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Title: Boots and Saddles - Or Life in Dakota with General Custer
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Boots and Saddles - Or Life in Dakota with General Custer" ***

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[Illustration: _G. A. Custer._]



    “BOOTS AND SADDLES”

    OR LIFE IN DAKOTA WITH GENERAL CUSTER

    BY
    ELIZABETH B. CUSTER

    WITH PORTRAIT AND MAP

    NEW YORK
    HARPER & BROTHERS, FRANKLIN SQUARE



    Copyright, 1885, by HARPER & BROTHERS.

    _All rights reserved._



                               Dedicated
                                   TO
                               MY HUSBAND
            THE ECHO OF WHOSE VOICE HAS BEEN MY INSPIRATION



PREFACE.


One of the motives that have actuated me in recalling these simple
annals of our daily life, has been to give a glimpse to civilians of
garrison and camp life--about which they seem to have such a very
imperfect knowledge.

This ignorance exists especially with reference to anything pertaining
to the cavalry, which is almost invariably stationed on the extreme
frontier.

The isolation of the cavalry posts makes them quite inaccessible to
travellers, and the exposure incident to meeting warlike Indians does
not tempt the visits of friends or even of the venturesome tourist. Our
life, therefore, was often as separate from the rest of the world as if
we had been living on an island in the ocean.

Very little has been written regarding the domestic life of an army
family, and yet I cannot believe that it is without interest; for
the innumerable questions that are asked about our occupations,
amusements, and mode of house-keeping, lead me to hope that the actual
answers to these queries contained in this little story will be
acceptable. This must also be my apology for entering in some instances
so minutely into trifling perplexities and events, which went to fill
up the sum of our existence.

                        E. B. C.

    _148 East 18th Street,
                New York City._



CONTENTS.


    CHAPTER                                                         PAGE

         I. CHANGE OF STATION                                          9

        II. A BLIZZARD                                                17

       III. WESTERN HOSPITALITY                                       30

        IV. CAVALRY ON THE MARCH                                      37

         V. CAMPING AMONG THE SIOUX                                   49

        VI. A VISIT TO THE VILLAGE OF “TWO BEARS”                     60

       VII. ADVENTURES DURING THE LAST DAYS OF THE MARCH              73

      VIII. SEPARATION AND REUNION                                    86

        IX. OUR NEW HOME AT FORT LINCOLN                              94

         X. INCIDENTS OF EVERY-DAY LIFE                              104

        XI. THE BURNING OF OUR QUARTERS.--CARRYING THE MAIL          115

       XII. PERPLEXITIES AND PLEASURES OF DOMESTIC LIFE              124

      XIII. A “STRONG HEART” DANCE!                                  131

       XIV. GARRISON LIFE                                            138

        XV. GENERAL CUSTER’S LITERARY WORK                           140

       XVI. INDIAN DEPREDATIONS                                      154

      XVII. A DAY OF ANXIETY AND TERROR                              159

     XVIII. IMPROVEMENTS AT THE POST, AND GARDENING                  167

       XIX. GENERAL CUSTER’S LIBRARY                                 174

        XX. THE SUMMER OF THE BLACK HILLS EXPEDITION                 181

       XXI. DOMESTIC TRIALS                                          194

      XXII. CAPTURE AND ESCAPE OF RAIN-IN-THE-FACE                   203

     XXIII. GARRISON AMUSEMENTS                                      216

      XXIV. AN INDIAN COUNCIL                                        225

       XXV. BREAKING UP OF THE MISSOURI                              229

      XXVI. CURIOUS CHARACTERS AND EXCURSIONISTS AMONG US            240

     XXVII. RELIGIOUS SERVICES.--LEAVE OF ABSENCE                    247

    XXVIII. A WINTER’S JOURNEY ACROSS THE PLAINS                     253

      XXIX. OUR LIFE’S LAST CHAPTER                                  261


            APPENDIX: WITH EXTRACTS OF GENERAL CUSTER’S LETTERS      271

[Illustration:

    OUTLINE MAP
  _of portions of_
  MONTANA & DAKOTA

                        Copyright, 1885, by HARPER & BROTHERS
]



BOOTS AND SADDLES.



CHAPTER I.

CHANGE OF STATION.


General Custer graduated at West Point just in time to take part in the
battle of Bull Run. He served with his regiment--the 5th Cavalry--for a
time, but eventually was appointed aide-de-camp to General McClellan.
He came to his sister’s home in my native town, Monroe, Michigan,
during the winter of 1863, and there I first met him. In the spring
he returned to the army in Virginia, and was promoted that summer, at
the age of twenty-three, from captain to brigadier-general. During
the following autumn he came to Monroe to recover from a flesh-wound,
which, though not serious, disabled him somewhat. At that time we
became engaged. When his twenty days’ leave of absence had expired
he went back to duty, and did not return until a few days before our
marriage, in February, 1864.

We had no sooner reached Washington on our wedding-journey than
telegrams came, following one another in quick succession, asking him
to give up the rest of his leave of absence, and hasten without an
hour’s delay to the front. I begged so hard not to be left behind that
I finally prevailed. The result was that I found myself in a few hours
on the extreme wing of the Army of the Potomac, in an isolated Virginia
farm-house, finishing my honeymoon alone. I had so besought him to
allow me to come that I did not dare own to myself the desolation
and fright I felt. In the preparation for the hurried raid which my
husband had been ordered to make he had sent to cavalry head-quarters
to provide for my safety, and troops were in reality near, although I
could not see them.

The general’s old colored servant, Eliza, comforted me, and the
Southern family in the house took pity upon my anxiety. It was a sudden
plunge into a life of vicissitude and danger, and I hardly remember the
time during the twelve years that followed when I was not in fear of
some immediate peril, or in dread of some danger that threatened. After
the raid was ended, we spent some delightful weeks together, and when
the regular spring campaign began I returned to Washington, where I
remained until the surrender and the close of the war.

After that we went to Texas for a year, my husband still acting
as major-general in command of Volunteers. In 1866 we returned to
Michigan, and the autumn of the same year found us in Kansas, where the
general assumed charge of the 7th (Regular) Cavalry, to which he had
been assigned, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the Regular Army.
We remained in Kansas five years, during which time I was the only
officer’s wife who always followed the regiment. We were then ordered,
with the regiment, to Kentucky. After being stationed in Elizabethtown
for two years, we went to Dakota in the spring of 1873.

When orders came for the 7th Cavalry to go into the field again,
General Custer was delighted. The regiment was stationed in various
parts of the South, on the very disagreeable duty of breaking up
illicit distilleries and suppressing the Ku-klux. Fortunately for us,
being in Kentucky, we knew very little of this service. It seemed
an unsoldierly life, and it was certainly uncongenial; for a true
cavalryman feels that a life in the saddle on the free open plain is
his legitimate existence.

Not an hour elapsed after the official document announcing our change
of station had arrived before our house was torn up. In the confusion I
managed to retire to a corner with an atlas, and surreptitiously look
up the territory to which we were going. I hardly liked to own that
I had forgotten its location. When my finger traced our route from
Kentucky almost up to the border of the British Possessions, it seemed
as if we were going to Lapland.

From the first days of our marriage, General Custer celebrated every
order to move with wild demonstrations of joy. His exuberance of
spirits always found expression in some boyish pranks, before he could
set to work seriously to prepare for duty. As soon as the officer
announcing the order to move had disappeared, all sorts of wild
hilarity began. I had learned to take up a safe position on top of the
table; that is, if I had not already been forcibly placed there as a
spectator. The most disastrous result of the proceedings was possibly a
broken chair, which the master of ceremonies would crash, and, perhaps,
throw into the kitchen by way of informing the cook that good news had
come. We had so few household effects that it was something of a loss
when we chanced to be in a country where they could not be replaced.
I can see Eliza’s woolly head now, as she thrust it through the door
to reprimand her master, and say, “Chairs don’t grow on trees in these
yere parts, gen’l.” As for me, I was tossed about the room, and all
sorts of jokes were played upon me before the frolic was ended. After
such participation in the celebration, I was almost too tired with the
laughter and fun to begin packing.

I know that it would surprise a well-regulated mover to see what short
work it was for us to prepare for our journeys. We began by having a
supply of gunny-sacks and hay brought in from the stables. The saddler
appeared, and all our old traps that had been taken around with us so
many years were once more tied and sewed up. The kitchen utensils were
plunged into barrels, generally left uncovered in the hurry; rolls of
bedding encased in waterproof cloth or canvas were strapped and roped,
and the few pictures and books were crowded into chests and boxes.
When these possessions were loaded upon the wagon, at the last moment
there always appeared the cook’s bedding to surmount the motley pile.
Her property was invariably tied up in a flaming quilt representing
souvenirs of her friends’ dresses. She followed that last instalment
with anxious eyes, and, true to her early training, grasped her red
bandanna, containing a few last things, while the satchel she scorned
to use hung empty on her arm.

In all this confusion no one was cross. We rushed and gasped through
the one day given us for preparation, and I had only time to be glad
with my husband that he was going back to the life of activity that
he so loved. His enforced idleness made it seem to him that he was
cumbering the earth, and he rejoiced to feel that he was again to have
the chance to live up to his idea of a soldier. Had I dared to stop
in that hurried day and think of myself all the courage would have
gone out of me. This removal to Dakota meant to my husband a reunion
with his regiment and summer campaigns against Indians; to me it meant
months of loneliness, anxiety, and terror. Fortunately there was too
much to do to leave leisure for thought.

Steamers were ready for us at Memphis, and we went thither by rail to
embark. When the regiment was gathered together, after a separation of
two years, there were hearty greetings, and exchanges of troublous or
droll experiences; and thankful once more to be reunited, we entered
again, heart and soul, into the minutest detail of one another’s
lives. We went into camp for a few days on the outskirts of Memphis,
and exchanged hospitalities with the citizens. The bachelors found an
elysium in the society of many very pretty girls, and love-making went
on either in luxurious parlors or in the open air as they rode in the
warm spring weather to and from our camp. Three steamers were at last
loaded and we went on to Cairo, where we found the trains prepared to
take us into Dakota.

