamped out of one portion of the plain,
than the whole body of men were obliged to rush off in another direction
and begin the thrashing and tramping anew. It seemed to us that there
was no such thing as conquering anything so insidious. But the wind,
that had been the cause of our danger, saved us at last. That very wind
which we had reviled all winter for its doleful howlings around our
quarters and down the chimneys; that selfsame wind that had infuriated
us by blowing our hats off when we went out to walk, or impeded our
steps by twisting our skirts into hopeless folds about our ankles--was
now to be our savior. Suddenly veering, as is its fashion in Kansas, it
swept the long tongues of flame over the bluffs beyond us, where the
lonely coyote and its mate were driven into their lair. By this vagary
of the element, that is never anywhere more variable than in Kansas, our
quarters, our few possessions, and no doubt our lives, were saved. With
faces begrimed and blistered, their clothes black with soot and smoke,
their hands burnt and numb from violent effort, the soldiers and citizen
employees dragged their exhausted bodies back to garrison, and dropped
down anywhere to rest.

The tinge of green that had begun to appear was now gone, and the
charred, smoke-stained earth spread as far as we could see, making more
desolate the arid, treeless country upon which we looked. It was indeed
a blackened and dismal desert that encircled us, and we knew that we
were deprived of the delight of the tender green of early spring, which
carpets the Plains for a brief time before the sun parches and turns to
russet and brown the turf of our Western prairies.

As we sat on the gallery, grieving over this ruin of spring, Mrs. Gibbs
gathered her two boys closer to her, as she shuddered over another
experience with prairie fire, where her children were in peril. The
little fellows, in charge of a soldier, were left temporarily on the
bank of a creek. Imagine the horror of a mother who finds, as she did,
the grass on fire and a broad strip of flame separating her from her
children! Before the little ones could follow their first instinct, and
thereby encounter certain death by attempting to run through the fire to
their mother, the devoted soldier, who had left them but a moment,
realizing that they would instantly seek their mother, ran like an
antelope to where the fire-band narrowed, leaped the flame, seized the
little men, and plunged with mad strides to the bank of the creek,
where, God be praised! nature provides a refuge from the relentless foe
of our Western plains.

In our Western prairie fires the flame is often a mile long, perhaps
not rising over a foot high, but, sweeping from six to ten miles an
hour, it requires the greatest exertion of the ranchmen, with all kinds
of improvised flails, to beat out the fire. The final resort of a
frontiersman, if the flames are too much for him to overcome, is to take
refuge with his family, cattle, horses, etc., in the garden, where the
growing vegetables make an effectual protection. Alas, when he finds it
safe to venture from the green oasis, the crops are not only gone, but
the roots are burned, and the ground valueless from the parching of the
terrible heat. When a prairie fire is raging at ten miles an hour, the
hurricane lifts the tufts of loosened bunch grass, which in occasional
clumps is longer than the rest, carrying it far beyond the main fire,
and thus starting a new flame. No matter how weary the pioneer may be
after a day's march, he neglects no precautions that can secure him from
fire. He twists into wisp the longest of the bunch grass, trailing it
around the camp; the fire thus started is whipped out by the teamsters,
after it has burned over a sufficient area for safety. They follow the
torch of the leader with branches of the green willow or twigs of
cottonwood bound together.

[Illustration: WHIPPING HORSES TO KEEP THEM FROM FREEZING.]

The first letters, sent back from the expedition by scouts, made
red-letter days for us. The official envelope, stained with rain and
mud, bursting open with the many pages crowded in, sometimes even tied
with a string by some messenger through whose hands the parcel passed,
told stories of the vicissitudes of the missive in the difficult journey
to our post. These letters gave accounts of the march to Fort Larned,
where a great camp was established, to await the arrival of the chiefs
with whom the council was to be held. While the runners were absent on
their messages to the tribes, some effort was made to protect the troops
against the still sharp winds of early spring. The halt and partly
permanent camp was most fortunate; for had the troops been on the march,
a terrible snow-storm that ensued would have wrought havoc, for the cold
became so intense, and the snow so blinding, it was only through great
precautions that loss of life was prevented. The animals were given an
extra ration of oats, while the guards were obliged to take whips and
strike at the horses on the picket-line, to keep them in motion and
prevent them from freezing. The snow was eight inches deep, a remarkable
fall for Kansas at that time of the year. As we read over these
accounts, which all the letters contained, though mine touched lightly
on the subject, owing to my husband's fixed determination to write of
the bright side, we felt that we had hardly a right to our fires and
comfortable quarters. There were officers on the expedition who could
not keep warm. A number were then enduring their first exposure to the
elements, and I remember that several, who afterward became stalwart,
healthy men, were then partial invalids, owing to sedentary life in the
States, delicate lungs or climatic influences.

In my husband's letters there was a laughable description of his lending
his dog to keep a friend warm. The officer came into his tent after
dark, declaring that no amount of bedding had any effect in keeping out
the cold, and he had come to borrow a dog, to see if he could have one
night's uninterrupted rest. Our old hound was offered, because he could
cover such a surface, for he was a big brute, and when he once located
himself he rarely moved until morning. My husband forgot, in giving
Rover his recommendation, to mention a habit he had of sleeping audibly,
besides a little fashion of twitching his legs and thumping his cumbrous
tail, in dreams that were evidently of the chase, or of battles he was
living over, in which "Turk," the bull-dog, was being vanquished. He was
taken into the neighbor's tent, and induced to settle for the night,
after the General's coaxing and pretense of going to sleep beside him.
Later, when he went back to see how Rover worked as a portable furnace,
he found the officer sound asleep on his back, emitting such nasal notes
as only a stout man is equal to, while Rover lay sprawled over the broad
chest of his host, where he had crept after he was asleep, snoring with
an occasional interlude of a long-drawn snort, introduced in a manner
peculiar to foxhounds. The next morning my husband was not in the least
surprised, after what he had seen the night before, to receive a call
from the officer, who presented a request to exchange dogs. He said that
when he made the proposal, he did not expect to have a bedfellow that
would climb up over his lungs and crush all the breath out of his body.
Instead of showing proper sympathy, the General threw himself on his
pallet and roared with laughter.

All these camp incidents brightened up the long letters, and kept me
from realizing, as I read, what were the realities of that march,
undertaken so early in the season. But as the day advanced, and the
garrison exchanged the news contained in all the letters that had
arrived from the expedition, I could not deceive myself into the belief
that the way of our regiment had thus far been easy.

With all my endeavors to divide the day methodically, and enforce
certain duties upon myself, knowing well that it was my only refuge from
settled melancholy, I found time a laggard. It is true, my clothes were
in a deplorable state, for while our own officers were with us they
looked to us to fill up their leisure hours. The General, always devoted
to his books, could read in the midst of our noisy circle; but I was
never permitted much opportunity, and managed to keep up with the times
by my husband's account of the important news, and by the agreeable
method of listening to the discussions of the men upon topics of the
hour. If, while our circle was intact, I tried to sew, a ride, a walk or
a game of parlor croquet was proposed, to prevent my even mending our
clothing. Now that we were alone, it was necessary to make the needle
fly. Eliza was set up with a supply of blue-checked gowns and aprons,
while my own dresses were reconstructed, the riding-habit was fortified
with patches, and any amount of stout linen thread disappeared in
strengthening the seams; for between the hard riding and the gales of
wind we encountered, the destruction of a habit was rapid.

Diana, with the elastic heart of a coquette, had not only sped the
parting, but welcomed the coming guest; for hardly had the sound of the
trumpet died away, before a new officer began to frequent our parlor. It
was then the fashion for men to wear a tiny neck-bow, called a butterfly
tie. They were made on a pasteboard foundation, with a bit of elastic
cord to fasten them to the shirt-stud. I knew of no pasteboard nearer
than Leavenworth; but in the curly head there were devices to meet the
exigency. I found Diana with her lap full of photographs, cutting up the
portraits of the departed beaux, to make ties for the next. Whether the
new suitor ever discovered that he was wearing at his neck the face of a
predecessor, I do not know; but this I do remember, that the jagged,
frayed appearance that the girl's dresses presented when turned inside
out, betrayed where the silk was procured to make the neckties. She had
clipped out bits of material where the skirt was turned in, and when we
attempted to remodel ourselves and cut down the voluminous breadths of
that time into tightly gored princesse gowns, we were put to it to make
good the deficiencies, and "piece out" the silk that had been sacrificed
to her flirtations.

Succeeding letters from my husband gave an account of his first
experience with the perfidy of the Indians. The council had been held,
and it was hoped that effectual steps were taken to establish peace.
But, as is afterward related, the chiefs gave them the slip and deserted
the village. Even in the midst of hurried preparations to follow the
renegades, my husband stopped, in order that his departure might not
make me depressed, to give an account of a joke that they all had on one
of their number, who dared to eat soup out of an Indian kettle still
simmering over the deserted fire. The General pressed the retreating
Indians so closely, the very night of their departure, that they were
obliged to divide into smaller detachments, and even the experienced
Plainsmen could no longer trace a trail.

Meanwhile, as our officers were experiencing all sorts of new phases in
life on their first march over the Plains, our vicissitudes were
increasing at what seemed to be the peaceful Fort Riley. I had seen with
dismay that the cavalry were replaced by negro infantry, and found that
they were to garrison the post for the summer. I had never seen negroes
as soldiers, and these raw recruits had come from plantations, where I
had known enough of their life, while in Texas and Louisiana, to realize
what an irresponsible, child's existence it was. Entirely dependent on
some one's care, and without a sense of obligation of any kind, they
were exempt from the necessity of thinking about the future. Their time
had been spent in following the directions of the overseer in the
corn-field or cotton brake by day, and beguiling the night with a
coon-hunt or the banjo. The early days of their soldiering were a reign
of terror to us women, in our lonely, unprotected homes. It was very
soon discovered that the officer who commanded them was for the first
time accustoming himself to colored troops, and did not know how to keep
in check the boisterous, undisciplined creatures. He was a courteous,
quiet man, of scholarly tastes, and evidently entertained the belief
that moral suasion would eventually effect any purpose. The negroes,
doubtless discovering what they could do under so mild a commander, grew
each day more lawless. They used the parade-ground, which our officers
had consecrated to the most formal of ceremonies, like dress-parades and
guard-mount, for a playground; turning hand-springs all over the
sprouting grass, and vaulting in leap-frog over the bent back of a
comrade. If it were possible for people in the States to realize how
sacred the parade-ground of a Western post is, how hurriedly a
venturesome cow or loose horse is marshaled off, how pompously every one
performs the military duties permitted on this little square; how even
the color-sergeant, who marches at measured gait to take down and furl
the garrison flag, when the evening gun announces that the sun has been,
by the royal mandate of military law, permitted to set--they would then
understand with what perturbation we women witnessed the desecration of
what had been looked upon as hallowed earth. The sacrilege of these
monkey acrobats turning somersaults over the ground, their elongated
heels vibrating in the air, while they stood upon their heads in front
of our windows, made us very indignant. When one patted "juba," and a
group danced, we seemed transformed into a disconnected minstrel show.
There was not a trace of the well-conducted post of a short time before.

All this frivolity was but the prelude to serious trouble. The joy with
which the negroes came into possession of a gun for the first time in
their lives would have been ludicrous had it not been extremely
dangerous. They are eminently a race given over to display. This was
exhibited in their attempts to make themselves marksmen in a single day.
One morning we were startled by a shot coming from the barracks. It was
followed by a rush of men out of the doors, running wildly to and fro,
yelling with alarm. We knew that some disaster had occurred, and it
proved to be the instant death of a too confiding negro, who had allowed
himself to be cast for the part of William Tell's son. His accidental
murderer was a man that had held a gun in his hand that week for the
first time.

They had no sort of idea how to care for their health. The ration of a
soldier is so large that a man who can eat it all in a day is renowned
as a glutton. I think but few instances ever occur where the entire
ration is consumed by one man. It is not expected, and, fortunately,
with all the economy of the Government, the supply has never been cut
down; but the surplus is sold and a company fund established. By this
means, the meagre fare is increased by buying vegetables, if it happen
to be a land where they can be obtained. The negroes, for the first time
in possession of all the coffee, pork, sugar, and hardtack they wanted,
ate inordinately. There was no one to compel them to cleanliness. If a
soldier in a white regiment is very untidy the men become indignant, and
as the voluminous regulations provide directions only for the scrubbing
of the quarters and not of the men, they sometimes take the affair into
their own hands, and, finding from their captain that they will not be
interfered with, the untidy one is taken on a compulsory journey to the
creek and "ducked" until the soldiers consider him endurable. The
negroes at that time had no idea of encountering the chill of cold water
on their tropical skins, and suffered the consequences very soon.
Pestilence broke out among them. Smallpox, black measles and other
contagious diseases raged, while the soldier's enemy, scurvy, took
possession. We were within a stone's-throw of the barracks. Of course
the illest among them were quarantined in hospital-tents outside the
garrison; but to look over to the infested barracks and realize what
lurked behind the walls, was, to say the least, uncomfortable for those
of us who were near enough to breathe almost the same air.

Added to this, we felt that, with so much indiscriminate firing, a shot
might at any time enter our windows. One evening a few women were
walking outside the garrison. Our limits were not so circumscribed, at
that time, as they were in almost all the places where I was stationed
afterward. A sentinel always walked a beat in front of a small arsenal
outside of the post, and, overcome with the grandeur of carrying a gun
and wearing a uniform, he sought to impress his soldierly qualities on
anyone approaching by a stentorian "Who comes thar?" It was entirely
unnecessary, as it was light enough to see the fluttering skirts of
women, for the winds kept our drapery in constant motion. Almost
instantly after his challenge, the flash of his gun and the whizz of a
bullet past us made us aware that our lives were spared only because of
his inaccurate aim. Of course that ended our evening walks, and it was a
great deprivation, as the monotony of a garrison becomes almost
unbearable.

There was one person who profited by the presence of the negro troops.
Our Eliza was such a belle, that she would have elevated them into too
exalted a sphere to wait on us, had she not been accustomed to constant
adulation from the officers' body-servants from the time, as she
expressed it, when she "entered the service." Still, it was a
distraction, of which she availed herself in our new post, to receive
new beaux, tire of them, quarrel and discard them for fresh victims.
They waited on her assiduously, and I suspect they dined daily in our
kitchen, as long as their brief season of favor lasted. They even sought
to curry favor with Eliza by gifts to me--snaring quail, imprisoning
them in cages made of cracker-boxes, or bring dandelion greens or
wild-flowers as they appeared in the dells. For all these gifts I was
duly grateful, but I was very much afraid of a negro soldier,
nevertheless.

At last our perplexities and frights reached a climax. One night we
heard the measured tramp of feet over the gravel in the road in front of
our quarters, and they halted almost opposite our windows, where we
could hear the voices. No loud "Halt, who comes there!" rang out on the
air, for the sentinel was enjoined to silence. Being frightened, I
called to Eliza. To Diana and to me she was worth a corporal's guard,
and could not be equaled as a defender, solacer and general manager of
our dangerous situations--indeed, of all our affairs. Eliza ran
up-stairs in response to my cry, and we watched with terror what went
on. It soon was discovered to be a mutiny. The men growled and swore,
and we could see by their threatening movements that they were in a
state of exasperation. They demanded the commanding officer, and as he
did not appear, they clenched their fists, and looked at the house as if
they would tear it down, or at least break in the doors. It seemed a
desperate situation to us, for the quarters were double, and our gallery
had no division from the neighbors. If doors and windows were to be
demolished, there would be little hope for ours. I knew of no way by
which we could ask help, as most of the soldiers were colored, and we
felt sure that the plan, whatever it was, must include them all.

At last Eliza realized how terrified I was, and gave up the absorbing
watch she was keeping, for her whole soul was in the wrongs, real or
fancied, of her race. Too often had she comforted me in my fears to
forget me now, and an explanation was given of this alarming outbreak.

The men had for some time been demanding the entire ration, and were
especially clamorous for all the sugar that was issued. Very naturally,
the captain had withheld the supernumerary supplies, in order to make
company savings for the purpose of buying vegetables. A mutiny over
sugar may seem a small affair, but it assumes threatening proportions
when a mob of menacing, furious men tramp up and down in front of one's
house, and there is no safe place of refuge, nor any one to whom appeal
can be made. Eliza kept up a continuous comforting and reassuring, but
when I reminded her that our door had no locks, or, rather, no keys, for
it was not the custom to lock army quarters, she said, "La, Miss Libbie,
they won't tech you; you dun wrote too many letters for 'em, and they'se
got too many good vittels in your kitchen ever to 'sturb you." Strong
excitement is held to be the means of bringing out the truth, and here
were the facts revealed that they had been bountifully fed at our
expense. I had forgotten how much ink I had used in trying to put down
their very words in love-letters, or family epistles to the Southern
plantation. The infuriated men had to quiet down, for no response came
from the commanding officer. They found out, I suppose from the
investigations of one acting as spy, and going to the rear of the
quarters, that he had disappeared. To our intense relief, they straggled
off until their growling and muttering were lost in the barracks, where
they fortunately went to bed. No steps were taken to punish them, and at
any imaginary wrong, they might feel, from the success of this first
attempt at insurrection, that it was safe to repeat the experiment. We
women had little expectation but that the summer would be one of
carousal and open rebellion against military rule. The commanding
officer, though very retiring, was so courteous and kindly to all the
women left in the garrison, that it was difficult to be angry with him
for his failure to control the troops. Indeed, his was a hard position
to fill, with a lot of undisciplined, ignorant, ungoverned creatures,
who had never been curbed, except by the punishment of plantation life.