The regiment was never up to its maximum of twelve hundred men, but
there may have been eight or nine hundred soldiers and as many horses.
The property of the companies--saddles, equipments, arms, ammunition,
and forage--together with the personal luggage of the officers, made
the trains very heavy, and we travelled slowly. We were a week or more
on the route. Our days were varied by the long stops necessary to
water the horses, and occasionally to take them out of the cars for
exercise. My husband and I always went on these occasions to loose the
dogs and have a frolic and a little visit with our own horses. The
youth and gamins of the village gathered about us as if we had been
some travelling show. While on the journey one of our family had a
birthday. This was always a day of frolic and fun, and even when we
were on the extreme frontier, presents were sent for into the States,
and we had a little dinner and a birthday cake. This birthday that
came during the journey, though so inopportune, did not leave utterly
without resources the minds of those whose ingenuity was quickened by
affection. The train was delayed that day for an unusually long time;
our colored cook, Mary, in despair because we ate so little in the
“twenty-minutes-for-refreshments” places, determined on an impromptu
feast. She slyly took a basket and filled it at the shops in the
village street. She had already made friends with a woman who had a
little cabin tucked in between the rails and the embankment, and there
the never absent “eureka” coffee-pot was produced and most delicious
coffee dripped. Returning to the car stove, which she had discovered
was filled with a deep bed of coals, she broiled us a steak and baked
some potatoes. The general and I were made to sit down opposite each
other in one of the compartments. A board was brought, covered with a
clean towel, and we did table-legs to this impromptu table. We did not
dare move, and scarcely ventured to giggle, for fear we should overturn
the laden board in our laps. For dessert, a large plate of macaroons,
which were an especial weakness of mine, was brought out as a surprise.
Mary told me, with great glee, how she had seen the general prowling in
the bakers’ shops to buy them, and described the train of small boys
who followed him when he came back with his brown paper parcel. “Miss
Libbie,” she said, “they thought a sure enough gen’l always went on
horseback and carried his sword in his hand.”

We were so hungry we scarcely realized that we were anything but
the embodiment of picturesque grace. No one could be otherwise than
awkward in trying to cut food on such an uncertain base, while Mary
had taken the last scrap of dignity away from the general’s appearance
by enveloping him in a kitchen towel as a substitute for a napkin.
With their usual independence and indifference to ceremony, troops of
curious citizens stalked through the car to stare at my husband. We
went on eating calmly, unconscious that they thought the picture hardly
in keeping with their preconceived ideas of a commanding officer.
When we thanked Mary for our feast, her face beamed and shone with a
combination of joy at our delight and heat from the stove. When she
lifted up our frugal board and set us free, we had a long stroll,
talking over other birthdays and those yet to come, until the train was
ready to start.



CHAPTER II.

A BLIZZARD.


After so many days in the car, we were glad to stop on an open plain
about a mile from the town of Yankton, where the road ended.

The three chief considerations for a camp are wood, water, and good
ground. The latter we had, but we were at some distance from the water,
and neither trees nor brushwood were in sight.

The long trains were unloaded of their freight, and the plains about
us seemed to swarm with men and horses. I was helped down from the
Pullman car, where inlaid woods, mirrors, and plush surrounded us, to
the ground, perfectly bare of every earthly comfort. The other ladies
of the regiment went on to the hotel in the town. The general suggested
that I should go with them, but I had been in camp so many summers it
was not a formidable matter for me to remain, and fortunately for what
followed I did so. The household belongings were gathered together.
A family of little new puppies, some half-grown dogs, the cages of
mocking-birds and canaries, were all corralled safely in a little
stockade made of chests and trunks, and we set ourselves about making
a temporary home. The general and a number of soldiers, composing the
head-quarters detail, were obliged to go at once to lay out the main
camp and assign the companies to their places. Later on, when the
most important work was done, our tents were to be pitched. While I
sat on a chest waiting, the air grew suddenly chilly, the bright sun
of the morning disappeared, and the rain began to fall. Had we been
accustomed to the climate we would have known that these changes were
the precursors of a snow-storm.

When we left Memphis, not a fortnight before, we wore muslin gowns and
were then uncomfortably warm; it seemed impossible that even so far
north there could be a returned winter in the middle of April. We were
yet to realize what had been told us of the climate--that there were
“eight months of winter and four of very late in the fall.” On the
bluffs beyond us was a signal-station, but they sent us no warning.
Many years of campaigning in the Indian Territory, Kansas, Colorado,
and Nebraska, give one an idea of what the weather can do; but each
new country has its peculiarities, and it seemed we had reached one
where all the others were outdone. As the afternoon of that first day
advanced the wind blew colder, and I found myself eying with envy a
little half-finished cabin without an enclosure, standing by itself.
Years of encountering the winds of Kansas, when our tents were torn and
blown down so often, had taught me to appreciate any kind of a house,
even though it were built upon the sand as this one was. A dug-out,
which the tornado swept over, but could not harm, was even more of a
treasure. The change of climate from the extreme south to the far north
had made a number of the men ill, and even the superb health of the
general had suffered. He continued to superintend the camp, however,
though I begged him from time to time as I saw him to give up. I felt
sure he needed a shelter and some comfort at once, so I took courage
to plan for myself. Before this I had always waited, as the general
preferred to prepare everything for me. After he had consented that
we should try for the little house, some of the kind-hearted soldiers
found the owner in a distant cabin, and he rented it to us for a few
days. The place was equal to a palace to me. There was no plastering,
and the house seemed hardly weatherproof. It had a floor, however, and
an upper story divided off by beams; over these Mary and I stretched
blankets and shawls and so made two rooms. It did not take long to
settle our few things, and when wood and water were brought from a
distance we were quite ready for house-keeping, except that we lacked
a stove and some supplies. Mary walked into the town to hire or buy a
small cooking-stove, but she could not induce the merchant to bring it
out that night. She was thoughtful enough to take along a basket and
brought with her a little marketing. Before she had come within sight
of our cabin on her return, the snow was falling so fast it was with
difficulty that she found her way.

Meanwhile the general had returned completely exhausted and very
ill. Without his knowledge I sent for the surgeon, who, like all of
his profession in the army, came promptly. He gave me some powerful
medicine to administer every hour, and forbade the general to leave
his bed. It was growing dark, and we were in the midst of a Dakota
blizzard. The snow was so fine that it penetrated the smallest cracks,
and soon we found white lines appearing all around us, where the
roof joined the walls, on the windows and under the doors. Outside
the air was so thick with the whirling, tiny particles that it was
almost impossible to see one’s hand held out before one. The snow was
fluffy and thick, like wool, and fell so rapidly, and seemingly from
all directions, that it gave me a feeling of suffocation as I stood
outside. Mary was not easily discouraged, and piling a few light fagots
outside the door, she tried to light a fire. The wind and the muffling
snow put out every little blaze that started, however, and so, giving
it up, she went into the house and found the luncheon-basket we had
brought from the car, in which remained some sandwiches, and these
composed our supper.

The night had almost settled down upon us when the adjutant came for
orders. Knowing the scarcity of fuel and the danger to the horses from
exposure to the rigor of such weather after their removal from a warm
climate, the general ordered the breaking of camp. All the soldiers
were directed to take their horses and go into Yankton, and ask the
citizens to give them shelter in their homes, cow-sheds, and stables.
In a short time the camp was nearly deserted, only the laundresses,
two or three officers, and a few dismounted soldiers remaining.
The towns-people, true to the unvarying western hospitality, gave
everything they could to the use of the regiment; the officers found
places in the hotels. The sounds of the hoofs of the hurrying horses
flying by our cabin on their way to the town had hardly died out before
the black night closed in and left us alone on that wide, deserted
plain. The servants, Mary and Ham, did what they could to make the room
below-stairs comfortable by stopping the cracks and barricading the
frail door. The thirty-six hours of our imprisonment there seems now
a frightful nightmare. The wind grew higher and higher, and shrieked
about the little house dismally. It was built without a foundation,
and was so rickety it seemed as it rocked in a great gust of wind that
it surely would be unroofed or overturned. The general was too ill for
me to venture to find my usual comfort from his re-assuring voice. I
dressed in my heaviest gown and jacket, and remained under the blankets
as much as I could to keep warm. Occasionally I crept out to shake
off the snow from the counterpane, for it sifted in between the roof
and clapboards very rapidly. I hardly dared take the little phial in
my benumbed fingers to drop the precious medicine for fear it would
fall. I realized, as the night advanced, that we were as isolated from
the town, and even the camp, not a mile distant, as if we had been on
an island in the river. The doctor had intended to return to us, but
his serious face and impressive injunctions made me certain that he
considered the life of the general dependent on the medicine being
regularly given.

During the night I was startled by hearing a dull sound, as of
something falling heavily. Flying down the stairs I found the servants
prying open the frozen and snow-packed door, to admit a half dozen
soldiers who, becoming bewildered by the snow, had been saved by the
faint light we had placed in the window. After that several came,
and two were badly frozen. We were in despair of finding any way of
warming them, as there was no bedding, and, of course, no fire, until I
remembered the carpets which were sewed up in bundles and heaped in one
corner, where the boxes were, and which we were not to use until the
garrison was reached. Spreading them out, we had enough to roll up each
wanderer as he came. The frozen men were in so exhausted a condition
that they required immediate attention. Their sufferings were intense,
and I could not forgive myself for not having something with which to
revive them. The general never tasted liquor, and we were both so well
always we did not even keep it for use in case of sickness.

I saw symptoms of that deadly stupor which is the sure precursor of
freezing, when I fortunately remembered a bottle of alcohol which had
been brought for the spirit-lamps. Mary objected to using the only
means by which we could make coffee for ourselves, but the groans and
exhausted and haggard faces of the men won her over, and we saw them
revive under the influence of the fiery liquid. Poor fellows! They
afterwards lost their feet, and some of their fingers had also to
be amputated. The first soldier who had reached us unharmed, except
from exhaustion, explained that they had all attempted to find their
way to town, and the storm had completely overcome them. Fortunately
one had clung to a bag of hard-tack, which was all they had had to
eat. At last the day came, but so darkened by the snow it seemed
rather a twilight. The drifts were on three sides of us like a wall.
The long hours dragged themselves away, leaving the general too weak
to rise, and in great need of hot, nourishing food. I grew more and
more terrified at our utterly desolate condition and his continued
illness, though fortunately he did not suffer. He was too ill, and I
too anxious, to eat the fragments that remained in the luncheon-basket.
The snow continued to come down in great swirling sheets, while the
wind shook the loose window-casings and sometimes broke in the door.
When night came again and the cold increased, I believed that our
hours were numbered. I missed the voice of the courageous Mary, for
she had sunk down in a corner exhausted for want of sleep, while Ham
had been completely demoralized from the first. Occasionally I melted
a little place on the frozen window-pane, and saw that the drifts
were almost level with the upper windows on either side, but that the
wind had swept a clear space before the door. During the night the
sound of the tramping of many feet rose above the roar of the storm.
A great drove of mules rushed up to the sheltered side of the house.
Their brays had a sound of terror as they pushed, kicked, and crowded
themselves against our little cabin. For a time they huddled together,
hoping for warmth, and then despairing, they made a mad rush away, and
were soon lost in the white wall of snow beyond. All night long the
neigh of a distressed horse, almost human in its appeal, came to us
at intervals. The door was pried open once, thinking it might be some
suffering fellow-creature in distress. The strange, wild eyes of the
horse peering in for help, haunted me long afterwards. Occasionally a
lost dog lifted up a howl of distress under our window, but before the
door could be opened to admit him he had disappeared in the darkness.
When the night was nearly spent I sprang again to the window with a new
horror, for no one, until he hears it for himself, can realize what
varied sounds animals make in the excitement of peril. A drove of hogs,
squealing and grunting, were pushing against the house, and the door
which had withstood so much had to be held to keep it from being broken
in.

It was almost unbearable to hear the groans of the soldiers over their
swollen and painful feet, and know that we could do nothing to ease
them. To be in the midst of such suffering, and yet have no way of
ameliorating it; to have shelter, and yet to be surrounded by dumb
beasts appealing to us for help, was simply terrible. Every minute
seemed a day; every hour a year. When daylight came I dropped into an
exhausted slumber, and was awakened by Mary standing over our bed with
a tray of hot breakfast. I asked if help had come, and finding it had
not, of course, I could not understand the smoking food. She told me
that feeling the necessity of the general’s eating, it had come to her
in the night-watches that she would cut up the large candles she had
pilfered from the cars, and try if she could cook over the many short
pieces placed close together, so as to make a large flame. The result
was hot coffee and some bits of the steak she had brought from town,
fried with a few slices of potatoes. She could not resist telling me
how much better she could have done had I not given away the alcohol to
the frozen men!

The breakfast revived the general so much that he began to make light
of danger in order to quiet me. The snow had ceased to fall, but for
all that it still seemed that we were castaways and forgotten, hidden
under the drifts that nearly surrounded us. Help was really near at
hand, however, at even this darkest hour. A knock at the door, and the
cheery voices of men came up to our ears. Some citizens of Yankton
had at last found their way to our relief, and the officers, who
neither knew the way nor how to travel over such a country, had gladly
followed. They told us that they had made several attempts to get out
to us, but the snow was so soft and light that they could make no
headway. They floundered and sank down almost out of sight, even in the
streets of the town. Of course no horse could travel, but they told me
of their intense anxiety, and said that fearing I might be in need of
immediate help they had dragged a cutter over the drifts, which now had
a crust of ice formed from the sleet and the moisture of the damp night
air. Of course I declined to go without the general, but I was more
touched than I could express by their thought of me. I made some excuse
to go up-stairs, where, with my head buried in the shawl partition, I
tried to smother the sobs that had been suppressed during the terrors
of our desolation. Here the general found me, and though comforting me
by tender words, he still reminded me that he would not like any one to
know that I had lost my pluck when all the danger I had passed through
was really ended.

The officers made their way over to camp, for they were anxious and
uncertain as to what might have happened to the few persons remaining
there. I had been extremely troubled, for each of the soldiers for whom
we had been caring had, with a trooper’s usual love of the sensational,
told us of frozen men and of the birth of babies to the laundresses.
These stories had reached town through stragglers, until we imagined
from the exaggeration that enough newly-born children might be found to
start a small orphan asylum. The officers soon returned with the story
reduced to one little stranger who had come safely into this world
in the stormy night, sheltered by a tent only. No men were frozen,
fortunately, though all had suffered. The soldier detailed to take care
of the general’s horses found his way back with them, and in his solemn
voice told us that in spite of every effort, sharing his blankets and
holding the little things through the storm, the thorough-bred puppies
had frozen one by one. There was one little box-stove in camp which the
officers brought back, accompanied by its owner, an old and somewhat
infirm officer.

In the midst of all this excitement, and the reaction from the danger,
I could not suppress my sense of the ludicrous when I saw the daintiest
and most exquisite officer of “ours,” whom last I remembered careering
on his perfectly equipped and prancing steed before the admiring eyes
of the Memphis belles, now wound up with scarfs and impromptu leggings
of flannel; his hat tied down with a woollen comforter; buffalo gloves
on his hands; and clasping a stove-pipe, necessary for the precious
stove.

Some of the officers had brought out parcels containing food, while
our brother, Colonel Tom Custer, had struggled with a large basket of
supplies. In a short time another officer appeared at our door with
a face full of anxiety about our welfare. He did not tell us what we
afterwards learned from others, that, fearing the citizens would give
up going to us, and knowing that he could not find the way alone over
a country from which the snow had obliterated every landmark, he had
started to go the whole distance on the railroad. Coming to a long
bridge he found the track so covered with ice that it was a dangerous
footing; the wind blew the sleet and snow in his face, almost blinding
him, but nothing daunted, he crawled over on his hands and knees, and
continuing to use the track as his guide, stopped when he thought he
might be opposite our cabin, and ploughed his way with difficulty
through the drifts.

When the officers had returned to town, we made a fire in the little
stove which had been put up-stairs, as the pipe was so short. We
ensconced our visitor, to whom the stove belonged, near by. He was
a capital fireman; we divided our bedding with him, and put it on
the floor, as close as possible to the fire. The shawl and blanket
partition separated our rooms, but did not seem to deaden sound, and
at night I only lost consciousness of the audible sleeping of our
guest after I had dropped the point of a finger in my ear. He was the
one among us who, being the oldest of our circle, and having had a
varied experience, was an authority on many subjects. He had peculiar
and extreme ideas on some questions. We listened out of respect, but
we all drew the line at following some of his advice, and over one
topic there was general revolt. He disbelieved entirely in the external
or internal use of water, and living as we did in countries where
the rivers were flowing mud, and the smaller streams dried up under
the blazing sun, his would have been a convenient system, to say the
least. Unfortunately, our prejudices in favor of cleanliness increased
with the scarcity of water. Bathing became one of the luxuries as
well as one of the absolute necessities of life. From being compelled
to do with very little water, we had learned almost to take a bath
in a thimble, and to this day I find myself pouring the water out
of a pitcher in a most gingerly manner, so strong is the power of
habit--even now with the generous rush of the unstinted Croton at my
disposal. The theory of our venerable friend on the danger of bathing
was fortified with many an earnest argument, and the advantages of
his improved system of dry rubbing set out elaborately in his best
rhetoric. Nevertheless, taking a bath with the palm of the hand was
combated to the last by his hearers. When I had heard him arguing
previously I had rather believed it to be the vagary of the hour. I
had proof to the contrary the next morning after the storm, for I was
awakened by a noise of vigorous friction and violent breathing, as of
some one laboring diligently. I suddenly remembered the doctrine of
our guest, and realized that he was putting theory into practice. As
softly as I awakened my husband, and tried to whisper to him, he was
on nettles instantly, hearing the quiver of laughter in my voice. He
feared I might be heard, and that the feelings of the man for whom he
had such regard might be wounded. He promptly requested me to smother
my laughter in the blankets, and there I shook with merriment, perhaps
even greater because of the relief I experienced in finding something
to counteract the gloom of the preceding hours. And if I owned to
telling afterwards that the old officer’s theory and practice were one,
it could not be called a great breach of hospitality, for he gloried in
what he called advanced ideas, and strove to wear the martyr’s crown
that all pioneers in new and extreme beliefs crowd on their heads.

Our friend remained with us until the camp was inhabitable and the
regular order of military duties was resumed. Paths and roads were made
through the snow, and it was a great relief to be again in the scenes
of busy life. We did not soon forget our introduction to Dakota. After
that we understood why the frontiersman builds his stable near the
house; we also comprehended then when they told us that they did not
dare to cross in a blizzard from the house to the stable-door without
keeping hold of a rope tied fast to the latch as a guide for their safe
return when the stock was fed. Afterwards, when even our cool-headed
soldiers lost their way and wandered aimlessly near their quarters, and
when found were dazed in speech and look, the remembrance of that first
storm, with the density of the down-coming snow, was a solution to us
of their bewilderment.



CHAPTER III.

WESTERN HOSPITALITY.


The citizens of Yankton, endeavoring to make up for the inhospitable
reception the weather had given us, vied with one another in trying
to make the regiment welcome. The hotel was filled with the families
of the officers, and after the duties of the day were over in camp,
the married men went into town. We were called upon, asked to dine,
and finally tendered a ball. It was given in the public hall of the
town, which, being decorated with flags and ornamented with all the
military paraphernalia that could be used effectively, was really very
attractive. We had left gas far behind us, and we had not the mellow,
becoming light of wax-candles, but those Western people were generous
about lamps, as they are about everything else, and the hall was very
bright.

The ladies had many trials in endeavoring to make themselves
presentable. We burrowed in the depths of trunks for those bits of
finery that we had supposed would not be needed again for years. We
knew the officers would do us credit. Through all the sudden changes of
fashion, which leave an army lady when she goes into the territories
quite an antediluvian in toilet after a few months, the officer can
be entirely serene. He can be conscious that he looks his best in a
perfectly fitting uniform, and that he is never out of date.

The general and I went into the hotel and took a room for the night of
the ball. Such good-humor, confusion, and jolly preparations as we had,
for the young officers came to borrow the corner of our glass to put on
the finishing touches, carrying their neckties, studs, sleeve-buttons,
and gloves in their hands. The aigret had been taken from the helmet
and placed across their broad chests, brightening still more their
shining new uniforms. I remember with what pride the “plebs” called our
attention to the double row of buttons which the change in the uniform
now gave to all, without regard to rank. The lieutenants had heretofore
only been allowed one row of buttons, and they declared that an Apollo
even could not do justice to his figure with a coat fastened in so
monotonous and straight up-and-down a manner.