Meanwhile my letters, on which I wrote every day, even if there was no
opportunity to send them, made mention of our frights and
uncertainties. Each mail carried out letters from the women to the
expedition, narrating their fears. We had not the slightest idea that
there was a remedy. I looked upon the summer as the price I was to pay
for the privilege of being so far on the frontier, so much nearer the
expedition than the families of officers who had gone East. With all my
tremors and misgivings, I had no idea of retreating to safe
surroundings, as I should then lose my hope of eventually going out to
the regiment. It took a long time for our letters to reach the
expedition, and a correspondingly long time for replies; but the
descriptions of the night of mutiny brought the officers together in
council, and the best disciplinarian of our regiment was immediately
despatched to our relief. I knew but little of General Gibbs at that
time; my husband had served with him during the war, and valued his
soldierly ability and sincere friendship. He had been terribly wounded
in the Indian wars before the Civil War, and was really unfit for hard
service, but too soldierly to be willing to remain at the rear. In a
week after his arrival at our post, there was a marked difference in the
state of affairs. Out of the seemingly hopeless material, General Gibbs
made soldiers who were used as guards over Government property through
the worst of the Indian country, and whose courage was put to the test
by frequent attacks, where they had to defend themselves as well as the
supplies. The opinion of soldier and citizen alike underwent a change,
regarding negroes as soldiers, on certain duty to which they were
fitted. A ranchman, after praising their fighting, before the season was
ended said, "And plague on my cats if they don't like it."

We soon found that we had reached a country where the weather could show
more remarkable and sudden phases in a given time than any portion of
the United States. The cultivation of the ground, planting of trees, and
such causes, have materially modified some of the extraordinary
exhibitions that we witnessed when Kansas was supposed to be the great
American desert. With all the surprises that the elements furnished,
there was one that we would gladly have been spared. One quiet day I
heard a great rumbling in the direction of the plateau where we had
ridden so much, as if many prairie-schooners, heavily laden, were being
spirited away by the stampede of mules. Next, our house began to rock,
the bell to ring, and the pictures to vibrate on the wall. The mystery
was solved when we ran to the gallery, and found the garrison rushing
out of barracks and quarters; Women and children ran to the
parade-ground, all hatless, some half-dressed. Everybody stared at every
one else, turned pale, and gasped with fright. It was an earthquake,
sufficiently serious to shake our stone quarters and overturn the
lighter articles, while farther down the gully the great stove at the
sutler's store was tumbled over and the side of the building broken in
by the shock. There was a deep fissure in the side of the bank, and the
waters of the Big Blue were so agitated that the bed of the river twelve
feet deep was plainly visible.

The usual session of the "Did-you-evers" took place, and resolutions
were drawn up--not committed to paper, however--giving the opinion of
women on Kansas as a place of residence. We had gone through
prairie-fire, pestilence, mutiny, a river freshet, and finally, an
earthquake: enough exciting events to have been scattered through a
lifetime were crowded into a few weeks. Yet in these conclaves, when we
sought sympathy and courage from one another, there was never a
suggestion of returning to a well-regulated climate.



CHAPTER XVI.

SACRIFICES AND SELF-DENIAL OF PIONEER DUTY--CAPTAIN ROBBINS AND COLONEL
COOK ATTACKED, AND FIGHT FOR THREE HOURS.


IT is a source of regret, as these pages grow daily under my hand, that
I have not the power to place before the country the sacrifices and
noble courage endured by the officers and soldiers of our army in their
pioneer work. I can only portray, in the simplest manner, what I saw
them endure unmurmuringly, as I was permitted to follow in the marches
and campaigns of our regiment. I find that it is impossible to make the
life clear to citizens, even when they ask me to describe personally
something of frontier days, unless they may have been over the Plains in
their journeys to and from the Pacific coast. Even then, they look from
the windows of the Pullman car on to the desert, white with alkali, over
which the heat rises in waves, and upon earth that struggles to give
even life to the hardy cactus or sage-brush. Then I find their attention
is called to our army, and I sometimes hear a sympathetic tone in their
voices as they say, "Ah! Mrs. Custer, when I rode over that
God-forgotten land, I began to see what none of us at the East ever
realize--the terrible life that our army leads on the Plains." And only
lately, while I was in the West, a citizen described to me seeing a
company of cavalry, that had made a terrific march, come in to the
railroad at some point in Arizona. He told me of their blistered faces,
their bloodshot, inflamed eyes--the result of the constant cloud of
alkali dust through which they marched--the exhaustion in every limb, so
noticeable in men of splendid vigor, with their broad chests, deep
throats, and muscular build, because it told what a fearful strain it
must have been to have reduced such stalwart athletes to weakness. What
effect it would have to introduce a body of such indomitable men in the
midst of an Eastern city, tired, travel-stained, but invincible!

After all, if we who try to be their champions should succeed in making
this transfer by some act of necromancy, the men would be silent about
their sufferings. Among the few officers who have written of Plains
life, there is scarcely a mention of hardships endured. As I read over
my husband's magazine articles for the first time in many years, I find
scarcely a reference to the scorching sun, the stinging cold, the bleak
winds. His narrative reads like the story of men who marched always in
sunshine, coming across clear streams of running water and shady woods
in which to encamp. I have been there; through and through the breezy,
buoyant tale I see the background--a treeless, arid plain, brackish,
muddy water, sandy, sterile soil. The faces of our gallant men come up
to me in retrospection, blistered and swollen, the eyes streaming with
moisture from the inflaming dust, the parched lips cracked with fever of
unquenched thirst, the hands, even, puffed and fiery with the sun-rays,
day after day.

It seems heartless to smile in the midst of this vision, recalled to me
of what I myself have seen, but I hear some civilian say, as they have
often asked me equally inconsistent questions, "Well, why didn't they
wear gloves?" Where all the possessions of a man are carried on the
saddle, and the food and forage on pack-mules, it would be impossible to
take along gloves to last from early spring till the stinging cold of
late autumn. Thirst is an unconquerable foe. It is one of those enemies
that may be vanquished on one field and come up, supported by legions of
fresh desires, the very next day. I know nothing but the ever-present
selfishness of our natures that requires such persistent fighting. Just
fancy, for a moment, the joy of reaching a river or a stream on the
Plains! How easy the march seemed beside its banks! At any moment one
could descend, fill the canteen, and rejoin the column. It is true the
quality of the water was not of the best, but there comes a time, out
there, when quantity triumphs. It seems so good to have enough of
_anything_, for the stinted supplies of all sorts make life seem always
meagre in a country with no natural resources. But woe be to the man who
puts his faith in a Western stream! They used to take themselves
suddenly out of sight, down somewhere into the bowels of the earth, and
leave the bed dry as dust, winding its tortuous way for miles,
aggravating us by the constant reminder of where water ought to be, but
where it unfortunately was not. This sudden disappearance of water is
supposed to be due to the depression of the rocky beds of the streams. A
deep sand absorbs the moisture from the surface, and draws down into its
depths all the stream. When the bed again rises nearer the surface, the
stream comes to sight once more. Whoever, after the water disappeared,
found that he must drink or die, was obliged to stop and dig away at the
dry bed of the river until he found moisture. It was a desperate man
that attempted it; one whose throat had become voiceless, whose mouth
and lips ached with the swelling veins of overheated blood; for, if one
delayed behind the column for ever so short a time, he was reminded of
his insecurity by a flash from a pile of stones or a bunch of sage-bush
on the summit of a low divide. The wily foe that lurks in the rear of a
marching column has no equal in vigilance.

And then, what a generous being a soldier is! How often I have seen them
pass the precious nectar--it seemed so then, in spite of its being warm
and alkaline; and I speak from experience, for they have given me a
chance also--flavored with poor whiskey sometimes, as that old tin
receptacle which Government furnishes holds coffee, whiskey or water,
whichever is attainable. I fear that, had I scratched and dug slowly
into the soil with the point of a sabre, and scooped up a minimum of
water, my eye on the bluff near, watching and in fear of an Indian, I
should have remembered my own parched throat and let the whole American
army go thirsty. But I am thankful to say the soldier is made of
different stuff. It is enough to weld strongest bonds of friendship,
like those in our army, when it is share and share alike; and I am
reminded of a stanza of soldier poetry:

    "There are bonds of all sorts in this world of ours,
     Fetters of friendship and ties of flowers,
       And true-lover's knots, I ween;
     The boy and the girl are bound by a kiss,
     But there's never a bond of old friends like this--
       We have drunk from the same canteen."

I have, among our Plains photographs, a picture of one of the Western
rivers, with no sort of tree or green thing growing on its banks. It is
the dreariest picture I ever saw, and as it appears among the old
photographs of merry groups taken in camp or on porches covered with our
garrison family, it gives me a shudder even now. Among the photographs
of the bright side of our life, this is the skeleton at the feast which
comes up so persistently.

Since all rivers and streams in the States are fringed with trees, it is
difficult to describe how strange some of our Western water-ways
appeared without so much as a border of shrubs or reeds. In looking over
the country, as we ascended to a divide higher than the rest, the stream
lay before us, winding on in the curving lines of our own Eastern
rivers, but for miles and miles not a vestige of green bordered the
banks. It seemed to me for all the world like an eye without an eyelash.
It was strange, unnatural, weird. The white alkali was the only border,
and that spread on into the scorched brown grass, too short to protect
the traveler from the glare that was heightened by the sun in a
cloudless sky. A tree was often a landmark, and was mentioned on the
insufficient maps of the country, such as "Thousand-mile Tree," a name
telling its own story; or, "Lone Tree," known as the only one within
eighty miles, as was the one in Dakota, where so many Indians buried
their dead.

What made those thirsty marches a thousand times worse was the alluring,
aggravating mirage. This constantly deceived even old campaigners, and
produced the most harrowing sort of illusions. Such a will-o'-the-wisp,
too! for, as we believed ourselves approaching the blessed water,
imagined the air was fresher, looked eagerly and expectantly for the
brown, shriveled grass to grow green, off floated the deluding water
farther and farther away.

As I try to write something of the sacrifices of the soldier, who will
not speak of himself, and for whom so few have spoken, there comes to me
another class of heroes, for whom my husband had such genuine
admiration, and in whose behalf he gave up his life--our Western
pioneer. A desperate sort of impatience overcomes me when I realize how
incapable I am of paying them proper tribute. And yet how fast they are
passing away, with no historians! and hordes of settlers are sweeping
into the western States and Territories, quite unmindful of the soldiers
and frontiersmen, who fought, step by step, to make room for the coming
of the over-crowded population of the East. My otherwise charming
journeys West now are sometimes marred by the desire I feel for calling
the attention of the travelers, who are borne by steam swiftly over the
Plains, to the places where so short a time since men toilsomely
traveled in pursuit of homes. I want to ask those who journey for
pleasure or for a new home, if they realize what men those were who took
their lives in their hands and prepared the way.[H] Their privations are
forgotten, or carelessly ignored, by those who now go in and possess
the land. The graphic pens of Bret Harte and others, who have written of
the frontier, arrest the attention of the Eastern man, and save from
oblivion some of the noble characters of those early days. Still, these
poets naturally seized for portraiture the picturesque, romantic
characters who were miners or scouts--the isolated instances of
desperate men who had gone West from love of adventure, or because of
some tragic history in the States, that drove them to seek forgetfulness
in a wild, unfettered existence beyond the pale of civilization.

Who chronicles the patient, plodding, silent pioneer, who, having been
crowded out of his home by too many laborers in a limited field, or,
because he could no longer wring subsistence from a soil too long tilled
by sire and grandsire; or possibly a returned volunteer from our war,
who, finding all places he once filled closed up, was compelled to take
the grant of land that the Government gives its soldiers, and begin life
all over again, for the sake of wife and children! There is little in
these lives to arrest the poetical fancy of those writers who put into
rhyme (which is the most lasting of all history) the lives otherwise
lost to the world.

How often General Custer rode up to these weary, plodding yeomen, as
they turned aside their wagons to allow the column of cavalry to pass!
He was interested in every detail of their lives, admired their
indomitable pluck, and helped them, if he could, in their difficult
journeys. Sometimes, after a summer of hardships and every sort of
discouragement, we met the same people returning East, and the General
could not help being amused at the grim kind of humor that led these men
to write the history of their season in one word on the battered cover
of the wagon--"Busted."

We were in Kansas during all the grasshopper scourge, when our
Government had to issue rations to the starving farmers deprived of
every source of sustenance. What a marvel that men had the courage to
hold out at all, in those exasperating times, when the crops were no
sooner up than every vestige of green would be stripped from the
fields! Then, too, the struggle for water was great. The artesian wells
that now cover the Western States were too expensive to undertake with
the early settlers. The windmills that now whirl their gay wheels at
every zephyr of the Plains, and water vast numbers of cattle on the
farms, were then unthought of. . . . A would-be settler in Colorado, in
those times of deprivation and struggle, wrote his history on a board
and set it up on the trail, as a warning to others coming after him:
"Toughed it out here two years. Result: Stock on hand, five towheads and
seven yaller dogs. Two hundred and fifty feet down to water. Fifty miles
to wood and grass. Hell all around. God bless our home."

It would be too painful to attempt to enumerate the ravages made by the
Indians on the pioneer; and God alone knows how they faced life at all,
working their claims with a musket beside them in the field, and the
sickening dread of returning to a desolated cabin ever present in their
heavy hearts. There are those I occasionally meet, who went through
innumerable hardships, and overcame almost insurmountable obstacles, and
who attained to distinction in that land of the setting sun; but I find
they only remember the jovial side of their early days. Not long since I
had the privilege of talking with the Governor of one of our
Territories. He was having an interview with some Mexican Senators by
means of an interpreter, and after his business was finished, he turned
to our party to talk with enthusiasm of his Territory. No youth could be
more sanguine than he over the prospects, the climate, the natural
advantages of the new country in which he had just cast his lines. All
his reminiscences of his early days in other Territories were most
interesting to me. General Custer was such an enthusiast over our
glorious West, that I early learned to look upon much that I would not
otherwise have regarded with interest, with his buoyant feeling. . . .
I must qualify this statement, and explain that I could not always see
such glowing colors as did he, while we suffered from climate, and were
sighing for such blessings as trees and water; but we were both heart
and soul with every immigrant we came across, and I think many a
half-discouraged pioneer went on his way, after encountering my husband
on the westward trail, a braver and more hopeful man.

How well I remember the long wait we made on one of the staircases of
the Capitol at Washington, above which hung then the great picture by
Leutze, "Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way." We little thought
then, hardly more than girl and boy as we were, that our lives would
drift over the country which the admirable picture represents. The
General hung round it with delight, and noted many points that he wanted
me to enjoy with him. The picture made a great impression on us. How
much deeper the impression, though, had we known that we were to live
out the very scenes depicted!

Coming back to the Governor: I cannot take time to write his well-told
story. The portion of the interesting hour that made the greatest
impression on me was his saying that the happiest days of his life were
those when, for fifteen hundred miles, he walked beside the wagon
containing his wife and babies, and drove the team from their old home
in Wisconsin to a then unsettled portion of Ohio. The honors that had
come to him as senator, governor, statesman, faded beside the joys of
his first venture from home into the wilderness. I saw him, in
imagination, as I have often seen the pioneer, looking back to the
opening made in the front of the wagon by the drawing over of the canvas
cover to the puckered circle, in which were framed the woman and babies
for whom he could do and dare. I fall to wondering if there is any
affection like that which is enhanced or born of these sacrifices in
each other's behalf. I wonder if there can be anything that would so
spur a man to do heroic deeds as the feeling that he walked in front of
three dependent beings, and braved Indians, starvation, floods,
prairie-fire, and all those perils that beset a Western trail; and to
see the bright, fond eyes of a mother, and the rosy cheeks of the little
ones, looking uncomplainingly out upon the desert before them--why,
what could nerve a man's arm like that? Love grows with every sacrifice,
and I believe that many a youthful passion, that might have become
colorless with time, has been deepened into lasting affection on those
lonely tramps over the prairies.

It has also been my good fortune lately to recall our Western life with
an ex-governor of another Territory, a friend of my husband's in those
Kansas days. What can I say in admiration of the pluck of those Western
men? Even in the midst of his luxuriant New York life, he loves better
to dwell on the early days of his checkered career, when at seven years
of age he was taken by his parents to the land of the then great
unknown. He had made a fortune in California, for he was a Forty-niner,
and returned East to enjoy it. But as he lost his all soon afterward,
there was nothing left for him to do but to start out again. His wife
could have remained in comfort and security with her friends, but she
preferred to share the danger and discomforts of her husband's life.
Their first trip over the old trail to Denver (our stamping-ground
afterward) was a journey from Missouri, the outfitting place at the
termination of the last railway going West, taking sixty-four days to
accomplish. The wife, brave as she was, fell ill, and lay on the hard
wagon-bed the whole distance. The invincible father took entire care of
her and of his children, cooking for the party of eleven on the whole
route, and did guard duty a portion of every night. The Indians were
hovering in front and in rear. Two of the party were too old to walk and
carry a musket, so that on the five men devolved the guarding of their
little train. Nine times afterward he and his wife crossed that long
stretch of country before the railroad was completed, always in peril,
and never knowing from hour to hour when a band of hostiles would sweep
down upon them. He taught his children the use of fire-arms as soon as
they were large enough to hold a pistol. His daughter learned, as well
as his sons, to be an accurate marksman, and shot from the pony's back
when he scampered at full speed over the prairies. For years and years,
all his family were obliged to be constantly vigilant. They lived out a
long portion of their lives on the alert for a foe that they knew well
how to dread.