Yankton, like all new towns, was chiefly settled with newly-married
people, who ornamented their bits of front yards with shining new
perambulators. The mothers had little afternoon parades, proud enough
to trundle their own babies. If any one’s father ever came from the
States to a Western town, we all felt at liberty to welcome his gray
hairs. There were but few young girls, but that night must have been a
memorable one for them. All the town, and even the country people, came
to the ball. The mayor and common council received us, and the governor
opened the festivities. We crossed to the hotel to our supper. We were
asked to sit down to the table, and the abundance of substantials
proved that our hosts did not expect us to nibble. The general was, of
course, taken possession of by the city fathers and mothers. Finding
among them a woman he knew I would appreciate, he placed me beside her
at supper. I had but little time to eat, for she was not only clever
and brave, but very interesting in her description of the dangers and
hardships she had endured during the ten years of her pioneering. The
railroad had been completed but a short time, and before that the life
was wild enough. She sat quietly among these people in her simple
stuff gown, honored and looked up to. Though not even elderly, she was
still almost the oldest citizen and an authority in the history of the
country. All classes and conditions came to the ball, for Yankton was
not yet large enough to be divided into cliques; besides, the rough and
hazardous life these people had shared endeared them to one another.

The days after this passed very rapidly. The officers were already
getting the command into condition to begin the long march of five
hundred miles that lay before us. Before we left, the general, desiring
to return some of the civilities of the citizens, gave the governor
and his staff a review. The wide plain on which our camp was located
was admirably adapted to the display of troops. My heart swelled with
pride to see our grand regiment all together once more and in such fine
condition. When the review was closing, and that part came where the
officers leave their companies and, joining, ride abreast to salute the
commanding officer, the general could hardly maintain the stereotyped,
motionless quiet of the soldier--the approach of this fine body of men
made him so proud of his command.

All were well mounted; the two years’ station in the South had given
them rare opportunities to purchase horses. The general, being
considered an excellent judge, had, at the request of the officers,
bought several from the stables of his Kentucky friends. He told me
that if a colt failed a quarter of a second in making certain time
expected, the owner was disappointed and willing to sell him at a
merely nominal sum. So it came about that even the lieutenants, with
their meagre pay, owned horses whose pedigree was unending. There were
three officers belonging to each of the twelve companies; some were
detailed on duty elsewhere, but those remaining, with the adjutant,
surgeon, quartermaster, and commissary, made a long line of brilliantly
caparisoned and magnificently formed men mounted on blood-horses. No
wonder that the moment they saluted the general, he jumped from the
saddle to congratulate them, and show them his pride in their soldierly
appearance.

The governor and his staff were not chary in their expressions of
admiration. It was a great event in the lives of the citizens, and the
whole town was present. Every sort of vehicle used on the frontier
came out, filled to overflowing, and many persons walked. The music
of the band, the sun lighting up the polished steel of the arms and
equipments, the hundreds of spirited horses going through the variety
of evolutions which belong to a mounted regiment, made a memorable
scene for these isolated people. Besides, they felt the sensation
of possession when they knew that these troops had come to open the
country and protect those more adventurous spirits who were already
finding that a place into which the railroad ran was too far East for
them.

One day we were all invited to take luncheon on board the steamer
that had been chartered to take the regimental property up the river
to Bismarck. The owner of the boat was very hospitable, and champagne
flowed freely as he proposed old-fashioned toasts. The officers and
ladies of the regiment received with pleasure all this politeness, and
since these occasions were rare in the lives of those of us who lived
always on the outskirts of civilization, we were reluctant to go home.
My horse had been sent away by some mistake, and the general accepted
the offer of the host to drive me out to camp, he riding for a time
beside the carriage, and then, with his usual restlessness, giving rein
to his horse for a brisk gallop. It was not long before I discovered
that the uncertain swaying of the vehicle from side to side, and the
hazardous manner in which we skirted the deep gullies, was due to the
fact that our friend was overcome with hospitality.

Trying to talk intelligently, and to appear not to notice the vagaries
of the driver, and at the same time to control my wandering eyes
as they espied from afar a dangerous bit of road, I spent a very
uncomfortable hour. Fortunately the “dear Polly” was most demure in
harness, and possibly having been left before that to find her own
way under similar circumstances, she did not attempt to leap with the
carriage over ditches, as her gay owner invited her to do. When we
came up within shouting distance of the general, I cried out, in what I
meant to seem like playful menace; but he had taken in the situation,
and seeing that Polly was to be trusted, he mischievously laughed back
at me and flew over the country. Finally we neared our little cabin,
and my last fear came upon me. Mary had spread the clothes-line far and
wide; it was at the rear of the house, but my escort saw no door, and
Polly soon wound us hopelessly up in the line and two weeks’ washing,
while she quietly tried to kick her way through the packing-boxes and
wood-piles! Mary and Ham extricated me, and started the old nag on
the road homeward, and I waved a relieved good-bye to the retreating
carriage.

Only such impossible wives as one reads of in Sunday-school books
would have lost the opportunity for a few wrathful words. I was not
dangerous, though, and the peals of laughter from my husband, as he
described my wild eyes peering out from the side of the carriage, soon
put me into a good-humor. Next day I was called to the steps, and
found that Polly’s owner had discovered that we had a door. He said
an off-hand “How d’ye?” and presented a peace-offering, adding, “My
wife tells me that I was hardly in a condition to deliver a temperance
lecture yesterday. As what she says is always true, I bring my
apologies.” Ham carried in the hamper, and though I urged our guest to
remain, he did not seem quite at ease and drove away.

While we were at Yankton, something happened that filled us with
wonder. The Indians from the reservation near brought in reports that
came through other tribes of the Modoc disasters. It was a marvel to
the general to find that at that distance north news could come to us
through Indian runners in advance of that we received by the telegraph.



CHAPTER IV.

CAVALRY ON THE MARCH.


When the day came for us to begin our march, the sun shone and the
towns-people wished us good-luck with their good-bye.

The length of each day’s march varied according to the streams on which
we relied for water, or the arrival of the boat. The steamer that
carried the forage for the horses and the supplies for the command was
tied up to the river-bank every night, as near to us as was possible.
The laundresses and ladies of the regiment were on board, except the
general’s sister, Margaret, who made her first march with her husband,
riding all the way on horseback. As usual, I rode beside the general.
Our first few days were pleasant, and we began at once to enjoy the
plover. The land was so covered with them that the hunters shot them
with all sorts of arms. We counted eighty birds in the gunny-sack
that three of the soldiers brought in. Fortunately there were several
shot-guns in the possession of our family, and the little things,
therefore, were not torn to pieces, but could be broiled over the coals
of the camp-fire. They were so plump that their legs were like tiny
points coming from beneath the rounded outline that swept the grass
as they walked. No butter was needed in cooking them, for they were
very fat. Some of the officers had not left behind them all of their
epicurean tastes, and preferred to have the birds cooked when they were
decidedly “gamy.” In this way they secured the privilege of taking
their odoriferous luncheon quite apart from the others. The general had
invited two officers besides his brother Tom, and his brother-in-law,
Mr. Calhoun, to mess with him. We had a tableful, and very merry
we were, even in the early morning. To joke before daylight seems
impossible, but even at breakfast peals of laughter went up from the
dining-tent.

One of the officers was envied, and we declared he got more to eat than
the rest, because he insisted upon “carving the hash;” while to cut
meat for all our hungry circle, as the general did at the other end
of the table, took many precious moments. One of our number called us
the “Great Grab Mess,” and some one slyly printed the words in large
black letters on the canvas that covered the luncheon-hamper, which was
usually strapped at the back of our travelling-carriage. How gladly
we gathered about that hamper when the command halted at noon! How
good the plover and sandwiches tasted, while we quenched our thirst
with cold coffee or tea! Since we were named as we were, we all dared
to reach over and help ourselves, and the one most agile and with the
longest arms was the best fed.

No great ceremony is to be expected when one rises before four, and
takes a hurried breakfast by the light of a tallow-candle; the soldiers
waiting outside to take down the tent, the servants hastily and
suggestively rattling the kettles and gridiron as they packed them,
made it an irresistible temptation for one hungry to “grab.”

We had a very satisfactory little cook-stove. It began its career
with legs, but the wind used to lift it up from the ground with such
violence it was finally dismembered, and afterwards placed flat on the
ground. Being of sheet-iron it cooled quickly, was very light, and
could be put in the wagon in a few moments after the morning meal was
cooked. When we came out from breakfast the wagon stood near, partly
packed, and bristling with kitchen utensils; buckets and baskets tied
outside the cover, axe and spade lashed to the side, while the little
stove looked out from the end. The mess-chest stood open on the ground
to receive the dishes we had used. At a given signal the dining-tent
went down with all those along the line, and they were stowed away in
the wagons in an incredibly short time. The wagon-train then drew out
and formed in order at the rear of the column.

At the bugle-call, “boots and saddles,” each soldier mounted and took
his place in line, all riding two abreast. First came the general and
his staff, with whom sister Margaret and I were permitted to ride; the
private orderlies and head-quarters detail rode in our rear; and then
came the companies according to the places assigned them for the day;
finally the wagon-train, with the rear-guard. We made a long drawn-out
cavalcade that stretched over a great distance. When we reached some
high bluff, we never tired of watching the command advancing, with the
long line of supply wagons, with their white covers, winding around
bends in the road and climbing over the hills. Every day the breaking
of camp went more smoothly and quickly, until, as the days advanced,
the general used to call me to his side to notice by his watch how few
moments it took after the tents were ordered down to set the whole
machinery for the march in motion; and I remember the regiment grew so
skilful in preparation that in one campaign the hour for starting never
varied five minutes during the whole summer.

The column was always halted once during the day’s march to water the
horses, then the luncheons were brought forth. They varied decidedly;
sometimes an officer took from his pocket a hard biscuit wrapped in
his handkerchief; the faithful orderly of another took his chief’s
sandwiches from his own haversack and brought them to him, wherever
he was. Often a provident officer, as he seated himself to his little
“spread” on the grass, was instantly surrounded by interested visitors,
who, heedless ever of any future, believed that the world owed them a
living and they were resolved to have it.

When the stream was narrow, and the hundreds of horses had to be
ranged along its banks to be watered, there was time for a nap. I
soon acquired the general’s habit of sleeping readily. He would throw
himself down anywhere and fall asleep instantly, even with the sun
beating on his head. It only takes a little training to learn to sleep
without a pillow on uneven ground and without shade. I learned, the
moment I was helped out of the saddle, to drop upon the grass and lose
myself in a twinkling. No one knows what a privilege it is to be
stretched out after being cramped over the horn of a lady’s saddle for
hours, until she has experienced it. I think I never got quite over
wishing for the shade of a tree; but there was often a little strip of
shadow on one side of the travelling wagon, which was always near us on
the journey. I was not above selfishly appropriating the space under
the wagon, if it had not been taken by somebody else. Even then I had
to dislodge a whole collection of dogs, who soon find the best places
for their comfort.

We had a citizen-guide with us, who, having been long in the country,
knew the streams, and the general and I, following his instructions,
often rode in advance as we neared the night’s camp. It was always a
mild excitement and new pleasure to select camp. The men who carried
the guidons for each company were sent for, and places assigned them.
The general delighted to unsaddle his favorite horse, Dandy, and turn
him loose, for his attachment was so strong he never grazed far from
us. He was not even tethered, and after giving himself the luxury of
a roll in the grass, he ate his dinner of oats, and browsed about the
tent, as tame as a kitten. He whinnied when my husband patted his sleek
neck, and looked jealously at the dogs when they all followed us into
the tent afterwards.

After tramping down the grass, to prevent the fire from spreading, my
husband would carry dry sticks and underbrush, and place them against
a fallen tree. That made an admirable back-log, and in a little while
we had a glorious fire, the general having a peculiar gift of starting
a flame on the wildest day. The next thing was to throw himself down
on the sod, cover his eyes with his white felt hat, and be sound asleep
in no time. No matter if the sun beat down in a perfect blaze, it never
disturbed him. The dogs came at once to lie beside him. I have seen
them stretched at his back and curled around his head, while the nose
and paws of one rested on his breast. And yet he was quite unconscious
of their crowding. They growled and scrambled for the best place, but
he slept placidly through it all.

When the command arrived, the guidons pointed out the location for
each company; the horses were unsaddled and picketed out; the wagons
unloaded and the tents pitched. The hewing of wood and the hauling of
water came next, and after the cook-fires were lighted, the air was
full of savory odors of the soldiers’ dinner. Sometimes the ground
admitted of pitching the tents of the whole regiment in two long lines
facing each other; the wagons were drawn up at either end, and also
at the rear of the two rows of tents; they were placed diagonally,
one end overlapping the other, so as to form a barricade against the
attack of Indians. Down the centre of the company street large ropes
were stretched, to which the horses were tied at night; our tents were
usually a little apart from the rest, at one end of the company street,
and it never grew to be an old story to watch the camp before us. After
I had changed my riding-habit for my one other gown, I came out to
join the general under the tent-fly, where he lay alternately watching
the scene and reading one of the well-thumbed books that he was never
without. I always had sewing--either a bit of needle-work that was
destined to make our garrison quarters more attractive, or more often
some necessary stitches to take in our hard-worn clothes. As we sat
there it would have been difficult for a stranger seeing us to believe
that it was merely the home of a day.

Our camps along the river were much alike, and each day when we
entered the tent our few things were placed exactly as they were the
day before. The only articles of furniture we had with us were two
folding-chairs, a bed, a wash-bowl, with bucket and tin dipper, and
a little mirror. This last, fastened to the tent-pole, swayed to and
fro with the never-ceasing wind, and made it a superfluous luxury, for
we learned to dress without it. The camp-chairs were a great comfort:
they were made by a soldier out of oak, with leather back, seat and
arms, the latter so arranged with straps and buckles that one could
recline or sit upright at will. I once made a long march and only took
a camp-stool for a seat; I knew therefore what an untold blessing it
was to have a chair in which to lean, after having been sitting in the
saddle for hours.

We had tried many inventions for cot-beds that folded, but nothing
stood the wear and tear of travel like the simple contrivance of two
carpenter’s horses placed at the right distance apart, with three
boards laid upon them. Such a bed was most easily transported, for the
supports could be tied to the outside of the wagon, while the boards
slipped inside before the rest of the camp equipage was packed.

An ineffaceable picture remains with me even now of those lovely camps,
as we dreamily watched them by the fading light of the afternoon. The
general and I used to think there was no bit of color equal to the
delicate blue line of smoke which rose from the camp-fire, where the
soldiers’ suppers were being cooked. The effect of light and shade,
and the varying tints of that perfect sky, were a great delight to
him. The mellow air brought us sounds that had become dear by long
and happy association--the low notes of the bugle in the hands of
the musician practising the calls; the click of the currycomb as
the soldiers groomed their horses; the whistle or song of a happy
trooper. And even the irrepressible accordeon at that distance made a
melody. It used to amuse us to find with what persistent ingenuity the
soldiers smuggled that melancholy instrument. No matter how limited the
transportation, after a few days’ march it was brought out from a roll
of blankets, or the teamster who had been bribed to keep it under the
seat, produced the prized possession. The bay of the hounds was always
music to the general. The bray of the mules could not be included under
that head but it was one of those “sounds from home” to which we had
become attached. Mingling with the melodies of the negro servants, as
they swung the blacking-brushes at the rear of the tents, were the
buoyant voices of the officers lying under the tent-flies, smoking the
consoling pipe.

The twilight almost always found many of us gathered together, some
idling on the grass in front of the camp-fire, or lounging on the
buffalo robes. The one with the best voice sang, while all joined in
the chorus.

We all had much patience in listening to what must necessarily be
“twice-told tales,” for it would have taken the author of “The Arabian
Nights” to supply fresh anecdotes for people who had been so many years
together. These stories usually varied somewhat from time to time,
and the more Munchausen-like they became the more attentive was the
audience.

The territories are settled by people who live an intense, exaggerated
sort of existence, and nothing tame attracts them. In order to compel
a listener, I myself fell into the habit of adding a cipher or two to
stories that had been first told in the States with moderate numbers.
If the family overheard me, their unquenchable spirit of mischief
invariably put a quietus on my eloquence. In fact I was soon cured
of temptation to amplify, by the repeated asides of my deriding
family, “Oh, I say, old lady, won’t you come down a hundred or two?”
Sometimes, when we were all gathered together at evening, we improved
the privilege which belongs to long-established friendships of keeping
silent. The men yielded to the soporific influence of tobacco, in quiet
content, knowing that nothing was expected of them if they chose not to
talk. My husband and I sometimes strolled through the camp at twilight,
and even went among the citizen teamsters that are employed for the
march, when they were preparing their evening meal.

These teamsters mess together on the march as the officers do, with
rarely more than four or five in the circle. One of the number buys
the supplies, takes charge of the rations, and keeps the accounts. The
sum of expenses is divided at the end of the month, and each pays his
portion. They take turns in doing the cooking, which, being necessarily
simple, each can bear a share of the labor. Sometimes we found a more
ambitious member of the mess endeavoring to rise superior to the
tiresome hard-tack; he had bared his brawny arms and was mixing biscuit
on the tail-board of the wagon, let down for the purpose. He whistled
away as he moulded the dough with his horny hands, and it would have
seemed that he had a Delmonico supper to anticipate.

We had not left Yankton far behind us before we were surprised to see
one of its most hospitable citizens drive up; he acknowledged that he
had missed us, and described the tameness of life after the departure
of the cavalry as something quite past endurance. We were so stupid as
not to discover, until after he had said the second good-bye, that he
really wanted to join us on the march; still, had he kept on, I am sure
his endurance would have been tested, for while I do not remember ever
to have been discouraged before in all our campaigning, I was so during
the storm that followed. The weather suddenly changed, and we began our
march with a dull, gray morning and stinging cold. The general wound
me up in all the outside wraps I had until I was a shapeless mass of
fur and wool as I sat in the saddle. We could talk but little to each
other, for the wind cut our faces and stiffened the flesh until it
ached. My hands became too numb to hold my horse, so I gave him his own
way. As we rode along like automatons, I was keeping my spirits up with
the thought of the camp we would make in the underbrush of a sheltered
valley by some stream, and the coming camp-fire rose brightly in my
imagination. We went slowly as the usual time a cavalry command makes
is barely four miles an hour. It was a discouraging spot where we
finally halted; it was on a stream, but the ice was thick along the
edges, and all we could see was the opposite bank, about thirty feet
high, so frozen over that it looked like a wall of solid ice. It was
difficult to pitch the tent, for the wind twisted and tore the canvas;
the ground was already so frozen that it took a long time to drive in
the iron pins by which the ropes holding the tents are secured. All
the tying and pinning of the opening was of little avail, for the wind
twisted off the tapes and flung the great brass pins I had brought on
purpose for canvas far and wide.

No camp-fire would burn, of course, in such a gale, but I remembered
thankfully the Sibley stove that we always carried. The saddler had cut
a hole in the roof of the tent for the pipe, and fastened zinc around
it to make it safe from fire. I shall never think about a Sibley stove
without gratitude, nor cease to wonder how so simple an invention can
be the means of such comfort. It is only a cone of sheet-iron, open at
the top and bottom; the broader part rests on the ground, while the
little pipe fits on the top. The wood is put through a door cut in the
side; only billets can be used, for the aperture is of course small. It
requires almost constant attention to keep the insatiable little thing
filled, but it never occurs to one, where half a dozen are huddled
together, to ask who shall be the fireman, and there is equal division
of labor. The stove is so light that, in marching, the pipe is removed
and a rope run through the openings, which enables it to be tied
underneath the wagon, beside the bucket which is always suspended there
to be used to water the horses.