But the humorous comes in, even in the midst of such tragic days! How I
enjoyed and appreciated the feelings of the Governor's wife, whom I had
known as a girl, when she rebelled at his exercising his heretofore
valuable accomplishment as cook, after he became Governor. How like a
woman, and how dear such whimsicalities are, sandwiched in among the
many admirable qualities with which such strong characters as hers are
endowed! It seems that on some journey over the Plains they entertained
a party of guests the entire distance. The cook was a failure, and as
the route of travel out there is not lined with intelligence-offices,
the only thing left to do for the new-made Governor, rather than see his
wife so taxed, was to doff his coat and recall the culinary gifts
acquired in pioneer life. The madame thought her husband, now a
Governor, might keep in secrecy his gifts at getting up a dinner. But he
persisted, saying that it was still a question whether he would make a
good Governor, and as he was pretty certain he was a good cook, he
thought it as well to impress that one gift, of which he was sure, upon
his constituents.

The next letter from the expedition brought me such good news, that I
counted all the frights of the past few weeks as nothing, compared with
the opportunity that being in Fort Riley gave me of joining my husband.
He wrote that the cavalry had been detached from the main body of the
command, and ordered to scout the stage-route from Fort Hays to Fort
McPherson, then the most invested with savages. A camp was to be
established temporarily, and scouting parties sent out from Fort Hays.
To my joy, my husband said in his letter that I might embrace any safe
opportunity to join him there. General Sherman proved to be the direct
answer to my prayers, for he arrived soon after I had begun to look
confidently for a chance to leave for Fort Hays.

With the grave question of the summer campaign in his mind, it probably
did not occur to him that he was acting as the envoy extraordinary of
Divine Providence to a very anxious, lonely woman. While he talked with
me occasionally of the country, about which he was an enthusiast--and,
oh, how his predictions of its prosperity have come true already!--I
made out to reply coherently, but I kept up a very vehement,
enthusiastic set of inner thoughts and grateful ejaculations, blessing
him for every breath he drew, blessing and thanking Providence that he
had given the commander-in-chief of our forces a heart so fresh and warm
he could feel for others, and a soul so loyal and affectionate for his
own wife and family that he knew what it was to endure suspense and
separation. He had with him some delightful girls, whom we enjoyed very
much. I cannot remember whether, in my anxiety to go to my husband, my
conversation led up to the subject--doubtless it did, for I was then at
that youthful stage of existence when the mouth speaketh out of the
fullness of the heart--but I do remember that the heart in me nearly
leaped out of my body when he invited me to go in his car to Fort
Harker, for the railroad had been completed to that next post.

Diana crowded what of her apparel she could into her trunk, and I had a
valise, but the largest part of our luggage was a roll of bedding, which
I remember blushing over as it was handed into the special coach, for
there was no baggage-car. It looked very strange to see such an ungainly
bundle as part of the belongings of two young women, and though I was
perfectly willing to sleep on the ground in camp, as I had done in
Virginia and Texas, I did not wish to court hardships when I knew a way
to avoid them. Though we went over a most interesting country, General
Sherman did not seem to care much for the outside world. He sat in the
midst of us, and entered into all our fun; told stories to match ours,
joined in our songs, and was the Grand Mogul of our circle. One of the
young girls was so captivating, even in her disloyalty, that it amused
us all immensely. When we sang war-songs, she looked silently out of
the window. If we talked of the danger we might encounter with Indians,
General Sherman said, slyly, he would make her departure from earth as
easy as possible, for he would honor her with a military funeral. She
knew that she must, in such a case, be wrapped in the Stars and Stripes,
and he did not neglect to tell her that honor awaited her if she died,
but she vehemently refused the honor. All this, which would have been
trying from a grown person, was nothing but amusement to us from a chit
of a girl, who doubtless took her coloring, as the chameleon-like
creatures of that age do, from her latest Confederate sweetheart.

In retrospection, I like to think of the tact and tolerance of General
Sherman, in those days of furious feeling on both sides, and the quiet
manner in which he heard the Southern people decry the Yankees. He knew
of their impoverished and desolated homes, and realized, living among
them as he did in St. Louis, what sacrifices they had made; more than
all, his sympathetic soul saw into the darkened lives of mothers, wives
and sisters who had given, with their idea of patriotism, their loved
ones to their country. The truth is, he was back again among those
people of whom he had been so fond, and no turbulent expressions of
hatred and revenge could unsettle the underlying affection. Besides, he
has always been a far-seeing man. Who keeps in front in our country's
progress as does this war hero? Is he not a statesman as well as a
soldier? And never have the interests of our land been narrowed down to
any prescribed post where he may have been stationed, or his life been
belittled by any temporary isolation or division from the rest of
mankind. Every public scheme for our advancement as a nation meets his
enthusiastic welcome. This spirit enabled him to see, at the close of
the war, that, after the violence of wrath should have subsided, the
South would find themselves more prosperous, and capable, in the new
order of affairs, of immense strides in progress of all kinds.

I remember a Southern woman, who came to stay with relatives in our
garrison, telling me of her first encounter with General Sherman after
the war. He had been a valued friend for many years; but it was too much
when, on his return to St. Louis, he came, as a matter of course, to see
his old friends. Smarting with the wrongs of her beloved South, she
would not even send a message by the maid; she ran to the head of the
stairs, and in an excited tone, asked if he for one moment expected she
would speak, so much as speak, to a Yankee? The General went on his
peaceful way, as unharmed by this peppery assault as a foe who is out of
reach of our short-range Government carbines, and I can recall with what
cordiality she came to greet him later in the year or two that followed.
No one could maintain wrath long against such imperturbable good-nature
as General Sherman exhibited. He remembered a maxim that we all are apt
to forget, "Put yourself in his place."

Along the line of the railroad were the deserted towns, and we even saw
a whole village moving on flat cars. The portable houses of one story
and the canvas rolls of tents, which would soon be set up to form a
street of saloons, were piled up as high as was safe, and made the
strangest sort of freight train. The spots from which they had been
removed were absolutely the dreariest of sights. A few poles, broken
kegs, short chimneys made in rude masonry of small round stones, heaps
of tin cans everywhere, broken bottles strewing the ground, while great
square holes yawned empty where, a short time before, a canvas roof
covered a room stored with clumsy shelves laden with liquor. Here and
there a smoke-stained barrel protruded from the ground. They were the
chimneys of some former dug-outs. I cannot describe how startled I was
when I first came near one of these improvised chimneys, and saw smoke
pouring out, without any other evidence that I was walking over the home
of a frontier citizen. The roof of a flat dug-out is level with the
earth, and as no grass consents to grow in these temporary villages,
there is nothing to distinguish the upturned soil that has been used as
a covering for the beams of the roof of a dwelling from any of the rest
of the immediate vicinity. A portion of this moving village had already
reached the end in the railroad, and named itself Ellsworth, with
streets called by various high-sounding appellations, but marked only by
stakes in the ground.

At Fort Harker we found a forlorn little post--a few log houses bare of
every comfort, and no trees to cast a shade on the low roofs. The best
of the quarters, belonging to the bachelor commanding officer, were
offered to General Sherman and his party. We five women had one of the
only two rooms. It seems like an abuse of hospitality, even after all
these years, to say that the floor of uneven boards was almost ready for
agricultural purposes, as the wind had sifted the prairie sand in
between the roughly laid logs, and even the most careful housewife would
have found herself outwitted if she had tried to keep a tidy floor. I
only remember it because I was so amused to see the dainty women
stepping around the little space left in the room between the cots, to
find a place to kneel and say their prayers. I had given up, and gone to
bed, as often before I had been compelled to tell my thanks to the
Heavenly Father on my pillow, for already in the marches I had
encountered serious obstacles to kneeling. The perplexed but devout
women finally gave up attempting a devotional attitude, turned their
faces to the rough wall, and held their rosaries in their fingers, while
they sent up orisons for protection and guidance. They were reverential
in their petitions; but I could not help imagining how strange it must
seem to these luxuriously raised girls, to find themselves in a country
where not even a little prayer could be said as one would wish. It must
have been for exigencies of our life that Montgomery wrote the
comforting definition that "Prayer is the soul's sincere desire," "The
upward lifting of an eye," etc., and so set the heart at rest about how
and where the supplication of the soul could be offered.

[Illustration: A MATCH BUFFALO HUNT.]

At Fort Harker we bade good-by to our delightful party, the frolic and
light-heartedness departed, and the serious side of existence appeared.
I had but little realization that every foot of our coming march of
eighty miles was dangerous. We had an ambulance lent us, and accompanied
a party that had an escort. There were stage-stations every ten or
fifteen miles, consisting of rude log or stone huts, huddled together
for safety in case of attack. The stables for the relays of horses were
furnished with strong doors of rough-hewn timber, and the windows closed
with shutters of similar pattern. The stablemen and relays of drivers
lived in no better quarters than the horses. They were, of course,
intrepid men, and there was no stint in arming them with good rifles and
abundance of ammunition. They were prepared for attack, and could have
defended themselves behind the strong doors--indeed, sustained a siege,
for the supplies were kept inside their quarters--had not the Indians
used prepared arrows that could be shot into the hay and thus set the
stables on fire. These Plainsmen all had "dug-outs" as places of retreat
in case of fire. They were very near the stables, and connected by an
underground passage. They were about four feet deep. The roof was of
timbers strong enough to hold four or five feet of earth, and in these
retreats a dozen men could defend themselves, by firing from loopholes
that were left under the roof-beams. Some of the stage-stations had no
regular buildings. We came upon them without being prepared by any signs
of human life, for the dug-outs were excavated from the sloping banks of
the creeks. A few holes in the side-hill, as openings for man and beast,
some short chimneys on the level ground, were all the evidence of the
dreary, Columbarium homes. Here these men lived, facing death every hour
rather than earn a living in the monotonous pursuit of some trade or
commonplace business in the States. And at that time there were always
desperadoes who would pursue any calling that kept them beyond the reach
of the law.

This dreary eighty miles over a monotonous country, varied only by the
undulations that rolled away to Big Creek, was over at last, and Fort
Hays was finally visible--another small post of log huts like Fort
Harker, treeless and desolate, but the stream beyond was lined with
white canvas, which meant the tents of the Seventh Cavalry.

[Illustration: GATHERING AND COUNTING THE TONGUES.]

Again it seemed to me the end of all the troubles that would ever enter
into my life had come, when I was lifted out of the ambulance into my
husband's tent. What a blessing it is that there is a halcyon time in
sanguine youth, when each difficulty vanquished seems absolutely the
last that will ever come, and when one trouble ends, the stone is rolled
against its sepulchre with the conviction that nothing will ever open
wide the door again. We had much to talk about in camp. The first
campaign of a regiment is always important to them, and in this case,
also, the council, the Indian village, and its final destruction, were
really significant events. A match hunt they had carried out was a
subject of interest, and each side took one ear in turn, to explain why
they won, or the reasons they lost. Mr. Theodore Davis, the artist whom
the Harpers sent out for the summer, was drawing sketches in our tent,
while we advised or commented. It seemed well, from the discussions that
followed, that rules for the hunt had been drawn up in advance. It was
quite a ranking affair, when two full majors conducted the sides. As
only one day was given to each side, the one remaining in camp watched
vigilantly that the party going out held to the rule, and refrained from
starting till sunrise, while the same jealous eyes noticed that sunset
saw all of them in camp again. One of the rules was, that no shots
should be counted that were fired when the man was dismounted. This
alone was a hard task, as at that time the splendid racing of the horse
at breakneck speed, with his bridle free on his neck, and both hands
busy with the gun, was not an accomplished feat. The horses were all
novices at buffalo-hunting, also, and the game was thin at that
season--so thin that a bison got over a great deal of territory in a
short time. I remember the General's telling me what an art it was, even
after the game was shot, to learn to cut out the tongue. It was
wonderful that there was such success with so much to encounter. The
winning party kept their twelve tongues very securely hidden until the
second day, when the losers produced the eleven they had supposed would
not be outdone. My husband was greatly amused at one of our officers,
who hovered about the camp-fires of the opposite party and craftily put
questions to ascertain what was the result of the first day.

[Illustration: SUPPER GIVEN BY THE VANQUISHED TO THE VICTORS OF THE
MATCH BUFFALO HUNT.]

All this was told us with great glee. Diana's interests were centred in
the success of that party with whom her best beloved, for the time,
hunted. The officers regretted our absence at their great "feed," as
they termed it, and it must, indeed, have been a great treat to have for
once, in that starving summer, something palatable. Two wall-tents were
put together so that the table, made of rough boards, stretching through
both, was large enough for all. Victors and vanquished toasted each
other in champagne, and though the scene was the plainest order of
banquet, lighted by tallow candles set in rude brackets sawed out of
cracker-box boards and fastened to the tent-poles, and the only draping
a few cavalry guidons, the evening brightened up many a dreary day that
followed. Gallant Captain Louis McLane Hamilton, who afterward fell in
the battle of the Washita, was the hero of the hour, and bore his honors
with his usual modesty. Four out of twelve buffaloes was a record that
might have set a less boastful tongue wagging over the confidences of
the evening camp-fire. I do not think he would have permitted Mr. Davis
to put his picture in the illustration if he could have helped it. He
was gifted with his pencil also; he drew caricatures admirably, and
after a harmless laugh had gone the rounds, he managed, with the utmost
adroitness, to get possession of the picture and destroy it, thus taking
away the sting of ridicule, which constant sight of the caricature might
produce. How I came into possession of one little drawing is still a
mystery, but it is very clever. Among our officers was one who had
crossed the Plains as a citizen a year or two previous, and his habit of
revealing mines of frontier lore obtained on this one trip was somewhat
tiresome to our still inexperienced officers. At last, after all had
tried chasing antelope, and been more and more impressed in their
failures with the fleetness of that winged animal, Captain Hamilton made
a sketch representing the boaster as shooting antelope with the
shot-gun. The speck on the horizon was all that was seen of the game,
but the booted and spurred man kneeling on the prairie was admirable. It
silenced one of the stories, certainly, and we often wished the pencil
could protect us further from subsequent statements airily made on the
strength of the one stage-journey.

I had arrived in the rainy season, and such an emptying of the heavens
was a further development of what Kansas could do. But nothing damped my
ardor; no amount of soakings could make me think that camping-ground was
not an Elysian field. The General had made our tent as comfortable as
possible with his few belongings, and the officers had sent in to him,
for me, any comfort that they might have chanced to bring along on the
march. I was, it seemed, to be especially honored with a display of what
the elements could do at night when it was too dark to grope about and
protect our tent. The wind blew a tornado, and the flashes of lightning
illumined the tent and revealed the pole swaying ominously back and
forth. A fly is an outer strip of canvas which is stretched over the
tent to prevent the rain from penetrating, as well as to protect us in
the daytime from the sun. This flapped and rattled and swung loose at
one end, beating on the canvas roof like a trip-hammer, for it was
loaded with moisture; and the wet ropes attached to it, and used to guy
it down, were now loose, and lashed our rag house in an angry,
vindictive manner. My husband, accustomed to the pyrotechnic display of
the elements, slept soundly through the early part of the storm. But
lightning "murders sleep" with me, and, consequently, he was awakened by
a conjugal joggle, and on asking, "What is it?" was informed, "It
lightens!" Often as this statement was made to him in his sudden
awakenings, I do not remember his ever meeting it with any but a
teasing, laughing reply, like: "Ah! indeed; I am pleased to be informed
of so important a fact. This news is quite unexpected," and so on, or
"When, may I inquire, did you learn this?" On this occasion, however,
there was no attempt to quiet me or delay precautions. Feeling sure that
we were in for it for the night, he unfastened the straps that secured
the tent in front, and crept out to hammer down the tent-pins and tether
the ropes. But it was of no earthly use. After fruitless efforts of his
own, he called the guard from their tents, and they went energetically
to work with the light of our lantern. Ropes wrenched themselves away
from the tent-pins, straps broke, whole corners of the tent were torn
out, even while the men were hanging with all their might to the upright
poles to try and keep the ridge-pole steady, and clinging to the ropes
to keep them from loosening entirely and sailing off in the air with the
canvas.

In the midst of this fracas, with the shouts of the soldiers calling to
one another in the inky darkness, the crash of thunder and the howling
of the tempest, the wife of a brave soldier was hiding her head under
the blankets, and not one sound emerged from this temporary retreat. The
great joy of getting out to camp at last was too fresh to extract one
word, one whimper of fear from under the bedding. The sunniest day at
Fort Riley could not be exchanged, could not even be mentioned in the
same breath, with that tornado of wind and rain.

The stalwart arms of the soldiers failed at last. Their brawny chests
were of no more use, thrust against the tent-poles, than so many
needles. Over went the canvas in a heap, the General and his men hanging
on to the ridge-pole to clear it from the camp bed and save any
accident.

The voices of officers in an adjoining tent called out to come over to
them. One, half dressed, groped his way to us and said there was yet
room for more in his place, and, besides, he had a floor. It was a
Sibley, which, having no corners with which those Kansas breezes can
toy, is much more secure. I was rolled in the blankets and carried
through the blinding rain to our hospitable neighbors'. The end of a
tallow dip gave me a glimpse only of many silent forms rolled in
blankets and radiating from the centre like the spokes of a wagon wheel.
The officer owning this tent had taken the precaution, while at
Leavenworth, to have a floor made in sections, so that it could be
easily stowed away in the bottom of a prairie-schooner in marching.

My husband laid me down, and we were soon two more spokes in the human
wheel, and asleep in a trice. Next morning I wakened to find myself
alone, with a tin basin of water and a towel for my toilet beside me. My
husband had to dress me in his underclothing, for everything I had was
soaked. My shoes were hopeless, so I was dropped into a pair of cavalry
boots, and in this unpicturesque costume, which I covered as best I
could with my wet dress, I was carried through the mud to the
dining-tent, and enthroned _à la_ Turk, on a board which the cook
produced from some hiding-place, where he had kept it for kindlings.
There were not a few repetitions of this stormy reception in the years
that followed, for Kansas continued its weather vagaries with unceasing
persistency, but this, being my first, is as fresh in my mind as if it
occurred but yesterday.

The tent might go down nightly for all I cared then. Every thought of
separation departed, and I gave myself up to the happiest hours,
clamping about the tent in those old troop boots, indifferent whether my
shoes _ever_ dried. The hours flew too fast, though, for very soon
preparations began for a scout, which my husband was to command. It took
a great deal of comforting to reconcile me to remaining behind. The
General, as usual, had to beg me to remember how blessed we were to have
been permitted to rejoin each other so early in the summer. He told me,
over and over again, that there was nothing, he felt, that I would not
encounter to come to him, and that if he was detained, he would send for
me. Eliza and a faithful soldier were to be left to care for us. The
cavalry departed, and again the days lengthened out longer and longer,
until each one seemed forty-eight hours from sun to sun. We could
scarcely take a short walk in safety. The Indians were all about us, and
daily the sentinels were driven in, or attempts were made to stampede
the horses and mules grazing about the post. The few officers remaining,
in whose care we were placed, came or sent every day to our tents, which
were up the creek a short distance, to inquire what they could do for
our comfort. Mrs. Gibbs, with her boys, had joined her husband, and we
were their neighbors.

It seemed, sometimes, as if we _must_ get outside of our prescribed
limits, the rolling bluffs beyond, tinged with green and beginning to
have prairie flowers, looked so tempting. One evening we beguiled an
officer, who was sitting under our tent fly, which was stretched in
front for a shade, to take us for a little walk. Like many another man
in the temporary possession of wheedling women, he went with us a
little, and "just a little farther." Diana would have driven all thought
of everything else save herself out of the gravest head. At last our
escort saw the dark coming on so fast he insisted upon going home, and
we reluctantly turned. As we came toward the post, the shadows were
deepening in the twilight, and the figures of the sentinels were not
visible. A flash, followed by a sound past our ears, that old
campaigners describe as never to be forgotten when first heard, was the
warning that we three were taken for Indians and fired upon by the
sentinel. Another flash, but we stood rooted to the spot, stunned by
surprise. The whizz and zip of the bullet seemed to be only a few inches
from my ear. Still we were dazed, and had not the officer gained his
senses our fate would have been then and there decided. The recruit,
probably himself terrified, kept on sending those deadly little
missives, with the terrible sound cutting the air around us. Our escort
shouted, but it was too far for his voice to carry. Then he told us to
run for our lives to a slight depression in the ground, and throw
ourselves on our faces. I was coward enough to burrow mine in the
prairie-grass, and for once in my life was devoutly grateful for being
slender. Still, as I lay there quaking with terror, my body seemed to
rise above the earth in such a monstrous heap that the dullest marksman,
if he tried, might easily perforate me with bullets. What ages it seemed
while we waited in this prostrate position, commanded by our escort not
to move! The rain of bullets at last ceased, and blessed quiet came, but
not peace of mind. The officer told us he would creep on his hands and
knees through the hollow portions of the plain about the post, approach
by the creek side, and inform the sentinels along the line, and as soon
as they all knew who we were he would return for us. With smothered
voices issuing from the grass where our faces were still crushed as low
as we could get them, we implored to be allowed to creep on with him. We
prayed him not to leave us out in the darkness alone. We begged him to
tell us how he could ever find us again, if once he left us on ground
that had no distinctive features by which he could trace his way back.
But he was adamant: we must remain; and the ring of authority in his
tone, besides the culprit feeling we had for having endangered his life,
kept us still at last. As we lay there, our hearts' thumping seemed to
lift us up in air and imperil anew our wretched existence. The pretty,
rounded contour of the girl, which she had naturally taken such delight
in, was now a source of agony to her, and she moaned out, "Oh! how high
I seem to be above you! Oh, Libbie, do you think I lie as flat to the
ground as you do?" and so on, with all the foolish talk of frightened
women.

When at last our deliverer came, my relief at such an escape was almost
forgotten in the mortification I felt at having made so much trouble;
and I thought, with chagrin, how quickly the General's gratitude to find
we had escaped the bullets would be followed by temporary suspension of
faith regarding my following out his instructions not to run risks of
danger and wander away from the post. I wrote him an abject account of
our hazardous performance. I renewed every promise. I asked to be
trusted again, and from that time there were no more walks outside the
beat of the sentinel.

An intense disappointment awaited me at this time, and took away the one
hope that had kept up my spirits. I was watching, from day to day, an
opportunity to go to my husband at Fort McPherson, for he had said I
could come if any chance offered. I was so lonely and anxious, I would
gladly have gone with the scout who took despatches and mail, though he
had to travel at night and lie in the ravines all day to elude the sharp
eyes of the Indians. I remember watching Wild Bill, as he reported at
the commanding officer's tent to get despatches for my husband, and
wishing with all my heart that I could go with him. I know this must
seem strange to people in the States, whose ideas of scouts are made up
from stories of shooting affrays, gambling, lynching and outlawry. I
should have felt myself safe to go any distance with those men whom my
husband employed as bearers of despatches. I have never known women
treated with such reverence as those whom they honored. They were
touched to see us out there, for they measured well every danger of that
country; and the class that followed the moving railroad towns were
their only idea of women, except as they caught glimpses of us in camp
or on the march. In those border-towns, as we were sometimes compelled
to walk a short distance from the depot to our ambulance, the rough
characters in whom people had ceased to look for good were transformed
in their very attitude as we approached. Of course, they all knew and
sincerely admired the General, and, removing their hats, they stepped
off the walk and cast such looks at me as if I had been little lower
than the angels. When these men so looked at me, my husband was as proud
as if a President had manifested pleasure at sight of his wife, and
amused himself immensely because I said to him, after we were well by,
that the outlaws had seemed to think me possessed of every good
attribute, while to myself my faults and deficiencies appeared to rise
mountains high. I felt that if there was a Christian grace that my
mother had not striven to implant in me, I would cultivate it now, and
try to live up to the frontier citizen's impression of us as women.

I think the General would have put me in the care of any scout that
served him, just as readily as to place me in the keeping of the best
officer we had. There was not a trust he reposed in them that they did
not fulfill. Oh, how hard it was for me to see them at that time, when
starting with despatches to my husband, swing themselves into the saddle
and disappear over the divide! I feel certain, with such an end in view
as I had, and with the good health that the toughening of our campaigns
had given me, I could have ridden all night and slept on the
horse-blanket in the ravines daytimes, for a great distance. Had I been
given the opportunity to join my husband by putting myself in their
charge, there would not have been one moment's hesitation on my part. I
knew well that when "off duty" the scout is often in affrays where
lynching and outlawry are every-day events of the Western towns; but
that had no effect upon these men's sense of honor when an officer had
reposed a trust in them. Wild Bill, California Joe, Buffalo Bill,
Comstock, Charlie Reynolds, and a group of intrepid men besides, who
from time to time served under my husband, would have defended any of us
women put in their charge with their lives.

I remember with distinctness what genuine admiration and gratitude
filled my heart as these intrepid men rode up to my husband's tent to
receive orders and despatches. From my woman's standpoint, it required
far more and a vastly higher order of courage to undertake their
journeys than to charge in battle. With women, every duty or task seems
easier when shared by others. The most cowardly of us might be so
impressionable, so sympathetic, in a great cause that we saw others
preparing to defend, that it would become our own; and it is not
improbable that enthusiasm might take even a timid woman into battle,
excited and incited by the daring of others, the bray of drums, the
clash of arms, the call of the trumpet. But I doubt if there are many
who could go off on a scout of hundreds of miles, and face death alone.
It still seems to me supreme courage. Imagine, then, my gratitude, my
genuine admiration, when my husband sent scouts with letters to us, and
we saw them in returning swing lightly into the saddle and gallop off,
apparently unconcerned, freighted with our messages of affection.

Something better than such a journey awaited me, it seemed, when two of
our Seventh Cavalry officers, Captain Samuel Robbins and Colonel William
W. Cook, appeared in camp at the head of a detachment of cavalry and a
small train of wagons for supplies. The General had told them to bring
me back, and an ambulance was with the wagons, in which I was to ride.
It did not take me long to put our roll of bedding and my valise in
order; and to say anything about the heart in me leaping for joy is even
a tame expression to describe the delight that ran through every vein in
my body. To ascend such heights of joy means a corresponding capability
of descent into a region of suffering, about which I do not, even now,
like to think, for the memory of my disappointment has not departed
after all these years. The commanding officer of the department was at
the post temporarily, and forbade my going. There is a hateful clause in
the Army Regulations which gives him control of all camp-followers as
well as troops. I ran the whole gamut of insubordination, mutiny, and
revolt, as I threw myself alone on the little camp-bed of our tent. This
stormy, rebellious season, fought out by myself, ended, of course, as
everything must that gives itself into military jurisdiction, as I was
left behind in spite of myself; but I might have been enlisted as a
soldier for five years, and not have been more helpless. I put my
fingers into my ears, not to hear the call "Boots and Saddles!" as the
troops mounted and rode away. I only felt one relief; the officers would
tell the General that nothing but the all-powerful command forbidding
them to take me had prevented my doing what he knew I would do if it was
in my power. I had time also to use my husband as a safety-valve, and
pour out my vials of wrath against the officer detaining me, in a long
letter filling pages with regret that I was prevented going to him.

The Indians were then at their worst. They roamed up and down the route
of travel, burning the stations, running off stock, and attacking the
stages. General Hancock had given up all aggressive measures. The plan
was, to defend the route taken for supplies, and protect the stage
company's property so far as possible. The railroad building was almost
entirely abandoned. As our officers and their detachment were for a time
allowed to proceed quietly on their march to McPherson, they rather
flattered themselves they would see nothing of the enemy. Still, every
eye watched the long ravines that intersect the Plains and form such
fastnesses for the wily foe. There is so little to prepare you for these
cuts in the smooth surface of the plain, that an unguarded traveler
comes almost upon a deep fissure in the earth, before dreaming that the
lay of the land was not all the seeming level that stretches on to
sunset. These ravines have small clumps of sturdy trees, kept alive in
the drought of that arid climate by the slight moisture from what is
often a buried stream at the base. The Indians know them by heart, and
not only lie in wait in them, but escape by these gullies, that often
run on, growing deeper and deeper till the bed of a river is reached.

In one of these ravines, six hundred savages in full war-dress were in
ambush, awaiting the train of supplies, and sprang out from their
hiding-place with horrible yells as our detachment of less than fifty
men approached. Neither officer lost his head at a sight that was then
new to him. Their courage was inborn. They directed the troops to form a
circle about the wagons, and in this way the little band of valiant men
defended themselves against attack after attack. Not a soldier flinched,
nor did a teamster lose control of his mules, though the effort to
stampede them was incessant. This running fight lasted for three hours,
when suddenly the Indians withdrew. They, with their experienced eyes,
first saw the reinforcements coming to the relief of our brave fellows,
and gave up the attack.

The first time I saw Colonel Cook after this affair, he said: "The
moment I found the Indians were on us, and we were in for a fight, I
thought of you, and said to myself, 'If she were in the ambulance,
before giving an order I would ride up and shoot her.'" "Would you have
given me no chance for life," I replied, "in case the battle had gone in
your favor?" "Not one," he said. "I should have been unnerved by the
thought of the fate that awaited you, and I have promised the General
not to take any chances, but to kill you before anything worse could
happen." Already, in these early days of the regiment's history, the
accounts of Indian atrocities perpetrated on the women of the frontier
ranches, had curdled the blood of our men, and over the camp-fire at
night, when these stories were discussed, my husband had said to the
officers that he should take every opportunity to have me with him, but
there was but one course he wished pursued; if I was put in charge of
any one in the regiment, he asked them to kill me if Indians should
attack the camp or the escort on the march. I have referred in general
terms to this understanding, but it was on this occasion that the
seriousness with which the General's request was considered by his
brother officers first came home to me.

FOOTNOTE:

[H] My father went to Michigan early in 1800, and his long journey was
made by stage, canal-boat and schooner. He was not only a great while in
making the trip, but subject to privations, illness and fatigue, even
when using the only means of travel in those early days. The man who
went over the old California trail fared far worse. His life was in
peril from Indians all the distance, besides his having to endure
innumerable hardships. Those who pioneer in a Pullman car little know
what the unbeaten track held for the first comers.



CHAPTER XVII.

A FLOOD AT FORT HAYS.


BEFORE General Custer left for Fort McPherson, he removed our tents to a
portion of that branch of Big Creek on which the post was established.
He selected the highest ground he could find, knowing that the rainy
season was not yet over, and hoping that, if the camp were on a knoll,
the ground would drain readily and dry quickly after a storm. We were
not a great distance from the main stream and the fort, but still too
far to recognize anyone that might be walking in garrison. The stream on
which we were located was tortuous, and on a bend above us the colonel
commanding, his adjutant and his escort were established. Between us and
the fort, General and Mrs. Gibbs were camped, while the tents of a few
officers on detached duty were still farther on. The sentinel's beat was
along a line between us and the high ground, where the Indians were
likely to steal upon us from the bluffs. This guard walked his tour of
duty on a line parallel with the stream, but was too far from it to
observe the water closely. Each little group of tents made quite a show
of canvas, as we had abundance of room to spread out, and the
quartermaster was not obliged to limit us to any given number of tents.
We had a hospital tent for our sitting-room, with a wall-tent pitched
behind and opening out of the larger one, for our bedroom. There was a
wall-tent for the kitchen, near, and behind us, the "A" tent for the
soldier whom the General had left to take care of us in his absence. We
were as safely placed, as to Indians, as was possible in such a country.
As is the custom in military life, the officers either came every day,
or sent to know if I could think of anything they could do for my
comfort. The General had thought of everything, and, besides, I did my
best not to have any wants. I was as capable of manufacturing needs as
anyone, and could readily trump up a collection in garrison, but I was
rendered too wary by the uncertainty of my tenure of that (to me)
valuable little strip of ground that held my canvas house, to allow my
presence to be brought home to those gallant men as a trouble or a
responsibility. The idea that I might have to retreat eastward was a
terror, and kept in subjection any passing wish I might indulge to have
anything done for me. I would gladly have descended into one of the
cellar-like habitations that were so common in Kansas then, and had my
food handed down to me, if this would have enabled the officers to
forget that I was there, until the expedition returned from the Platte.
Yet the elements were against me, and did their best to interfere with
my desire to obliterate myself, as far as being an anxiety to others was
concerned.

One night we had retired, and were trying to believe that the thunder
was but one of those peculiar menacing volleys of cloud-artillery that
sometimes passed over harmlessly; but we could not sleep, the roar and
roll of thunder was so alarming. There is no describing lightning on the
Plains. While a storm lasts, there seems to be an incessant glare. To be
sure, there is not the smallest flash that does not illumine the tent,
and there is no way of hiding from the blinding light. In a letter
written to my husband while the effect of the fright was still fresh on
my mind, I told him "the heavens seemed to shower down fire upon the
earth, and in one minute and a half we counted twenty-five distinct
peals of thunder." There seemed to be nothing for us to do but to lie
quaking and terrified under the covers. The tents of the officers were
placed at some distance from ours intentionally, as it is impossible to
speak low enough, under canvas, to avoid being heard, unless a certain
space intervenes. It is the custom to allow a good deal of ground to
intervene, if the guard is so posted as to command the approach to all
the tents. The result was, that we dared not venture to try to reach a
neighbor; we simply had to endure the situation, as no cry could be
heard above the din of the constantly increasing storm. In the midst of
this quaking and misery, the voice of some officers outside called to
ask if we were afraid. Finding that the storm was advancing to a
tornado, they had decided to return to us and render assistance if they
could, or at least to quiet our fears. The very sound of their voices
calmed us, and we dressed and went into the outer tent to admit them.
The entrance had been made secure by leather straps and buckles that the
General had the saddler put on; and in order to strengthen the tents
against these hurricanes, which we had already learned were so violent
and sudden, he had ordered poles at each corner sunk deep into the
ground. These, being notched, had saplings laid across either side, and
to these the tent-ropes were bound. We were thus seemingly secured
between two barriers. He even went further in his precautions, and
fastened a picket-rope, which is a small cable of itself, to either end
of the ridge-pole, stretching it at the front and rear, and fasting it
with an iron pin driven into the ground. As we opened two or three of
the straps to admit the officers and Eliza, who always overcame every
obstacle to get to me in danger, the wind drove in a sheet of rain upon
us, and we found it difficult to strap the opening again. As for the
guy-ropes and those that tied the tent at the sides, all this creaking,
loosening cordage proved how little we could count upon its stability.
The great tarpaulin, of the heaviest canvas made, which was spread over
our larger tent and out in the front for a porch, flapped wildly,
lashing our poor little "rag house" as if in a fury of rage. Indeed, the
whole canvas seemed as if it might have been a cambric handkerchief, for
the manner in which it was wrenched and twisted above and on all sides
of us. The tallow candle was only kept lighted by surrounding it with
boxes to protect its feeble flame from the wind. The rain descended in
such sheets, driven by the hurricane, that it even pressed in the
tent-walls; and in spite of the trenches, that every good campaigner
digs about the tent, we were almost inundated by the streams that
entered under the lower edge of the walls.