The general was busy in the adjutant’s tent, so I sent for the
sergeant, who was our factotum, and asked him to hunt up the Sibley
stove. I felt disheartened when he told me it had been forgotten.[A] I
could have gone to the next tent where a provident officer had put his
up, but I felt in too disagreeable a humor to inflict myself on any
one, and so crept into bed to keep warm. It was an unmistakable fit
of sulks, and I was in the valley of humiliation next morning, for I
knew well how difficult it is to have ladies on the march, and how many
obstacles the general had surmounted to arrange for my coming. My part
consisted in drilling myself to be as little trouble as I could. I had
really learned, by many a self-inflicted lesson, never to be too cold
or too hot, and rarely allowed a thought of hunger if we were where no
supplies could be had. It was a long struggle, but I finally learned
never to drink between meals, as it is always difficult to get water on
a march. I can remember being even mortified at dropping my whip, for
I wished to be so little trouble that every one would be unconscious
of my presence, so far as being an inconvenience was concerned. The
cold of Dakota overcame me on that one day, but it was the last time I
succumbed to it.

    [A] It was afterwards recovered.



CHAPTER V.

CAMPING AMONG THE SIOUX.


Our march took us through the grounds set apart by the Government for
the use of the Sioux Indians at peace with our country. We had not made
much progress before we began to see their graves. They do not bury
their dead, but place them on boards lashed to the limbs of trees, or
on high platforms raised from the ground by four poles perhaps twenty
feet. The body is wound round and round with clothing or blankets,
like a mummy, and inside the layers are placed fire-arms, tobacco,
and jerked beef, to supply them on the imaginary journey to the happy
hunting-grounds. In the early morning, when it was not quite light,
as we filed by these solitary sepulchres, it was uncanny and weird,
and the sun, when it came, was doubly welcome. Our first visitor from
Agency Indians was Fool-dog, a Sioux chief. He was tall, commanding,
and had really a fine face. When he was ready to go home he invited us
to come to his village before we left on our next march. At twilight
my husband and I walked over. The village was a collection of tepees
of all sizes, the largest being what is called the Medicine Lodge,
where the councils are held. It was formed of tanned buffalo-hides,
sewed together with buckskin thongs, and stretched over a collection
of thirty-six poles. These poles are of great value to the Indians,
for in a sparsely timbered country like Dakota it is difficult to find
suitable trees. It is necessary to go a great distance to procure the
kind of sapling that is light and pliable and yet sufficiently strong
for the purpose. The poles are lashed together at the tops and radiate
in a circle below. The smoke was pouring out of the opening above, and
the only entrance to the tepee was a round aperture near the ground,
sufficiently large to allow a person to crawl in. Around the lodge
were poles from which were suspended rags; in these were tied their
medicines of roots and herbs, supposed to be a charm to keep off evil
spirits. The sound of music came from within; I crept tremblingly in
after the general, not entirely quieted by his keeping my hand in his,
and whispering something to calm my fears as I sat on the buffalo robe
beside him. In the first place, I knew how resolute the Indians were in
never admitting one of their own women to council, and their curious
eyes and forbidding expressions towards me did not add to my comfort.
The dust, smoke, and noise in the fading light were not re-assuring.
Fool-dog arose from the circle of what composed their nobility, and
solemnly shook hands with the general; those next in rank followed his
example. The pipe was then smoked, and the general had to take a whiff
when it came his turn. Fortunately we escaped the speeches, for we had
not brought an interpreter.

Coming out of the light into this semi-darkness, with the grotesque
figures of the plebeians, as they danced around their chiefs and
contorted their bodies to the sound of the Indian drum and minor
notes of the singers, made it something unearthly in appearance; their
painted faces, grunts and grins of serious mirth as they wheeled around
the tepee, made me shiver. How relieved I felt when the final pipe was
smoked and the good-bye said! The curious eyes of the squaws, who stood
in the vicinity of the lodge, followed us, as they watched me clinging
to the general’s arm while we disappeared, in the direction of camp,
through the thickening gloom.

As we went farther north the twilights became longer, and I was greatly
deceived by having so much daylight. Every morning, when the reveille
sounded, in attempting to obey its summons I found myself actually
mystified from excessive drowsiness, and I announced my resolve to go
to bed at dark--as was often my custom on previous marches--when I was
informed that we had marched into a land where daylight continues into
the night hours. The general, who was always looking at the curious
effects in the heavens, delighted in the clearness of the atmosphere
and the myriads of stars that seemed to far outnumber all we had ever
seen in other skies. All the strange phenomena of northern climes
revealed themselves to us day by day. The sun and moon dogs, the lunar
rainbows, and sometimes three perfect arcs of brilliant color formed
directly above us in the heavens as we made our day’s march through
spring showers. The storms came down in great belts of rain sometimes,
and if the country were level enough we could look ahead on the plain
and see where the storm was crossing. This enabled us to halt in time
to escape a perfect sheet of pouring rain which fell like a wall of
water directly before us. Once we found ourselves in the midst of it,
and not knowing then the peculiarities of such storms, we took our
drenching philosophically, and believed that it was like too many
others that had kept us soaked to the skin for hours. Seeing the sun
shining in advance on the plain, the general and I put spurs to our
horses and rode out of the storm to perfectly dry ground. The sun came
down on us so hotly that we were soon enveloped in a halo of steam from
our drying clothes.

The history of one day’s march was that of many; they were varied by
small misfortunes over which we amused ourselves, but which were very
serious affairs to the melancholy Ham. He had cooked by fireplaces
in Kentucky, but never having lived out-doors before, he gained his
experience by hard trials. The little sheet-iron cooking-stove which we
considered such a treasure, was placed in the kitchen-tent on stormy
nights, and the bit of pipe, put through a hole in the canvas, had an
elbow so that it could be turned according to the direction of the wind.

One day, after camp was re-established, the general saw the smoke
pouring out of the opening of the kitchen-tent, and hurried to see what
was the matter. It was one of those days when the Dakota winds, like
those of Kansas, blow in all directions; poor Ham was barely visible
in the dense smoke inside the tent. “Why don’t you turn the pipe?” the
general called, above the tempest; and Ham shouted back, “Giniril,
I did; see whar she’s p’intin’ now?” His master’s sides shook with
laughter, for sure enough the pipe would have been right if there had
been any uniformity in the course of the wind. The general was hungry,
but he did not stop to complain; he found a place somewhat sheltered,
and digging a hole in the ground, taught the discouraged darkey how to
build a fire outside. At last we sat down to a burned, smoky meal, and
had to go to bed hungry.

Another day, when there was a small tornado, we began to wonder why
dinner was delayed; we looked out, to find the cook-tent blown flat to
the ground. The general ran to the rescue, and found Ham interred, as
the old-time child stories buried their heroes, “in a pot of grease.”
He had been thrown among skillets and kettles, and the half-cooked
dinner was scattered over him. The general helped him out, and was too
much exhausted with laughter over the old fellow’s exasperated remarks
about “such a low-down country,” to mind the delay of the dinner.
Indeed, he soothed him by telling him to wait and begin again when the
wind went down, as it usually does when the sun sets.

One day we caught sight of our American flag on the other side of the
river, floating over a little group of buildings inside a stockade.
When they told me that it was a military post, I could hardly believe
it possible; it seemed that no spot could be more utterly desolate.
Then I remembered having met an officer at Yankton who had told me that
was his station. As I looked at his fine face and figure, I could not
help thinking how thoroughly some woman would appreciate him. Thinking
aloud, I said that I hoped he had “improved each shining hour” of his
leave of absence, and was already engaged. He replied that I would see
his post as we went up the river, and then might comprehend why he did
not dare ask any woman to be his wife. I argued that if some girl grew
fond of him, it would little matter to her where she went, if it were
only by her husband’s side. I confess, however, that when I saw that
lonely place, I thought that it would require extraordinary devotion
to follow him there. It was an infantry station, and the soldiers’
barracks, officers’ quarters, and storehouses were huddled together
inside a wall made of logs placed perpendicularly and about fifteen
feet high. The sand was so deep about this spot that nothing could be
made to grow. Constant gusts of wind over the unprotected plain kept
little clouds of fine alkaline dust whirling in the air and filling
the eyes and mouth; not a tree was near, as the Missouri--that most
uncertain of rivers--kept constantly changing its channel, and the
advancing water washed away great hollows in the banks. The post would
then have to be moved farther back for safety. The soldiers would be
obliged to take up the stockade, and bury the logs as deep as they
could to keep them from blowing over. The frail buildings, “built upon
the sand,” rocked and swayed in the wind.

Beside the forlorn situation of this garrison, no one could go outside
to ride or hunt without peril. The warlike Indians considered that
side of the river theirs, and roamed up and down it at will. They came
incessantly to the small sliding panel in the gates of the stockade,
and made demands, which, if not consented to, were followed by howls
of rage and threatening gestures. All that the handful of men could do
was to conciliate them as best they could. The company was not full,
and possibly, all told, there were but fifty white men against hundreds
of Indians. The only variety in their lives was the passing of an
occasional steamer in the brief summer. Then settled down the pitiless
winter, burying them in snow which never left the ground until late in
the spring. The mail only reached them at irregular intervals. They
were compelled to live almost entirely on commissary stores, for though
living in the midst of game it was too hazardous to attempt to hunt.
When we found that one regiment had been seven years on the river, and
some of the officers had never taken leave of absence, it seems strange
that any one stationed at such a post had not gone stark mad. It makes
me proud of women when I recall the fact that the wife of an officer
did live in that wretched little post afterwards, and did not complain.
The cavalry, turning to look their last at that garrison, thanked the
good-fortune that had placed them in a branch of the service where
there was the active duty of campaigns to vary a life otherwise so
monotonous.