The officers, finding we were sure to be drenched, began to fortify us
for the night. They feared the tent would go down, and that the
ridge-pole of a hospital-tent, being so much larger than that of a
wall-tent, would do some fatal injury to us. They piled all the
available furniture in a hollow square, leaving a little space for us.
Fortunately, some one, coming down from the post a few days before, had
observed that we had no table. There was no lumber at the post, and the
next best thing was to send us a zinc-covered board which had first
served for a stove; secondly, with the addition of rude supports, as our
table, and now did duty in its third existence as a life-preserver; for
the ground was softening with the moisture, and we could not protect our
feet, except for the narrow platform on which we huddled. At last the
booming of the thunder seemed to abate somewhat, though the wind still
shrieked and roared over the wide plain, as it bore down upon our frail
shelter. But the tent, though swaying and threatening to break from its
moorings, had been true to us through what we supposed to be the worst
of the tempest, and we began to put some confidence in the cordage and
picket-pins. The officers decided to return to their tents, promising to
come again should there be need, and we reluctantly permitted them to
go. Eliza put down something on which we could step over the pools into
the other tent, and we fell into bed, exhausted with terror and
excitement, hardly noticing how wet and cold we and the blankets were.

Hardly had we fallen into a doze, when the voice of the guard at the
entrance called out to us to get up and make haste for our lives; the
flood was already there! We were so agitated that it was difficult even
to find the clothes that we had put under the pillow to keep them from
further soaking, much more to get into them. It was then impossible to
remain inside of the tent. We crept through the opening, and, to our
horror, the lightning revealed the creek--which we had last seen, the
night before, a little rill in the bottom of the gully--now on a level
with the high banks. The tops of good-sized trees, which fringed the
stream, were barely visible, as the current swayed the branches in its
onward sweep. The water had risen in that comparatively short time
thirty-five feet, and was then creeping into the kitchen tent, which, as
usual, was pitched near the bank. I believe no one attempted to account
for those terrific rises in the streams, except as partly due to
water-spouts, which were common in the early days of Kansas. I have seen
the General hold his watch in his hand after the bursting of a
rain-cloud, and keep reckoning for the soldier who was measuring with a
stick at the stream's bed, and for a time it recorded an inch a minute.

Of course the camp was instantly astir after the alarm of the guard. But
the rise of the water is so insidious often, that a sentinel walking his
beat a few yards away will sometimes be unconscious of it until the
danger is upon the troops. The soldiers, our own man, detailed as
striker, and Eliza, were not so "stampeded," as they expressed it, as to
forget our property. Almost everything that we possessed in the world
was there, much of our property being fortunately still boxed. I had
come out to camp with a valise, but the wagon-train afterward brought
most of our things, as we supposed we had left Fort Riley forever. The
soldiers worked like beavers to get everything they could farther from
the water, upon a little rise of ground at one side of our tents. Eliza,
the coolest of all, took command, and we each carried what we could,
forgetting the lightning in our excitement.

The officers who had come to us in the early part of the tempest now
returned. They found their own camp unapproachable. The group of tents
having been pitched on a bend in the crooked stream, which had the
advantage of the circle of trees that edged the water, was now found to
be in the worst possible locality, as the torrent had swept over the
narrow strip of earth and left the camp on a newly made island,
perfectly inaccessible. The lives of the men and horses stranded on this
little water-locked spot were in imminent peril. The officers believed
us when we said we would do what we could to care for ourselves if they
would go at once, as they had set out to do, and find succor for the
soldiers. It was a boon to have something that it was necessary to do,
which kept us from absolute abandonment to terror. We hardly dared look
toward the rushing torrent; the agony of seeing the water steal nearer
and nearer our tent was almost unendurable. As we made our way from the
heap of household belongings, back and forth to the tent, carrying
burdens that we could not even have lifted in calmer moments, the
lightning became more vivid and the whole arc above us seemed aflame. We
were aghast at what the brilliant light revealed. Between the bluffs
that rose gradually from the stream, and the place where we were on its
banks, a wide newly made river spread over land that had been perfectly
dry, and, as far as any one knew, had never been inundated before. The
water had overflowed the banks of the stream above us, and swept across
the slight depression that intervened between our ground and the hills.
We were left on that narrow neck of land, and the water on either side
of us, seen in the lightning's glare, appeared like two boundless seas.
The creek had broken over its banks and divided us from the post below,
while the garrison found themselves on an island also, as the water took
a new course down there, and cut them off from the bluffs. This was a
misfortune to us, as we had so small a number of men and sorely needed
what help the post could have offered.

While we ran hither and thither, startled at the shouts of the officers
and men as they called to one another, dreading some new terror, our
hearts sinking with uncontrollable fright at the wild havoc the storm
was making, the two dogs that the General valued, Turk, the bull-dog,
and Rover, his favorite fox-hound, broke their chains and flew at each
other's throat. Their warfare had been long and bloody, and they meant
that night to end the contest. The ferocity of the bull-dog was not
greater than that of the old hound. The soldiers sprang at them again
and again to separate them. The fangs of each showed partly buried in
the other's throat, but finally, one powerful man choked the bull-dog
into relaxing his hold. The remnants of the gashed and bleeding
contestants were again tied at a secure distance, and the soldiers
renewed their work to prevent the tents from falling. I remember that in
one gale, especially furious, seventeen clung to the guy-rope in front
and saved the canvas from downfall.

But, after all, something worse awaited us than all this fury of the
elements and the dread of worse to come to ourselves; for the reality of
the worst that can come to anyone was then before us without a warning.
There rang out on the air, piercing our ears even in the uproar of the
tempest, sounds that no one, once hearing, ever forgets. They were the
despairing cries of drowning men. In an instant our danger was
forgotten; but the officers and men were scattered along the stream
beyond our call, and Eliza was now completely unnerved. We ran up and
down the bank, wringing our hands, she calling to me, "Oh, Miss Libbie!
what shall we do? What shall we do?" We tried to scream to those dark
forms hurrying by us, that help might come farther down. Alas! the
current grew more furious as the branch poured into the main stream, and
we could distinguish, by the oft-repeated glare of the lightning, the
men waving their arms imploringly as they were swept down with
tree-trunks, masses of earth, and heaps of rubbish that the current was
drifting by. We were helpless to attempt their rescue. There can be few
moments in existence that hold such agonizing suffering as those where
one is appealed to for life, and is powerless to give succor. I thought
of the ropes about our tent, and ran to unwind one; but they were lashed
to the poles, stiff with moisture, and tied with sailors' intricate
knots. In a frenzy, I tugged at the fastenings, bruising my hands and
tearing the nails. The guy-ropes were equally unavailable, for no knife
we had could cut such a cable.

Eliza, beside herself with grief to think she could not help the dying
soldiers with whom she had been such a favorite, came running to me
where I was insanely struggling with the cordage, and cried, "Miss
Libbie, there's a chance for us with one man. He's caught in the
branches of a tree; but I've seen his face, and he's alive. He's most
all of him under water, and the current is a-switchin' him about so he
can't hold out long. Miss Libbie, there's my clothes-line we _could_
take, but I can't do it, I can't do it! Miss Libbie, you wouldn't have
me to do it, would you? For where will we get another?" The grand
humanity that illumined the woman's face, full of the nobility of desire
to save life, was so interwoven with frugality and her inveterate habit
of protecting our things, that I hardly know how the controversy in her
own mind would have ended if I had not flown to the kitchen tent to get
the clothes-line. The current swayed the drowning man so violently he
was afraid to loosen his hold of the branches to reach the rope as we
threw it to him over and over again, and it seemed momentarily that he
must be torn from our sight. The hue of death was on his face--that
terrible blue look--while the features were pinched with suffering, and
the eyes starting from their sockets. He was naked to the waist, and the
chill of the water, and of those hours that come before dawn, had almost
benumbed the fingers that clutched the branches. Eliza, like me, has
forgotten nothing that happened during that horrible night, and I give
part of her story, the details of which it is so difficult for me to
recall with calmness:

"Miss Libbie, don't you mind when we took the clothes-line an' went near
to him as we could get, he didn't seem to understan' what we was up to?
We made a loop and showed it to him, when a big flash of lightnin' came
and made a glare, and tried to call to him to put it over his head. The
noise of the water, and the crashin' of the logs that was comin' down,
beside the thunder, drownded out our voices. Well, we worked half an
hour over that man. He thought you and me, Miss Libbie, couldn't pull
him in--that we wasn't strong enough. He seemed kind o' dazed-like; and
the only way I made him know what the loop was for, I put it on over my
body and made signs. Even then, he was so swept under that part of the
bank, and it was so dark, I didn't think we could get him. I could hear
him bubblin', bellowin', drownin' and gaggin'. Well, we pulled him in at
last, though I got up to my waist in water. He was cold and blue, his
teeth chatterin'; he just shuck and shuck, and his eyes was perfectly
wild. We had to help him, for he could hardly walk to the cook tent. I
poured hot coffee down him; and, Miss Libbie, you tore aroun' in the
dark and found your way to the next tent for whisky, and the lady that
never was known to keep any before, had some then. And I wrapped the
drownded man in the blouse the Ginnel give me. It was cold, and I was
wet and I needed it, Miss Libbie; but didn't that man, as soon as ever
his teeth stopped a-chatterin', jest get up and walk off with it? And,
Miss Libbie, the Ginnel wrote to you after that, from some expedition,
that he had seen the soldier Eliza gave her clothes-line to save, and he
sent his thanks and asked how I was, and said I had saved his life. I
just sent back word, in the next letter you wrote the Ginnel, to ask if
that man said anything about my blouse he wore off that night. You gave
one of the Ginnel's blue shirts to a half-naked, drownded man. We saved
two more and wrapped 'em in blankets, and you rubbed 'em with red
pepper, and kept the fire red-hot, and talked to them, tryin' to get the
shiver and the scare out of 'em. I tell you, Miss Libbie, we made a
fight for their lives, if ever any one did. The clothes-line did it all.
One was washed near to our tent, and I grabbed his hand. We went roun'
with our lanterns, and it was so dark we 'spected every moment to step
into a watery grave, for the water was so near us, and the flashes of
lightnin' would show that it was a-comin' on and on. Turk and Rover
would fight just by looking at each other, and in all that mess they
fell on each other, an' I was sure they was goin' to kill each other,
and, oh, my! the Ginnel would have taken on so about it! But the
soldiers dragged them apart."

Seven men were drowned near our tent, and their agonizing cries, when
they were too far out in the current for us to throw our line, are
sounds that will never be stilled. The men were from the Colonel's
escort on the temporary island above us. The cavalrymen attempted, as
the waters rose about them, to swim their horses to the other shore; but
all were lost who plunged in, for the violence of the current made
swimming an impossibility. A few negro soldiers belonging to the
infantry were compelled to remain where they were, though the water
stood three feet in some of the tents. When the violence of the storm
had abated a little, one of the officers swam the narrowest part of the
stream, and, taking a wagon-bed, made a ferry, so that with the help of
soldiers that he had left behind holding one end of the rope he had
taken over, the remaining soldiers were rescued and brought down to our
little strip of land. Alas! this narrowed and narrowed, until we all
appeared to be doomed. The officers felt their helplessness when they
realized that four women looked to them for protection. They thought
over every imaginable plan. It was impossible to cross the inundated
part of the plain, though their horses were saddled, with the thought
that each one might swim with us through the shallowest of the water.
They rode into this stretch of impassable prairie, but the water was too
swift, even then, to render it anything but perilous. They decided that
if the water continued to rise with the same rapidity we would be washed
away, as we could not swim, nor had we strength to cling to anything.
This determined them to resort to a plan that, happily, we knew nothing
of until the danger was passed. We were to be strapped to the Gatling
guns as an anchorage. These are, perhaps, the lightest of all artillery,
but might have been heavy enough to resist the action of what current
rose over our island. There would have been one chance in ten thousand
of rescue under such circumstances, but I doubt if being pinioned there,
watching the waves closing around us, would have been as merciful as
permitting us to float off into a quicker death.

While the officers and men with us were working with all their might to
save lives and property, the little post was beleaguered. The flood came
so unexpectedly that the first known of it was the breaking in of the
doors of the quarters. The poorly built, leaky, insecure adobe houses
had been heretofore a protection, but the freshet filled them almost
instantly with water. The quarters of the laundresses were especially
endangered, being on even lower ground than the officers' houses. The
women were hurried out in their night-dresses, clasping their crying
children, while they ran to places pointed out by the officers, to await
orders. Even then, one of our Seventh Cavalry officers, who happened to
be temporarily at the garrison, clambered up to the roof of an adobe
house to discover whether the women of his regiment were in peril. The
same plan for rescue was adopted at the post that had been partly
successful above. A ferry was improvised out of a wagon-bed, and into
this were collected the women and children. The post was thus emptied in
time to prevent loss of life. First the women, then the sick from the
hospital, and finally the drunken men; for the hospital liquor was
broken into, and it takes but a short time to make a soldier helplessly
drunk. The Government property had to be temporarily abandoned, and a
great deal was destroyed or swept away by the water. It was well that
the camp women were inured to hardship, for the condition in which the
cold, wet, frightened creatures landed, without any protection from the
storm, on the opposite bank, was pitiful. One laundress had no screams
of terror or groans of suffering over physical fright; her wails were
loud and continuous because her savings had been left in the quarters,
and facing death in that frail box, as she was pulled through the turbid
flood, was nothing to the pecuniary loss. It was all the men could do to
keep her from springing into the wagon-bed to return and search for her
money.

On still another branch of Big Creek there was another body of men
wrestling with wind and wave. Several companies, marching to New Mexico,
had encamped for the night, and the freshet came as suddenly upon them
as upon all of us. The colonel in command had to seize his wife, and
wade up to his arms in carrying her to a safe place. Even then, they
were warned that the safety was but temporary. The ambulance was
harnessed up, and they drove through water that almost swept them away,
before they reached higher ground. There was a strange coincidence about
the death, eventually, of this officer's wife. A year afterward they
were encamped on a Texas stream, with similar high banks, betokening
freshets, and the waters rose suddenly, compelling them to take flight
in the ambulance again; but this time the wagon was overturned by the
current, and the poor woman was drowned.

When the day dawned, we were surrounded by water, and the havoc about us
was dreadful. But what a relief it was to have the rain cease, and feel
the comfort of daylight! Eliza broke up her bunk to make a fire, and we
had breakfast for everybody, owing to her self-sacrifice! The water
began to subside, and the place looked like a vast laundry. All the camp
was flying with blankets, bedding and clothes. We were drenched, of
course, having no dry shoes even, to replace those in which we had raced
about in the mud during the night. But these were small inconveniences,
compared with the agony of terror that the night had brought. As the
morning advanced, and the stream fell constantly, we were horrified by
the sight of a soldier, swollen beyond all recognition, whose drowned
body was imbedded in the side of the bank, where no one could reach it,
and where we could not escape the sight of it. He was one who had
implored us to save him, and our failure to do so seemed even more
terrible than the night before, as we could not keep our fascinated gaze
from the stiffened arm that seemed to have been stretched out
entreatingly.

Though we were thankful for our deliverance, the day was a depressing
one, for the horror of the drowning men near us could not be put out of
our minds. As night came on again, the clouds began to look ominous; it
was murky, and it rained a little.

[Illustration: A BUFFALO UNDECIDED AS TO AN ATTACK ON GENERAL CUSTER.]

At dark word came from the fort, to which some of the officers had
returned, that we must attempt to get to the high ground, as the main
stream, Big Creek, was again rising. All the officers were alarmed. They
kept measuring the advance of the stream themselves, and guards were
stationed at intervals, to note the rise of the water and report its
progress. The torch-lights they held were like tiny fire-flies, so dark
was the night. An ambulance was driven to our tent to make the attempt
to cross the water, which had abated there slightly, and, if possible,
to reach the divide beyond. One of the officers went in advance, on
horseback, to try the depth of the water. It was a failure, and the
others forbade our going, thinking it would be suicidal. While they were
arguing, Diana and I were wrapping ourselves in what outside garments we
had in the tent. She had been plucky through the terrible night, writing
next morning to the General that she never wished herself for one moment
at home, and that even with such a fright she could never repay us for
bringing her out to a life she liked so much. Yet as we tremblingly put
on our outside things, she began to be agitated over a subject so
ridiculous in such a solemn and dangerous hour, that I could not keep my
face from what might have been a smile under less serious circumstances.
Her trepidation was about her clothes. She asked me anxiously what she
should do for dresses next day, and insisted that she must take her
small trunk. In vain I argued that we had nowhere to go. We could but
sit in the ambulance till dawn, even if we were fortunate enough to
escape to the bluff. She still persisted, saying, "What if we should
reach a fort, and I was obliged to appear in the gown I now wear?" I
asked her to remember that the next fort was eighty miles distant, with
enough water between it and us to float a ship, not to mention roving
bands of Indians lying in wait; but this by no means quieted her
solicitude about her appearance. At last I suggested her putting on
three dresses, one over the other, and then taking, in the little trunk
from which she could not part, the most necessary garments and gowns.
When I went out to get into the wagon, after the other officers had
left, and found our one escort determined still to venture, I was
obliged to explain that Diana could not make up her mind to part with
her trunk. He was astounded that at such an hour, in such a dangerous
situation, clothes should ever enter anyone's head. But the trunk
appeared at the entrance of the tent, to verify my words. He argued that
with a wagon loaded with several people, it would be perilous to add
unnecessary weight in driving through such ground. Then, with all his
chivalry, working night and day to help us, there came an instant when
he could no longer do justice to the occasion in our presence; so he
stalked off to one side, and what he said to himself was lost in the
growl of the thunder.

The trunk was secured in the ambulance, and Diana, Eliza and I followed.
There we sat, getting wetter, more frightened and less plucky as the
time rolled on. Again were we forbidden to attempt this mode of escape,
and condemned to return to the tent, which was vibrating in the wind and
menacing a downfall. No woman ever wished more ardently for a
brown-stone front than I longed for a dug-out. Any hole in the side of a
bank would have been a palace to me, living as I did in momentary
expectation of no covering at all. The rarest, most valuable of homes
meant to me something that could not blow away. Those women who take
refuge in these days in their cyclone cellar--now the popular
architecture of the West--will know well how comforting it is to possess
something that cannot be readily lifted up and deposited in a
neighboring county.

With the approach of midnight, there was again an abatement in the rain,
and the water of the stream ceased to creep toward us; so the officers,
gaining some confidence in its final subsidence, again left us to go to
their tents. For three days the clouds and thunder threatened, but at
last the sun appeared. In a letter to my husband, dated June 9, 1867, I
wrote: "When the sun came out yesterday, we could almost have worshipped
it, like the heathen. We have had some dreadful days, and had not all
the officers been so kind to us, I do not know how we could have endured
what we have. Even some whom we do not know have shown the greatest
solicitude in our behalf. We are drenching wet still, and everything we
have is soggy with moisture. Last evening, after two sleepless nights,
Mrs. Gibbs and her two boys, Alphie and Blair, Diana and I, were driven
across the plain, from which the water is fast disappearing, to the
coveted divide beyond. It is not much higher, as you know, than the spot
where our tents are; but it looked like a mountain, as we watched it,
while the water rose all around us. Some of the officers had tents
pitched there, and we women were given the Sibley tent with the floor,
that sheltered me in the other storm. We dropped down in heaps, we were
so exhausted for want of sleep, and it was such a relief to know that at
last the water could not reach us." The letter (continued from day to
day, as no scouts were sent out) described the moving of the camp to
more secure ground. It was incessant motion, for no place was wholly
satisfactory to the officers. I confessed that I was a good deal
unnerved by the frights, that every sound startled me, and a shout from
a soldier stopped my breathing almost, so afraid was I that it was the
alarm of another freshet--while the clouds were never more closely
watched than at that time.

A fresh trouble awaited me, for General Hancock came to camp from
Harker, and brought bad news. The letter continues: "The dangers and
terrors of the last few days are nothing, compared with the information
that General Hancock brings. It came near being the last proverbial
'straw.' I was heart-sick, indeed, when I found that our schemes for
being together soon were so ruthlessly crushed. General Hancock says
that it looks as if you would be in the Department of the Platte for
several months--at which he is justly indignant--but he is promised your
return before the summer is ended. He thinks, that if I want to go so
badly, I may manage to make you a flying visit up there; and this is all
that keeps me up. The summer here, so far separated from you, seems to
stretch out like an arid desert. If there were the faintest shadow of a
chance that I would see you here again, I would not go, as we are
ordered to. I will come back here again if I think there is the faintest
prospect of seeing you. If you say so, I will go to Fort McPherson on
the cars, if I get the ghost of an opportunity."

Eliza, in ending her recollections of the flood at Fort Hays, says,
"Well, Miss Libbie, when the water rose so, and the men was a-drownin',
I said to myself in the night, if God spared me, that would be the last
of war for me; but when the waters went down and the sun came out, then
we began to cheer each other up, and were willing to go right on from
there, if we could, for we wanted to see the Ginnel so bad. But who
would have thought that the stream would have risen around the little
knoll as it did? The Ginnel thought he had fixed us so nice, and he had,
Miss Libbie, for it was the knoll that saved us. The day the regiment
left for Fort McPherson the Ginnel staid behind till dark, gettin'
everythin' in order to make you comfortable, and he left at 12 o'clock
at night, with his escort, to join the troops. He'd rather ride ride all
night than miss that much of his visit with you. Before he went, he came
to my tent to say good-by. I stuck my hand out, and said, 'Ginnel, I
don't like to see you goin' off in this wild country, at this hour of
the night.' . . . 'I have to go,' he says, 'wherever I'm called. Take
care of Libbie, Eliza,' and puttin' spurs to his horse, off he rode.
Then I thought they'd certainly get him, ridin' right into the mouth of
'em. You know how plain the sound comes over the prairie, with nothin',
no trees or anythin', to interfere. Well, in the night I was hearin'
_quare_ sounds. Some might have said they was buffalo, but on thy went,
lumpety lump, lumpety lump, and they was Indians! Miss Libbie, sure as
you're born, they was Indians gettin' out of the way, and, oh! I was so
scart for the Ginnel."



CHAPTER XVIII.

ORDERED BACK TO FORT HARKER.


AFTER the high-water experience, our things were scarcely dry before I
found, for the second time, what it was to be under the complete
subjection of military rule. The fiat was issued that we women must
depart from camp and return to garrison, as it was considered unsafe for
us to remain. It was an intense disappointment; for though Fort Hays and
our camp were more than dreary after the ravages of the storm, to leave
there meant cutting myself off from any other chance that might come in
my way of joining my husband, or of seeing him at our camp. Two of the
officers and an escort of ten mounted men, going to Fort Harker on duty,
accompanied our little cortege of departing women. At the first
stage-station the soldiers all dismounted as we halted, and managed by
some pretext to get into the dug-out and buy whiskey. Not long after we
were again _en route_ I saw one of the men reel on his saddle, and he
was lifted into the wagon that carried forage for the mules and horses.
One by one, all were finally dumped into the wagons by the teamsters,
who fortunately were sober, and the troopers' horses were tied behind
the vehicles, and we found ourselves without an escort. Plains whiskey
is usually very rapid in its effect, but the stage-station liquor was
concocted from drugs that had power to lay out even a hard-drinking old
cavalryman like a dead person in what seemed no time at all. Eliza said
"they only needed to smell it, 'twas so deadly poison." A barrel of
tolerably good whiskey sent from the States was, by the addition of
drugs, made into several barrels after it reached the Plains.

The hours of that march seemed endless. We were helpless, and knew that
we were going over ground that was hotly contested by the red man. We
rose gradually to the summit of each divide, and looked with anxious
eyes into every depression; but we were no sooner relieved to find it
safe, than my terrors began as to what the next might reveal. When we
came upon an occasional ravine, it represented to my frightened soul any
number of Indians in ambush.

In that country the air is so clear that every object on the brow of a
small ascent of ground is silhouetted against the deep blue of the sky.
The Indians place little heaps of stones on these slight eminences, and
lurk behind them to watch the approach of troops. Every little pile of
rocks seemed, to my strained eyes, to hide the head of a savage. They
even appeared to move, and this effect was heightened by the waves of
heat that hover over the surface of the earth under that blazing sun. I
was thoroughly frightened, doubtless made much more so because I had
nothing else to think of, as the end of the journey would not mean for
me what the termination of ever so dangerous a march would have been in
the other direction. Had I been going over such country to join my
husband, the prospect would have put temporary courage into every nerve.
During the hours of daylight the vigilance of the officers was
unceasing. They knew that one of the most hazardous days of their lives
was upon them. They felt intensely the responsibility of the care of us;
and I do not doubt, gallant as they were, that they mentally pronounced
anathemas upon officers who had wanted to see their wives so badly that
they had let them come into such a country. When we had first gone over
the route, however, its danger was not a circumstance to this time. Our
eyes rarely left the horizon; they were strained to discern signs that
had come to be familiar, even by our hearing them discussed so
constantly; and we, still novices in the experience of that strange
country, had seen for ourselves enough to prove that no vigilance was
too great. If on the monotonous landscape a whirl of dust arose,
instantly it was a matter of doubt whether it meant our foe or one of
the strange eccentricities of that part of the world. The most peculiar
communions are those that the clouds seem to have with the earth, which
result in a cone of dust whirlpooling itself straight in the air, while
the rest of the earth is apparently without commotion, bearing no
relation to the funnel that seems to struggle upward and be dissolved
into the passing wind. With what intense concentration we watched to see
it so disappear! If the puff of dust continued to spread, the light
touching it into a deeper yellow, and finally revealing some darker
shades, and at last shaping itself into dusky forms, we were in agony of
suspense until the field-glasses proved that it was a herd of antelopes
fleeing from our approach. There literally seemed to be not one inch of
the way that the watchful eyes of the officers, the drivers, or we women
were not strained to discover every object that specked the horizon or
rose on the trail in front of us.

With all the terror and suspense of those dragging miles, I could not be
insensible to the superb and riotous colors of the wild flowers that
carpeted our way. It was the first time that I had ever been where the
men could not be asked, and were not willing, to halt or let me stop and
gather one of every kind. The gorgeousness of the reds and orange of
those prairie blossoms was a surprise to me. I had not dreamed that the
earth could so glow with rich tints. The spring rains had soaked the
ground long enough to start into life the wonderful dyes that for a
brief time emblazon the barren wilderness. The royal livery floats but a
short period over their temporary domain, for the entire cessation of
even the night dews, and the intensity of the scorching sun, shrivels
the vivid, flaunting, feathery petals, and burns the venturesome roots
down into the earth. What presuming things, to toss their pennants over
so inhospitable a land! But what a boon to travelers like ourselves to
see, for even the brief season, some tint besides the burnt umber and
yellow ochre of those plains! All the short existence of these flowers
is condensed into the color, tropical in richness; not one faint waft
of perfume floated on the air about us. But it was all we ought to have
asked, that their brilliant heads appear out of such soil. This has
served to make me very appreciative of the rich exhalation of the
Eastern gardens. I do not dare say what the first perfume of the
honeysuckle is to me, each year now; nor would I infringe upon the few
adjectives vouchsafed the use of a conventional Eastern woman when, as
it happened this year, the orange blossoms, white jessamine and woodbine
wafted their sweet breaths in my face as a welcome from one garden to
which good fortune led me. I remember the starvation days of that
odorless life, when, seeing rare colors, we instantly expected rich
odors, but found them not, and I try to adapt myself to the customs of
the country, and not rave, but, like the children, keep up a mighty
thinking.

Buffalo, antelope, blacktail deer, coyote, jack-rabbits, scurried out of
our way on that march, and we could not stop to follow. I was looking
always for some new sight, and, after the relief that I felt when each
object as we neared it turned out to be harmless, was anxious to see a
drove of wild horses. There were still herds to be found between the
Cimmaron and the Arkansas rivers. The General told me of seeing one of
the herds on a march, spoke with great admiration and enthusiasm of the
leader, and described him as splendid in carriage, and bearing his head
in the proudest, loftiest manner as he led his followers. They were not
large; they must have been the Spanish pony of Cortez' time, as we know
that the horse is not indigenous to America. The flowing mane and tail,
the splendid arch of the neck, and the proud head carried so loftily,
give the wild horses a larger, taller appearance than is in reality
theirs. Few ever saw the droves of wild horses more than momentarily.
They run like the wind.

[Illustration: A BUFFALO AT BAY. (FROM A PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN ON THE SPOT.)]

After the introduction of the dromedary into Texas, many years since,
for transportation of supplies over that vast territory, one was brought
up to Colorado. Because of the immense runs it could make without water,
it was taken into the region frequented by the wild horses, and when
they were sighted, the dromedary was started in pursuit. Two were run
down, and found to be nearly dead when overtaken. But the poor dromedary
suffered so from the prickly-pear filling the soft ball of its feet,
that no farther pursuit could ever be undertaken.

I had to be content with the General's description, for no wild horses
came in our way. But there was enough to satisfy any one in the way of
game. The railroad had not then driven to the right and left the
inhabitants of that vast prairie. Our country will never again see the
Plains dotted with game of all sorts. The railroad stretches its iron
bands over these desert wastes, and scarcely a skulking coyote, hugging
the ground and stealing into gulches, can be discovered during a whole
day's journey.

As the long afternoon was waning, we were allowed to get out and rest a
little while, for we had reached what was called the "Home Station," so
called because at this place there was a woman, then the only one along
the entire route. I looked with more admiration than I could express on
this fearless creature, long past the venturesome time of early youth,
when some dare much for excitement. She was as calm and collected as her
husband, whom she valued enough to endure with him this terrible
existence. How good the things tasted that she cooked, and how different
the dooryard looked from those of the other stations! Then she had a
baby antelope, and the apertures that served as windows had bits of
white curtains, and, altogether, I did not wonder that over the hundreds
of miles of stage-route the Home Station was a place the men looked
forward to as the only reminder of the civilization that a good woman
establishes about her. There was an awful sight, though, that riveted my
eyes as we prepared to go on our journey, and the officers could not, by
any subterfuge, save us from seeing it. It was a disabled stage-coach,
literally riddled with bullets, its leather hanging in shreds, and the
woodwork cut into splinters. When there was no further use of trying to
conceal it from us, we were told that this stage had come into the
station in that condition the day before, and the fight that the driver
and mail-carrier had been through was desperate. There was no getting
the sight of that vehicle out of my mind during the rest of the journey.
What a friend the darkness seemed, as it wrapped its protecting mantle
about us, after the long twilight ended! yet it was almost impossible to
sleep, though we knew we were comparatively safe till dawn. At daybreak
the officers asked us to get out, while the mules were watered and fed,
and rest ourselves, and though I had been so long riding in a cramped
position, I would gladly have declined. Cleanliness is next to
godliness, and, one of our friends said, "With a woman, it is before
godliness," yet that was an occasion when I would infinitely have
preferred to be numbered with the great unwashed. However, a place in
the little stream at the foot of the gully was pointed out, and we took
our tin basin and towel and freshened ourselves by this early toilet;
but there was no lingering to prink, even on the part of the pretty
Diana. Our eyes were staring on all sides, with a dread impossible to
quell, and back into the ambulance we climbed, not breathing a long,
free breath until the last of those terrible eighty miles were passed,
and we beheld with untold gratitude the roofs of the quarters at Fort
Harker.

I felt that we had trespassed as much as we ought upon the hospitality
of the commanding officer of the post, and begged to be allowed to sleep
in our ambulance while we remained in the garrison. He consented, under
protest, and our wagon and that of Mrs. Gibbs were placed in the space
between two Government storehouses, and a tarpaulin was stretched over
the two. Eliza prepared our simple food over a little camp-fire. While
the weather remained good, this was a very comfortable camp for us--but
when, in Kansas, do the elements continue quiet for twenty-four hours?
In the darkest hour of the blackest kind of night the wind rose into a
tempest, rushing around the corners of the buildings, hunting out with
pertinacity, from front and rear, our poor little temporary home. The
tarpaulin was lifted on high, and with ropes and picket-pins thrashing
on the canvas it finally broke its last moorings and soared off into
space. The rain beat in the curtains of the ambulance and soaked our
blankets. Still, we crept together on the farther side of our narrow bed
and, rolled up in our shawls, tried to hide our eyes from the lightning,
and our ears from the roar of the storm as it swept between the
sheltering buildings and made us feel as if we were camping in a tunnel.

Our neighbor's dog joined his voice with the sobs and groans of the
wind, while in the short intervals of quiet we called out, trying to get
momentary courage from speech with each other. The curtain at the end of
the ambulance jerked itself free, and in came a deluge of rain from a
new direction. Pins, strings and four weak hands holding their best, did
no earthly good, and I longed to break all military rule and scream to
the sentinel. Not to speak to a guard on post is one of the early
lessons instilled into every one in military life. It required such
terror of the storm and just such a drenching as we were getting, even
to harbor a thought of this direct disobedience of orders. Clutching the
wagon-curtains and watching the soldier, who was revealed by the
frequent flashes of lightning as he tramped his solitary way, might have
gone on for some time without the necessary courage coming to call him,
but a new departure of the wind suddenly set us in motion, and I found
that we were spinning down the little declivity back of us, with no
knowledge of when or where we would stop. Then I did scream, and the
peculiar shrillness of a terrified woman's voice reached the sentinel.
Blessed breaker of his country's laws! He answered to a higher one,
which forbids him to neglect a woman in danger, and left his beat to run
to our succor.