The dogs had almost as hard a time to become accustomed to the
vagaries of a Dakota climate as we did. We had to be their nurses
and surgeons. In our large pack of hounds there were many that had
marked individuality of character. Not many days could be passed in
their company before we were noticing new peculiarities not previously
observed. The general had a droll fashion, as we rode along, of putting
words into their mouths when they got into trouble, fought among
themselves, or tried to lord it over one another. One of them had been
given us, and had been called by her former owner “Lucy Stone.” In vain
did we try, out of respect for the life of the useful woman for whom
she was named, to rechristen the dog. She would neither listen nor
obey if called anything else. I can see her now, sitting deliberately
down in the road directly in front of us, and holding up a paw full
of cactus thorns. The general would say, “There sits Lucy Stone, and
she is saying, ‘If you please, sir, since you chose to bring me into a
land of bristling earth like this, will you please get down immediately
and attend to my foot?’” Her howls and upturned eyes meant an appeal,
certainly, and her master would leap to the ground, sit down in the
road, and taking the old creature in his arms, begin the surgery.
He carried one of those knives that had many adjuncts, and with the
tweezers he worked tenderly and long to extract the tormenting cactus
needles. Lucy was a complaining old dame, and when the general saw her
sit down, like some fat old woman, he used to say that the old madam
was telling him that she “would like to drive a bit, if you please.”
So it often happened that my travelling-wagon was the hospital for an
ill or foot-sore dog. The general had to stop very often to attend to
the wounded paws, but experience taught the dogs to make their way very
skilfully where the cactus grew. A dancing-master, tripping the steps
of instruction, could not have moved more lightly than did they. If
there were no one near to whom they could appeal in the human way those
dumb things have, they learned to draw out the offending thorns with
their teeth.

While we were all getting accustomed to the new climate, it was of no
use to try to keep the dogs out of my tent. They stood around, and eyed
me with such reproachful looks if I attempted to tie up the entrance
to the tent and leave them out. If it were very cold when I returned
from the dining-tent, I found dogs under and on the camp-bed, and so
thickly scattered over the floor that I had to step carefully over
them to avoid hurting feet or tails. If I secured a place in the bed
I was fortunate. Sometimes, when it had rained, and all of them were
wet, I rebelled. The steam from their shaggy coats was stifling; but
the general begged so hard for them that I taught myself to endure the
air at last. I never questioned the right of the half-grown puppies to
everything. Our struggles to raise them, and to avoid the distemper
which goes so much harder with blooded than with cur dogs, endeared
them to us. When I let the little ones in, it was really comical to
hear my husband’s arguments and cunningly-devised reasons why the older
dogs should follow. A plea was put up for “the hound that had fits;”
there was always another that “had been hurt in hunting;” and so on
until the tent would hold no more. Fortunately, in pleasant weather, I
was let off with only the ill or injured ones for perpetual companions.
We were so surrounded with dogs when they were resting after the march,
and they slept so soundly from fatigue, that it was difficult to walk
about without stepping on them.

My favorite, a great cream-colored stag-hound, was named “Cardigan.”
He never gave up trying to be my lap-dog. He was enormous, and yet
seemingly unconscious of his size. He kept up a perpetual struggle and
scramble on his hind-legs to get his whole body up on my lap. If I
pieced myself out with a camp-stool to support him, he closed his eyes
in a beatific state and sighed in content while I held him, until my
foot went to sleep and I was cramped with his weight. One thing that
made me so fond of him was that on one occasion, when he was put in
the kennel after an absence, he was almost torn to pieces by the other
dogs. He was a brave hound, but he was at fearful odds against so many.
Great slices of flesh were torn from his sides, and gaping wounds made
by the fang-like teeth showed through his shaggy coat. It was many
months before they healed.

Though the stag-hound is gentle with human beings he is a terrible
fighter. They stand on their hind-legs and, facing each other, claw and
tear like demons. It was always necessary to watch them closely when a
new dog, or one that they had not seen for some time, was put in their
midst.

I will anticipate a moment and speak of the final fate of Cardigan.
When I left Fort Lincoln I asked some one to look out for his welfare,
and send him, as soon as possible, to a clergyman who had been my
husband’s friend. My request was complied with, and afterwards, when
the poor old dog died, his new master honored him by having his body
set up by the taxidermist, and a place was given him in one of the
public buildings in Minneapolis. I cannot help thinking that he was
worthy of the tribute, not only because of the testimony thus given
to the friendship of the people for his master, but because he was the
bravest and most faithful of animals.

Most of the country passed over in our route belonged to the Indian
Reservations, and the Government was endeavoring to teach the tribes
settled there to cultivate the soil. They had hunted off most of the
game; an occasional jack-rabbit, the plover, and a few wild ducks were
all that were left. I must not forget the maddening curlew. It was not
good eating, but it was always exciting to see one. There never was
a more exasperating bird to shoot. Time and again a successful shot
was prophesied, and I was called to be a witness, only to see finally
the surprise of the general when the wily bird soared calmly away. I
believe no person was able to bring one down during the entire trip.

As we approached an Indian village, the chiefs came out to receive
us. There were many high-sounding words of welcome, translated by our
guide, who, having lived among them many years, knew the different
dialects. The Government had built some comfortable log-houses
for them, in many of which I would have lived gladly. The Indians
did not care for them, complaining that they had coughs if they
occupied a house. A tepee was put up alongside, in which one or two
families lived, while little low lodges, looking like the soldiers’
shelter-tents, were used for the young men of the circle to sleep in.
The tools and stores given by the Government were packed away in the
otherwise empty houses.



CHAPTER VI.

A VISIT TO THE VILLAGE OF “TWO BEARS.”


A Sioux chief, called Two Bears, had the most picturesque village that
we saw. The lodges were placed in a circle, as this was judged the
most defensive position; the ponies were herded inside the enclosure
at night. This precaution was necessary, for the neighboring tribes
swept down on them after dark and ran off the stock if they were not
secured. As we dismounted, we saw an old man standing alone in the
circle, apparently unconscious of everything, as he recounted some war
tale in loud, monotonous tones. He had no listeners--all were intently
watching the approaching regiment; still the venerable Sioux went on
as persistently as if he were looking “upon a sea of upturned faces.”
He was the “medicine-man,” or oracle, of the tribe, or possibly the
“poet-laureate” of the village, for the guide told us he sang of the
deeds of valor of his people far back in history.

Just outside of the village, the chiefs sat in a circle awaiting us.
Two Bears arose to welcome the general, and asked him to go with him to
his lodge. I was asked to go also and be presented to Miss Two Bears;
for she was too royal in birth to be permitted outside, and it was not
in keeping with the dignity of her rank to mingle with the others, the
guide afterwards explained to us.

The honor of going alone into the tepee was one that I could have
foregone, for my courage was much greater if I did my Indian
sight-seeing surrounded by the regiment. The general, fearing their
_amour propre_ might be offended if I declined the invitation,
whispered an encouraging word, and we dipped our heads and crept
into the tepee. The chief was a dignified old man, wrapped in his
blanket, without the usual addition of some portion of citizen’s dress
which the Indians believe adds to their grandeur. His daughter also
was in complete squaw’s costume; her feet were moccasined, her legs
and ankles wound round with beaded leggings, and she had on the one
buckskin garment which never varies in cut through all the tribes.
A blanket drawn over her head was belted at her waist. To crown all
this, however, she had an open parasol, brought to her, doubtless, as a
present by some Indian returning from a council at Washington. She held
it with dignity, as if it might be to her as much an insignia of state
as the mace of the lord-mayor.

Fortunately they did not ask us to sit down and partake of jerked
beef, or to smoke the never-ending pipe, so we soon got through our
compliments and returned to the outer entrance of the village.

Here the tribe were assembled, and evidently attired in gala-dress
in our honor. We were most interested in the village belle, and the
placid manner in which she permitted us to walk around her, gazing and
talking her good points over, showed that she expected homage. She
sat on a scarlet blanket spread on the ground, and over her, stretched
from poles, was another for an awning. She was loaded with ornaments,
row after row of beads about her neck, broad armlets and anklets of
brass, pinchbeck rings, and a soft buckskin dress and leggings, heavily
embroidered. Her ears were pierced twice--on the side as well as in the
lobe--and from these holes were suspended circles of gilt. Her bright
eyes, the satin smoothness of her hair, and the clear brown of the skin
made a pretty picture. There was no attempt to blend into the brown the
bright patch of carmine on each cheek.

Only extreme youth and its ever attractive charms can make one forget
the heavy square shape of Indian faces and their coarse features.
It was surprising to see all the other squaws giving up the field
to this one so completely. They crouched near, with a sort of
“every-dog-must-have-its-day” look, and did not even dispute her sway
by making coy eyes as we spoke to them.

There were but few young men. Their absence was always excused by the
same reason--they were out hunting. We knew how little game there was,
and surmised--what we afterwards found to be true--that they had joined
the hostile tribes, and only came in to the distribution of supplies
and presents in the fall. A few rods from the village a tripod of poles
was set in the ground, and lashed to it the Indian’s shield, made of
the hide of the buffalo where it is thickest about the neck. There were
rude paintings and Indian hieroglyphics covering it. The shield is an
heirloom with the Indian, and the one selected to hang out in this
manner has always the greatest war record. One of their superstitions
is that it keeps away enemies. These nomads had some idea of luxury,
for I recollect seeing some of them reclining on a kind of rest made
of a framework of pliable rods, over which was stretched buckskin.
Afterwards I found how comfortable such contrivances were, for one was
given me. The slope is so gradual that you half recline and can read
with great ease.

When we had reached camp and were taking our afternoon siesta the same
day, with the tent walls raised for air, we were roused by the sound
of music. Looking off over the bluffs we saw a large body of Indians
approaching on ponies, while squaws and children ran beside them.
It was the prompt response of Two Bears to the general’s invitation
to return his call. The warriors stopped near camp, and dismounting
advanced towards us. The squaws unbridled and picketed the ponies, and
made themselves comfortable by arranging impromptu shades of the bright
blankets. They staked down two corners closely to the ground, and
propped up the others with poles stuck in the sod.

When the Indians came up to us, the council was, as usual, begun. The
pipe being smoked, Two Bears gave us a eulogy of himself. He then
demanded, in behalf of the tribe, payment for the use of the ground on
which we were encamped, and also for the grass consumed, though it was
too short to get more than an occasional tuft. He ended, as they all
do, with a request for food. The general in reply vaguely referred them
to the Great Father in payment for the use of their land, but presented
them with a beef in return for their hospitality. Only half satisfied,
they stalked away one by one. We watched them at a distance kill and
divide the beef. It surprised us to see how they despatched it, and
that hardly a vestige of it was left.