Our wagon was dragged back by some of the soldiers on night duty at the
guard-house, and was newly pinioned to the earth with stronger
picket-pins and ropes, but sleep was murdered for that night. Of course
the guard reported to the commanding officer, as is their rule, and soon
a lantern or two came zigzagging over the parade-ground in our
direction, and the officers called to know if they could speak with us.
There was no use in arguing. Mrs. Gibbs and her boys, Diana drenched and
limp as to clothes, and I decidedly moist, were fished out of our watery
camp-beds, and with our arms full of apparel and satchels, we followed
the officers in the dark to the dry quarters, that we had tried our best
to decline rather than make trouble.

It was decided that we must proceed to Fort Riley, as there were no
quarters to offer us; and tent-life, as I have tried to describe it, had
its drawbacks in the rainy season. Had it not meant for me ninety miles
farther separation from my husband, seemingly cut off from all chance of
joining him again, I would have welcomed the plan of going back, as Fort
Harker was at this time the most absolutely dismal and melancholy spot I
remember ever to have seen. A terrible and unprecedented calamity had
fallen upon the usually healthful place, for cholera had broken out, and
the soldiers were dying by platoons. I had been accustomed to think, in
all the vicissitudes that had crowded themselves into these few months,
whatever else we were deprived of, we at least had a climate unsurpassed
for salubrity, and I still think so. For some strange reason, right out
in the midst of that wide, open plain, with no stagnant water, no
imperfect drainage, no earthly reason, it seemed to us, this epidemic
had suddenly appeared, and in a form so violent that a few hours of
suffering ended fatally. Nobody took dying into consideration out there
in those days; all were well and able-bodied, and almost everyone was
young who ventured into that new country, so no lumber had been provided
to make coffins. For a time the rudest receptacles were hammered
together, made out of the hardtack boxes. Almost immediate burial took
place, as there was no ice, nor even a safe place to keep the bodies of
the unfortunate victims. It was absolutely necessary, but an awful
thought nevertheless, this scurrying under the ground of the lately
dead, perhaps only wrapped in a coarse gray army blanket, and with the
burial service hurriedly read, for all were needed as nurses, and time
was too precious to say even the last words, except in haste. The
officers and their families did not escape, and sorrow fell upon every
one when an attractive young woman who had dared everything in the way
of hardships to follow her husband, was marked by that terrible finger
which bade her go alone into the valley of death. In the midst of this
scourge, the Sisters of Charity came. Two of them died, and afterward a
priest, but they were replaced by others, who remained until the
pestilence had wrought its worst; then they gathered the orphaned
children of the soldiers together, and returned with them to the parent
house of their Order in Leavenworth.

I would gladly have these memories fade out of my life, for the scenes
at that post have no ray of light except the heroic conduct of the men
and women who stood their ground through the danger. I cannot pass by
those memorable days in the early history of Kansas without my tribute
to the brave officers and men who went through so much to open the way
for settlers. I lately rode through the State, which seemed when I first
saw it a hopeless, barren waste, and found the land under fine
cultivation, the houses, barns and fences excellently built, cattle in
the meadows, and, sometimes, several teams ploughing in one field. I
could not help wondering what the rich owners of these estates would
say, if I should step down from the car and give them a little picture
of Kansas, with the hot, blistered earth, dry beds of streams, and soil
apparently so barren that not even the wild-flowers would bloom, save
for a brief period after the spring rains. Then add pestilence, Indians,
and an undisciplined, mutinous soldiery who composed our first recruits,
and it seems strange that our officers persevered at all. I hope the
prosperous ranchman will give them one word of thanks as he advances to
greater wealth, since but for our brave fellows the Kansas Pacific
Railroad could not have been built; nor could the early settlers, daring
as they were, have sowed the seed that now yields them such rich
harvests.

We had no choice about leaving Fort Harker. There was no accommodation
for us--indeed we would have hampered the already overworked officers
and men; so we took our departure for Fort Riley. There we found perfect
quiet; the negro troops were reduced to discipline, and everything went
on as if there were no such thing as the dead and the dying that we had
left a few hours before. There was but a small garrison, and we easily
found empty quarters, that were lent to us by the commanding officer.

Then the life of watching and waiting, and trying to possess my soul in
patience, began again, and my whole day resolved itself into a mental
protest against the slowness of the hours before the morning mail could
be received. It was a doleful time for us; but I remember no uttered
complaints as such, for we silently agreed they would weaken our
courage. If tears were shed, they fell on the pillow, where the blessed
darkness came to absolve us from the rigid watchfulness that we tried to
keep over our feelings. My husband gladdened many a dark day by the
cheeriest letters. How he ever managed to write so buoyantly was a
mystery when I found afterward what he was enduring. I rarely had a
letter with even so much as a vein of discontent, during all our
separations. At that time came two that were strangely in contrast to
all the brave, encouraging missives that had cheered my day. The
accounts of cholera met our regiment on their march into the Department
of the Platte; and the General, in the midst of intense anxiety, with no
prospect of direct communication, assailed by false reports of my
illness, at last showed a side of his character that was seldom visible.
His suspense regarding my exposure to pestilence, and his distress over
the fright and danger I had endured at the time of the flood at Fort
Hays, made his brave spirit quail, and there were desperate words
written, which, had he not been relieved by news of my safety, would
have ended in his taking steps to resign. Even he, whom I scarcely ever
knew to yield to discouraging circumstances, wrote that he could not and
would not endure such a life.

Our days at Fort Riley had absolutely nothing to vary them after mail
time. I sat on the gallery long before the time of distribution,
pretending to sew or read, but watching constantly for the door of the
office to yield up next to the most important man in the wide world to
me. The soldier whose duty it was to bring the mail became so inflated
by the eagerness with which his steps were watched, that it came near
being the death of him when he joined his company in the autumn, and was
lost in its monotonous ranks. He was a ponderous, lumbering fellow in
body and mind, who had been left behind by his captain, ostensibly to
take care of the company property, but I soon found there was another
reason, as his wits had for some time been unsettled, that is--giving
him the benefit of a doubt--if he ever had any. Addled as his brain
might be, the remnant of intelligence was ample in my eyes if it enabled
him to make his way to our door. As he belonged to the Seventh Cavalry,
he considered that everything at the post must be subservient to my
wish, when in reality I was dependent for a temporary roof on the
courtesy of the infantry officer in command. If I even met him in our
walks, he seemed to swell to twice his size, and to feel that some of
the odor of sanctity hung around him, whether he bore messages from the
absent or not.

[Illustration: THE ADDLED LETTER-CARRIER.]

The contents of the mail-bag being divided, over six feet of anatomical
and military perfection came stalking through the parade-ground. He
would not demean himself to hasten, and his measured steps were in
accordance with the gait prescribed in the past by his sergeant on
drill. He appeared to throw his head back more loftily as he perceived
that my eyes followed his creeping steps. He seemed to be reasoning. Did
Napoleon ever run, the Duke of Wellington ever hasten, or General Scott
quicken his gait or impair his breathing by undue activity, simply
because an unreasoning, impatient woman was waiting somewhere for them
to appear? It was not at all in accordance with his ideas of martial
character to exhibit indecorous speed. The great and responsible office
of conveying the letters from the officer to the quarters had been
assigned to him, and nothing, he determined, should interfere with its
being filled with dignity. His country looked to him as its savior. Only
a casual and condescending thought was given to his comrades, who
perhaps at that time were receiving in their bodies the arrows of Indian
warriors. No matter how eagerly I eyed the great official envelope in
his hand, which I knew well was mine, he persisted in observing all the
form and ceremony that he had decided was suitable for its presentation.
He was especially particular to assume the "first position of a
soldier," as he drew up in front of me. The tone with which he addressed
me was deliberate and grandiloquent. The only variation in his
regulation manners was that he allowed himself to speak before he was
spoken to. With the flourish of his colossal arm, in a salute that took
in a wide semicircle of Kansas air, he said, "Good morning, Mrs.
Major-General George Armstrong Custer." He was the only gleam of fun we
had in those dismal days. He was a marked contrast to the disciplined
enlisted man, who never speaks unless first addressed by his superiors,
and who is modesty itself in demeanor and language in the presence of
the officers' wives. The farewell salute of our mail-carrier was funnier
than his approach. He wheeled on his military heel, and swung wide his
flourishing arm, but the "right about face" I generally lost, for, after
snatching my envelope from him, unawed by his formality, I fled into the
house to hide, while I laughed and cried over the contents.



CHAPTER XIX.

THE FIRST FIGHT OF THE SEVENTH CAVALRY.


THE first fight of the Seventh Cavalry was at Fort Wallace. In June,
1867, a band of three hundred Cheyennes, under Roman Nose, attacked the
stage-station near that fort, and ran off the stock. Elated with this
success, they proceeded to Fort Wallace, that poor little group of log
huts and mud cabins having apparently no power of resistance. Only the
simplest devices could be resorted to for defense. The commissary stores
and ammunition were partly protected by a low wall of gunny-sacks filled
with sand. There were no logs near enough, and no time if there had
been, to build a stockade. But our splendid cavalry charged out as
boldly as if they were leaving behind them reserve troops and a battery
of artillery. They were met by a counter-charge, the Indians, with
lances poised and arrows on the string, coming on swiftly in
overwhelming numbers. It was a hand-to-hand fight. Roman Nose was about
to throw his javelin at one of our men, when the cavalryman, with his
left hand, gave a sabre-thrust equal to the best that many good fencers
can execute with their sword-arm. With his Spencer rifle he wounded the
chief, and saw him fall forward on his horse.

The post had been so short of men that a dozen negro soldiers, who had
come with their wagon from an outpost for supplies, were placed near the
garrison on picket duty. While the fight was going on, the two officers
in command found themselves near each other on the skirmish-line, and
observed a wagon with four mules tearing out to the line of battle. It
was filled with negroes, standing up, all firing in the direction of the
Indians. The driver lashed the mules with his black-snake, and roared at
them as they ran. When the skirmish-line was reached the colored men
leaped out and began firing again. No one had ordered them to leave
their picket-station, but they were determined that no soldiering should
be carried on in which their valor was not proved. The officers saw with
surprise that one of the number ran off by himself into the most
dangerous place, and one of them remarked, "There's a gone nigger, for a
certainty!" They saw him fall, throw up his hands, kick his feet in the
air, and then collapse--dead to all appearances. After the fight was
over, and the Indians had withdrawn to the bluffs, the soldiers were
called together and ordered back to the post. At that moment a negro,
gun in hand, walked up from where the one supposed to be slain had last
been seen. It was the dead restored to life. When asked by the officer,
"What in thunder do you mean, running off at such a distance into the
face of danger, and throwing up your feet and hands as if shot?" he
replied, "Oh, Lord, Massa, I just did dat to fool 'em. I fot deyed try
to get my scalp, thinkin' I war dead, and den I'd jest get one of 'em."

The following official report, sent in from some colored men stationed
at Wilson's Creek, who were attacked, and successfully drove off the
Indians, will give further proof of their good service, while at the
same time it reveals a little of other sides of the negro, when he first
began to serve Uncle Sam:

"All the boys done bully, but Corporal Johnson--he flinked. The way he
flinked was, to wait till the boys had drove the Injuns two miles, and
then he hollered, 'Gin it to 'em!' and the boys don't think that a man
that would flink that way ought to have corporal's straps."

In order to give this effort at military composition its full effect, it
would be necessary to add the official report of a cut-and-dried
soldier. No matter how trifling the duty, the stilted language,
bristling with technical pomposity, in which every military move is
reported, makes me, a non-combatant, question if the white man is not
about as absurd in his way as the darkey was in his.

[Illustration: NEGROES FORM THEIR OWN PICKET-LINE.]

Poor Fort Wallace! In another attack on the post, where several of our
men were killed, there chanced to be some engineers stopping at the
garrison, _en route_ to New Mexico, where a Government survey was to be
undertaken. One of them, carrying a small camera, photographed a
sergeant lying on the battle-ground after the enemy had retreated. The
body was gashed and pierced by twenty-three arrows. Everything combined
to keep that little garrison in a state of siege, and a gloomy pall hung
over the beleaguered spot.

As the stage-stations were one after another attacked, burned, the men
murdered and the stock driven off for a distance of three hundred miles,
the difficulty of sending mail became almost insurmountable. Denver lay
out there at the foot of the mountains, as isolated as if it had been a
lone island in the Pacific Ocean. Whenever a coach went out with the
mail, a second one was filled with soldiers and led the advance. The
Seventh Cavalry endeavored to fortify some of the deserted
stage-stations; but the only means of defense consisted in burrowing
underground. After the holes were dug, barely large enough for four men
standing, and a barrel of water and a week's provision, it was covered
over with logs and turf, leaving an aperture for firing. Where the men
had warning, they could "stand off" many Indians, and save the horses in
another dug-out adjacent.

After a journey along the infested route, where one of our officers was
detailed to post a corporal and four men at the stations when the stage
company endeavored to reinstate themselves, he decided to go on into
Denver for a few days. The detention then was threatening to be
prolonged, and at the stage company's headquarters the greatest
opposition was encountered before our officer could induce them to send
out a coach. Fortunately, as it afterward proved, three soldiers who had
orders to return to their troop, accompanied him. The stage company
opposed every move, and warned him that he left at his own risk. But
there was no other alternative, as he was due and needed at Fort
Wallace. At one of the stage-stations nearest Denver a woman still
endeavored to brave it out; but her nerve deserted her at last, and she
implored our officer to take her as far as he went on her way into the
States. Her husband, trying to protect the company's interests, elected
to remain, but begged that his wife might be taken away from the deadly
peril of their surroundings. Our officer frankly said there was very
little chance that the stage would ever reach Fort Wallace. She replied
that she had been frightened half to death all summer, and was sure to
be murdered if she remained, and might as well die in the stage, as
there was no chance for her at the station.

Every revolution of the wheels brought them into greater danger. The
three soldiers on the top of the stage kept a lookout on every side,
while the officer inside sat with rifle in hand, looking from the door
on either side the trail. Even with all this vigilance, the attack, when
it came, was a surprise. The Indians had hidden in a wash-out near the
road. Their first shot fatally wounded one of the soldiers, who,
dropping his gun, fell over the coach railing, and with dying energy,
half swung himself into the door of the stage, gasping out a message to
his mother. Our officer replied that he would listen to the parting
words later, helped the man to get upon the seat, and, without a
preliminary, pushed the woman down into the deep body of the coach,
bidding her, as she valued the small hope of life, not to let herself be
seen. As has been said before, those familiar with Indian warfare know
well with what redoubled ferocity the savage fights, if he finds that a
white woman is likely to fall into his hands. It is well known, also,
that the squaws are ignored if the chiefs have a white woman in their
power, and it brings a more fearful agony to her lot, for when the
warriors are absent from the village, the squaws, wild with jealousy,
heap cruelty and exhausting labor upon the helpless victim. All this the
frontier woman knew, as we all did, and it needed no second command to
keep her imperiled head on the floor of the coach.

The instant the dying soldier had dropped his gun, the driver--ah, what
cool heads those stage-drivers had!--seized the weapon, thrusting his
lines between his agile and muscular knees, inciting his mules, and
every shot had a deadly aim. The soldiers fired one volley, and then
leaped to the ground as the officer sprang from the stage door, and
following beside the vehicle, continued to fire as they walked. The
first two shots from the roof of the coach had killed two Indians hidden
in the hole made by the wash-out. By that means our men got what they
term the "morale" on them, and though they pursued, it was at a greater
distance than it would have been had not two of their number fallen at
the beginning of the attack.

[Illustration: AN ATTACK ON A STAGE-COACH.]

This running fire continued for five miles, when, fortunately for the
little band, one of the stage stations, where a few men had been posted
on our officer's trip out, was reached at last. Here a halt was made, as
the Indians congregated on a bluff where they could watch safely. The
coach was a wreck. The large lamps on either side of the driver's seat
were shattered completely, and there were six bullet-holes between the
roof and the wooden body of the coach. When the door of the stage was
opened, and the crouching woman lifted her face from the floor and was
helped out, she was so unmoved, so calm, the officer and soldiers were
astonished at her nerve. She looked about, and said, "But I don't see
any Indians yet." The officer told her that if she would take the
trouble to look over on the bluff, she would find them on dress parade.
Then she told him about her experience in the stage. The dying soldier
had breathed his last soon after he fell into the coach, and all the
five miles his dead body kept slipping from the seat on to the prostrate
woman. In vain she pushed it one side; the violence with which the
vehicle rocked from side to side, as the driver urged his animals to
their utmost speed, made it impossible for her to protect herself from
contact with the heavy corpse, that rolled about with the plunging of
the coach. All this, repeated without agitation, with no word of fear
for the remaining portion of the journey, which, happily, was safely
finished, drew from our officer, almost dumb with amazement at the
fortitude displayed, a speech that would rarely be set down by the
novelist who imagines conversations, but which is just what is likely to
be said in real life--"By Jove! you deserve a chromo!"

One troop of the Seventh Cavalry was left to garrison Fort Wallace,
while the remainder of the regiment was scouting. The post was then
about as dreary as any spot on earth. There were no trees; only the arid
plain surrounded it, and the sirocco winds drove the sands of that
desolate desert into the dug-outs that served for the habitation of
officers and men. The supplies were of the worst description. It was
impossible to get vegetables of any kind, and there was, therefore, no
preventing the soldier's scourge, scurvy, which the heat aggravated,
inflaming the already burning flesh. Even the medical supplies were
limited. None of the posts at that time were provided with decent
food--that is, none beyond the railroad. I remember how much troubled my
husband was over this subject, when I joined him at Fort Hays. The
bacon issued to the soldiers was not only rancid, but was supplied by
dishonest contractors, who slipped in any foreign substance they could,
to make the weight come up to the required amount; and thus the soldiers
were cheated out of the quantity due them, as well as imposed upon in
the quality of their rations. It was the privilege of the enlisted men
to make their complaints to the commanding officer, and some of them
sent to ask the General to come to the company street and allow them to
prove to him what frauds were being practiced. I went with him, and saw
a flat stone, the size of the slices of bacon as they were packed
together, sandwiched between the layers. My husband was justly incensed,
but could promise no immediate redress. The route of travel was so
dangerous that it was necessary to detail a larger number of men to
guard any train of supplies that attempted to reach those distant posts.
The soldiers felt, and justly too, that it was an outrage that
preparations for the arrival of so large a number of troops had not been
perfected in the spring, before the whole country was in a state of
siege. The supplies provided for the consumption of those troops
operating in the field or stationed at the posts had been sent out
during the war. It was then 1867, and they had lain in the poor,
ill-protected adobe or dug-out storehouse all the intervening time--more
than two years. At Forts Wallace and Hays there were no storehouses, and
the flour and bacon were only protected by tarpaulins. Both became
rancid and moldy, and were at the mercy of the rats and mice. A larger
quantity of supplies was forwarded to that portion of the country the
last year of the war than was needed for the volunteer troops sent out
there, and consequently our Seventh Cavalry, scouting day and night all
through that eventful summer, were compelled to subsist on the food
already on hand. It was the most mistaken economy to persist in issuing
such rations, when it is so well known that a well-filled stomach is a
strong background for a courageous heart. The desertions were unceasing.
The nearer the troops approached the mountains, the more the men took
themselves off to the mines.

In April of that year no deaths had occurred at Fort Wallace, but by
November there were sixty mounds outside the garrison, covering the
brave hearts of soldiers who had either succumbed to illness or been
shot by Indians. It was a fearful mortality for a garrison of fewer than
two hundred souls. If the soldiers, hungry for fresh meat, went out to
shoot buffalo, the half of them mounted guard to protect those who
literally took their lives in their hands to provide a few meals of
wholesome food for themselves and their comrades. At one company post on
the South Platte, a troop of our Seventh Cavalry was stationed. In the
mining excitement that ran so high in 1866 and 1867, the captain woke
one morning to find that his first sergeant and forty out of sixty men
that composed the garrison, had decamped, with horses and equipments,
for the mines. This left the handful of men in imminent peril from
Indian assaults. The wily foe lies hidden for days outside the garrison,
protected by a heap of stones or a sage-bush, and informs himself, as no
other spy on earth ever can, just how many souls the little group of
tents or the quarters represent. In this dire strait a dauntless
sergeant, Andrews, offered to go in search of the missing men. He had
established his reputation as a marksman in the regiment, and soldiers
used to say that "such shooting as Andrews did, got the bulge on
everybody." He was seemingly fearless. The captain consented to his
departure, but demurred to his going alone. The sergeant believed he
could only succeed if he went into the mining-camp unaccompanied, and so
the officer permitted him to go. He arrested and brought away nine,
traveling two hundred miles with them to Fort Wallace. There was no
guard-house at the post, and the commanding officer had to exercise his
ingenuity to secure these deserters. A large hole was dug in the middle
of the parade-ground and covered with logs and earth, leaving a square
aperture in the centre. The ladder by which they descended was removed
by the guard when all were in, and the Bastile could hardly be more
secure than this ingenious prison.

Two separate attacks were made by three hundred Dog-soldiers (Cheyennes)
to capture Fort Wallace that summer. During the first fight, the
prisoners in their pit heard the firing, and knew that all the troops
were outside the post engaged with the Indians. Knowing their
helplessness, their torture of mind can be imagined. If the enemy
succeeded in entering the garrison, their fate was sealed. The attacks
were so sudden that there was no opportunity to release these men. The
officers knew well enough, that, facing a common foe, they might count
on unquestionable unity of action from the deserters. Some clemency was
to be expected from a military court that would eventually try them, but
all the world knows the savage cry is "No quarter!" In an attack on a
post, there is only a wild stampede at the sound of the "General" from
the trumpet. There is a rush for weapons, and every one dashes outside
the garrison to the skirmish-line. In such a race, every soldier elects
to be his own captain till the field is reached. I have seen the troops
pour out of a garrison, at an unexpected attack, in an incredibly short
time. No one stands upon the order of his going, or cares whose gun or
whose horse he seizes on the way. Once the skirmish-line is formed, the
soldierly qualities assert themselves, and complete order is resumed. It
is only necessary to be in the midst of such excitement, to realize how
readily prisoners out of sight would be forgotten.

After the fight was over, and the Indians were driven off, the poor
fellows sent to ask if they could speak with the commanding officer, and
when he came to their prison for the interview, they said, "For God's
sake, do anything in future with us that you see fit--condemn us to any
kind of punishment, put balls and chains on all of us--but whatever you
do, in case of another attack, let us out of this hole and give us a
gun!" I have known a generous-minded commanding officer to release every
prisoner in the guard-house and set aside their sentences forever, after
they have shown their courage and presence of mind in defending a post
from Indians, or other perils, such as fire and storms.

The brave sergeant who had filled the pit with his captures, asked to
follow a deserter who had escaped to a settlement on the Saline River.
He found the man, arrested him, and brought him away unaided. When they
reached the railway at Ellsworth, the man made a plea of hunger, and the
sergeant took him to an eating-house. While standing at the counter, he
took the cover from a red-pepper box and furtively watching his chance,
threw the contents into the sergeant's eyes, completely blinding him.
The sergeant was then accounted second only to Wild Bill as a shot, and
not a whit less cool. Though groaning with agony, he lost none of his
self-possession. Listening for the footfall as the deserter started for
the door, he fired in the direction, and the man fell dead.

Our regiment was now passing through its worst days. Constant scouting
over the sun-baked, cactus-bedded Plains, by men who were as yet
unacclimated, and learning by the severest lessons to inure themselves
to hardships, made terrible havoc in the ranks. The horses, also fresh
to this sort of service, grew gaunt, and dragged their miserably fed
bodies over the blistering trail. Here and there along the line a
trooper walked beside his beast, wetting, when he could, the flesh that
was raw from the chafing of the saddle, especially when the rider is a
novice in horsemanship.

Insubordination among the men was the certain consequence of the
half-starved, discouraged state they were in. One good fight would have
put heart into them to some extent, for the hopelessness of following
such a will-o'-the-wisp as the Indians were that year, made them think
their scouting did no good and might as well be discontinued. Some of
the officers were poor disciplinarians, either from inexperience or
because they lacked the gift of control over others, which seems left
out of certain temperaments. Alas! some had no control over themselves;
and no one could expect obedience in such a case. In its early days the
Seventh Cavalry was not the temperate regiment it afterward became. Some
of the soldiers in the ranks had been officers during the war, and they
were learning the lesson, that hard summer, of receiving orders instead
of issuing them. There were a good many men who had served in the
Confederate army, and had not a ray of patriotism in enlisting; it was
merely a question of subsistence to them in their beggared condition.

There were troopers who had entered the service from a romantic love of
adventure, with little idea of what stuff a man must be made if he is
hourly in peril, or, what taxes the nerves still more, continually
called upon to endure privation.

The mines were evidently the great object that induced the soldier to
enlist that year. The Eastern papers had wild accounts of the enormous
yield in the Rocky Mountains, and free transportation by Government
could be gained by enlisting. At that time, when the railroad was
incomplete, and travel almost given up on account of danger to the
stages; when the telegraph, which now reaches the destination of the
rogue with its warning far in advance of him, had not even been
projected over the Plains--it was the easiest sort of escape for a man,
for when once he reached the mines he was lost for years, and perhaps
died undiscovered.

Recruits of the kind sent to us would, even under favorable
circumstances, be difficult material from which to evolve soldierly men;
and considering their terrible hardships, it was no wonder the regiment
was nearly decimated. In enlisting, the recruit rarely realizes the
trial that awaits him of surrendering his independence. We hear and know
so much in this country of freedom that even a tramp appreciates it. If
a man is reasonably subordinate, it is still very hard to become
accustomed to the infinitesimal observances that I have so often been
told are "absolutely necessary to good order and military discipline."
To a looker-on like me, it seemed very much like reducing men to
machines. The men made so much trouble on the campaign--and we knew of
it by the many letters that came into garrison in one mail, as well as
by personal observation, when in the regiment--that I did not find much
sympathy in my heart for them. In one night, while I was at Fort Hays,
forty men deserted, and in so bold and deliberate a manner, taking
arms, ammunition, horses, and quantities of food, that the officers were
roused to action, for it looked as if not enough men would be left to
protect the fort. A conspiracy was formed among the men, by which a
third of the whole command planned to desert at one time. Had not their
plotting been discovered, there would not have been a safe hour for
those who remained, as the Indians lay in wait constantly. My husband,
in writing of that wholesale desertion in the early months of the
regiment's history, makes some excuse for them, even under circumstances
that would seem to have put all tribulation and patience out of mind.

After weary marches, the regiment found itself nearing Fort Wallace with
a sense of relief, feeling that they might halt and recruit in that
miserable but comparatively safe post. They were met by the news of the
ravages of the cholera. No time could be worse for the soldiers to
encounter it. The long, trying campaign, even extending into the
Department of the Platte, had fatigued and disheartened the command.
Exhaustion and semi-starvation made the men an easy prey. The climate,
though so hot in summer, had heretofore been in their favor, as the air
was pure, and, in ordinary weather, bracing. But with cholera, even the
high altitude was no protection. No one could account for the appearance
of the pestilence; never before or since had it been known in so
elevated a part of our country. There were those who attributed the
scourge to the upturning of the earth in the building of the Kansas
Pacific Railroad; but the engineers had not even been able to prospect
as far as Wallace on account of the Indians. An infantry regiment, on
its march to New Mexico, halted at Fort Wallace, and even in their brief
stay the men were stricken down, and with inefficient nurses, no
comforts, not even wholesome food, it was a wonder that there was enough
of the regiment left for an organization. The wife of one of the
officers, staying temporarily in a dug-out, fell a victim, and died in
the wretched underground habitation in which an Eastern farmer would
refuse to shelter his stock.

It was a hard fate for our Seventh Cavalry men. Their camp, outside the
garrison, had no protection from the remorseless sun, and the poor
fellows rolled on the hot earth in their small tents, without a cup of
cold water or a morsel of decent food. The surgeons fought day and night
to stay the spread of the disease, but everything was against them. The
exhausted soldiers, disheartened by long, hard, unsuccessful marching,
had little desire to live when once seized by the awful disease.

With the celerity with which evil news travels, much of what I have
written came back to us. Though the mails were so uncertain, and travel
was almost discontinued, still the story of the illness and desperate
condition of our regiment reached us, and many a garbled and exaggerated
tale came with the true ones. Day after day I sat on the gallery of the
quarters in which we were temporarily established, watching for the
first sign of the cavalryman who brought our mail. Doubtless he thought
himself a winged Mercury. In reality, no snail ever crept so slowly.
When he began his walk toward me, measuring his regulation steps with
military precision, a world of fretful impatience possessed me. I wished
with all my soul I was, for the moment, any one but the wife of his
commanding officer, that I might pick up my skirts and fly over the
grass, and snatch the parcel from his hand. When he finally reached the
gallery, and swung himself into position to salute, my heart thumped
like the infantry drum. Day after day came the same pompous, maddening
words: "I have the honor to report there are no letters for Mrs.
Major-General George Armstrong Custer." Not caring at last whether the
man saw the flush of disappointment, the choking breath, and the rising
tears, I fled in the midst of his slow announcement, to plunge my
wretched head into my pillow, hoping the sound of the sobs would not
reach Eliza, who was generally hovering near to propose something that
would comfort me in my disappointment.

She knew work was my panacea, and made an injured mouth over the rent in
her apron, which, in her desires to keep me occupied, she was not above
tearing on purpose. With complaining tones she said, "Miss Libbie, ain't
you goin' to do no sewin' for me at all? 'Pears like every darkey in
garrison has mo' clo'es than I has"--forgetting in her zeal the
abbreviation of her words, about which her "ole miss" had warned her.
Sewing, reading, painting, any occupation that had beguiled the hours,
lost its power as those letterless days came and went. I was even afraid
to show my face at the door when the mail-man was due, for I began to
despair about hearing at all. After days of such gloom, my leaden heart
one morning quickened its beats at an unusual sound--the clank of a
sabre on our gallery and with it the quick, springing steps of feet
unlike the quiet infantry around us. The door, behind which I paced
uneasily, opened, and with a flood of sunshine that poured in, came a
vision far brighter than even the brilliant Kansas sun. There before me,
blithe and buoyant, stood my husband! In an instant, every moment of the
preceding months was obliterated. What had I to ask more? What did earth
hold for us greater than what we then had? The General, as usual when
happy and excited, talked so rapidly that the words jumbled themselves
into hopeless tangles, but my ears were keen enough to extract from the
medley the fact that I was to return at once with him.

Eliza, half crying, scolding as she did when overjoyed, vibrated between
kitchen and parlor, and finally fell to cooking, as a safety-valve for
her overcharged spirits. The General ordered everything she had in the
house, determined, for once in that summer of deprivations, to have, as
the soldiers term it, one "good, square meal."

After a time, when my reason was again enthroned, I began to ask what
good fortune had brought him to me. It seems that my husband, after
reaching Fort Wallace, was overwhelmed with the discouragements that met
him. His men dying about him, without his being able to afford them
relief, was something impossible for him to face without a struggle for
their assistance. A greater danger than all was yet to be encountered,
if the right measures were not taken immediately. Even the wretched food
was better than starvation, and so much of that had been destroyed, with
the hope of the arrival of better, that there was not enough left to
ration the men, and unless more came they would starve, as they were out
then two hundred miles from the railroad. If a scout was sent, his
progress was so slow, hiding all day and traveling only by night, it
would take so long that there might be men dying from hunger as well as
cholera, before he could return with aid. And, besides this scarcity of
food, the medical supplies were insufficient. The General, prompt always
in action, suddenly determined to relieve the beleaguered place by going
himself for medicines and rations. He took a hundred men to guard the
wagons that would bring relief to the suffering, and in fifty-five hours
they were at Fort Hays, one hundred and fifty miles distant. It was a
terrible journey. He afterward made a march of eighty miles in seventeen
hours, without the horses showing themselves fagged; and during the war
he had marched a portion of his Division of cavalry, accompanied by
horse artillery, ninety miles in twenty-four hours.

My husband, finding I had been sent away from Fort Hays, and believing
me to be at Fort Harker, a victim of cholera, determined to push on
there at night, leaving the train for supplies to travel the distance
next day. Colonel Custer and Colonel Cook accompanied him. They found
the garrison in the deepest misery, the cholera raging at its worst, the
gloom and hopelessness appalling. My husband left the two officers to
load the wagons, and fortunately, as the railroad had reached Fort
Harker, the medical and commissary supplies were abundant. It took but a
few hours to reach Fort Riley.

He knew from former experience that I would require but a short time to
get ready--indeed, my letters were full of assurances that I lived from
hour to hour with the one hope that I might join him, and these letters
had met him at Forts Hays and Harker. He knew well that nothing we
might encounter could equal the desolation and suspense of the days
that I was enduring at Fort Riley.

My little valise was filled long before it was necessary for us to take
the return train that evening. With the joy, the relief, the gratitude,
of knowing that God had spared my husband through an Indian campaign,
and averted from him the cholera; and now that I was to be given
reprieve from days of anxiety, and nights of hideous dreams of what
might befall him, and that I would be taken back to camp--could more be
crowded into one day? Was there room for a thought, save one of devout
thankfulness, and such happiness as I find no words to describe?

There was in that summer of 1867 one long, perfect day. It was mine,
and--blessed be our memory, which preserves to us the joys as well as
the sadness of life!--it is still mine, for time and for eternity.


END.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired. Varied hyphenation was retained
such as bedclothes and bed-clothes, and drawback and draw-back.

Page 32, "jouneying" changed to "journeying" (Louisville, and the
journeying)

Page 57, "oceasion" changed to "occasion" (On one occasion we went)

Page 83, "n" changed to "a" (we put ourselves in a)

Page 137, "anxionsly" changed to "anxiously" (had been anxiously
expected)

Page 146, "Afrer" changed to "After" (After many enjoyable parties)

Page 216, "fnture" changed to "future" (to the future; I was wholly)

Page 220, "beautitul" changed to "beautiful" (of those beautiful St.
Louis)

Page 242, "Michican" changed to "Michigan" (Coming from Michigan)

Page 354, "ungarded" changed to "unguarded" (that an unguarded traveler)

Page 381, "neverthelesss" changed to "nevertheless" (an awful thought
nevertheless)

Page 390, "ly-on" changed to "lying on" (sergeant lying on the
battle-ground)





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