Many of the Indians coming from reservations carried papers which they
valued and carefully guarded. After burrowing under robe and shirt,
something was produced wrapped in layers of soiled cotton cloth. It was
a recommendation of them obtained from some officer or Indian agent.
This was presented on entering, as their letter of introduction. Most
of these papers read very much the same way. Giving the Indian’s name,
it stated that he had been living on the reservation for a certain
length of time, that he was friendly to the whites, etc.

One of our guests that day carried something a little different. He
was called “Medicine Jo.” Lingering behind the rest, he presented
his letter with perfect good faith and great pomposity. Some wag had
composed it, and it read something like this:

  “Medicine Jo says he is a good Indian, that you can trust him. If
  he is, he is the first I have ever seen, and in my opinion he, like
  all the rest, will bear watching.”

It was all the general could do to keep his face straight as he handed
back to the unconscious owner this little libel on himself.

The interpreter kept constantly before us the fine post that we were
approaching, and the last day before we reached there it was visible
for a long distance. The atmosphere of Dakota was so deceptive that
we imagined ourselves within a few miles of the garrison, when, in
reality, there was a march of twenty-nine long miles before us.

Our road led up from the river valley on the high bluffs, and
sometimes followed along the backbone of hills from which on either
side we looked down a great distance. There was barely room for the
travelling-wagon. Occasionally I had been obliged to take refuge
from the cold for a little while and drive. Our lead-mules were
tiny, quick-moving little dots, and I soon discovered that they were
completely demoralized at the sight of an Indian. They could see one
in advance long before the driver could. A sudden shying and quick
turning of these agile little brutes, a general tangle of themselves in
the harness and legs of the wheelers, loud shouts of the driver, and a
quick downfall of his foot on the brake, to keep us from overturning,
made an exciting _mêlée_.

Nothing would get them righted and started again. They would have to
be unharnessed, and the rebellious pair tied to the rear of the wagon
until we had gone far beyond the object of terror. Part of the day that
we were following the wanderings of the road alongside hills and over
the narrow, smooth level of the hill-tops, I was compelled to drive,
and I watched anxiously the ears of these wretched little beasts to
see if they expressed any sentiment of fright. We came to such steep
descents, the brake holding the wheels seemed of no use. Looking down
from the wagon on to the mules below us, we appeared to be in the
position of flies on a wall.

As we came to one descent more awful than the rest, the general, who
was always near, rode up to the carriage and told me not to be afraid,
for he would order the wheels manned. The head-quarters escort of over
a hundred men, dismounting, attached ropes to the wheels, and held on
with all their strength while I went down the steepest declivity I had
ever descended. After that I begged to get out, and the general carried
me to a bank and set me down where I could watch the repairing of the
road.

He took off his coat and joined the soldiers in carrying logs and
shovelling earth, for they were obliged to fill up the soft bed of the
stream before the command could cross. It took a long time and much
patience; but the general enjoyed it all, and often helped when the
crossings needed to be prepared. When the logs were all laid, I had
to laugh at the energy he showed in cracking a whip he borrowed from
a teamster, and shouting to the mules to urge them to pull through
where there was danger of their stalling. When the road was completed,
I was ready to mount my horse, for it seemed to me preferable to die
from accident, surrounded with friends, than to expire alone in the
mule-wagon. The ascent was rendered so wet and slippery, the general
feared my saddle would turn, and I was once more shut in by myself. The
soldiers again manned the wheels to prevent the carriage sliding back,
the mules scrambled, and with the aid of language prepared expressly
for them, we reached the summit.

The driver had named the lead-mules Bettie and Jane, and when they
were over their tempers he petted and caressed them. Their repeated
rebellion at last wore out even his patience. One morning I noticed
new leaders, but the imperturbable face of the driver gave no hint of
his successful plotting. Mary told me, however, that he was worn out
with his struggles, and had gone after dark into the herd of mules with
Bettie and Jane, and, as he expressed it, “lost them.” He selected
two more from among those belonging to the wagon-train, and returned
triumphant over his premeditated exchange. He carefully reclipped their
manes and tails, and disguised them still further with blotches of
black paint, to give them a mottled appearance. When the other teamster
prepared to harness in the morning, of course he discovered the fraud
perpetrated on him. There was no redress then, and he had to take out
his wrath in language more forcible than elegant, which the teamsters
have adapted expressly for extreme occasions. Our driver told Mary,
with a chuckle, that with a command of many hundred men waiting for a
teamster to harness, he found “no time for swapping horses.”

Burkman, the soldier who took care of our horses, was a middle-aged
man, so deliberate in speech and slow in his movements, he seemed as
incongruous among the spirited cavalrymen as would be an old-time
farmer. Early in the march I had heard him coughing as he groomed
the horses. When I asked if he had done anything for his cold, he
replied, “Bottle after bottle of stuff, mum, but it don’t do no good,”
so I begged the surgeon to look more carefully into his case. He made
an examination, and told me, as the result, that the man must have
only light work and nourishing food. After that I asked Mary to save
everything for Burkman and make his recovery her especial care. The
officers made fun of me, as they were rather incredulous, and thought
a bit of shamming was being practised on me, but I knew better. They
never failed to comment and smile when they saw the old defender of his
country coming out of the kitchen-tent, his jaws working and his mouth
full, while he carried all the food his hands would hold. To tell the
truth, he kept up this prescription of nourishing food long after he
had quite recovered.

It became the delight of my husband and the officers to chaff me
about “Old Nutriment,” for such was the sobriquet they gave him. At
last, even Mary began to narrate how he swept everything before him
with voracious, convalescing appetite. “Why, Miss Libbie,” she said
to me one day, “I thought I’d try him with a can of raw tomatoes,
and set them before him, asking if he was fond of them. And he just
drawled out, ‘_Always was_,’ and the tomatoes were gone in no time.”
His laconic answer passed into a proverb with us all, when invited to
partake of anything we liked.

Such a tender heart as that old soldier had! I had noticed this first
in Kentucky. My horse, which I prized above all that I have ever
ridden, died during my temporary absence from home. I was too greatly
grieved to ask many questions about him, but one day, some time
afterwards, when we were riding through a charming bit of country,
Burkman approached me from the place where he usually rode behind us,
and said, “I’d like to tell Mrs. Custer there’s whar poor Phil lies
I picked the purtiest place I could find for him.” And he had indeed,
for the green valley under wide-spreading trees would have gone far to
reconcile many a weary human heart to be placed under the sod.

We thought we had made the first step towards savage life when Burkman
brought the mother of the one baby of our regiment the dried vertebra
of a rattlesnake that he killed, because he had heard that it was the
best of anything on which the infant could cut its teeth!

I had made some scarlet flannel shirts for my husband’s use on the
summer campaign, and he was as much pleased as possible, beginning at
once to wear them. Not many days’ march proved to me what an error I
had made. The bright red color could be seen for miles, when the form
itself was almost lost on the horizon. I had to coax to get them away
again and replace them with the dark blue that he usually wore. Though
I triumphed, I was met with a perfect fusillade of teasing when I
presented the red shirts to Burkman. The officers, of course, hearing
all the discussion over the subject--as no trifle was too small to
interest us in one another’s affairs--attacked me at once. If I had
been so anxious to protect the general from wearing anything that
would attract the far-seeing eye of the vigilant Indian on the coming
campaign, why should I be so willing to sacrifice the life of “Old
Nutriment?” They made no impression on me, however, for they knew as
well as I did that the soldier, though so faithful, was not made of
that stuff that seeks to lead a Balaklava charge.

My husband and I were so attached to him, and appreciated so deeply his
fidelity, we could not thank the good-fortune enough that gave us one
so loyal to our interests.

Before we reached the post we were approaching, the commandant sent
out ice for our use, and the despatches of the Associated Press. The
general was greatly delighted to get news of events that had occurred
all over the world, in this far distant land. We found afterwards that
the officers joined in paying for the despatches. The Indians had such
a superstition about molesting the wires, that the lines ran through
even the most dangerous country. I can hardly say how good it seemed to
us to see a telegraph-pole again.

We were not surprised, after seeing the other posts below on the river,
that the guide had praised Fort Sully. It was the head-quarters of
one of the infantry regiments, and the commanding officer had been at
the post long enough to put it in excellent order. It was situated on
an open plateau, from which there was an extensive view. Below in the
valley the companies had gardens, and they also kept cows, pigs, and
chickens. We looked upon all this as an El Dorado, and the thought of
remaining long enough at one fort to get any good out of a garden was
simply unknown in our vagrant existence.

Our camp was very near the post, on the same open plain, without trees
or shelter. We were received with genuine hospitality, and finally all
of us invited to luncheon. The ladies came up from the steamer, and the
large house was filled with happy people. The post band played outside
on the parade-ground while we lunched. We had nine kinds of game on the
table. Some of it was new to us--the beaver tail, for instance--but it
was so like pork and so fat I could only taste it. We had, in addition,
antelope, elk, buffalo tongue, wild turkey, black-tailed deer, wild
goose, plover, and duck. The goose was a sort of “fatted calf” for us.
The soldiers had caught it while young, and by constantly clipping
its wings, had kept it from joining the flocks which its cries often
brought circling around the post. At last it began to make the life
of the chickens a burden to them, and we arrived in time to enjoy the
delicious bird served with jelly made from the tart, wild “bullberries”
that grew near the river. The home-made bread, delightful cake, tender
ham of the garrison’s own curing, and the sweets made with cream, fresh
butter, and eggs--three unheard-of luxuries with us--proved that it is
possible for army people to live in comfort if they do not belong to
a mounted regiment. Still, though they had a band and a good library
belonging to the regiment, the thought of being walled in with snow,
and completely isolated for eight months of the year, made me shudder.
The post was midway between Yankton and Bismarck, each the termination
of a railroad, and each two hundred and fifty miles away.

The wife of the commanding officer was known throughout the department
for her lovely Christian character, and the contented life she led
under all circumstances. I was much amused at her account of her
repeated trials in trying to secure a permanent governess. She said
all the posts along the river seemed to know intuitively when a new one
arrived from the East. The young officers found more imperative duties
calling them to Fort Sully than they had dreamed of in a year. Before
long the governess began to be abstracted, and watch longingly for the
mails. A ring would next appear on the significant first finger, and
be the forerunner of a request to allow her to resign her place. This
had happened four times when I met our hostess, and though she was glad
to furnish the officers with wives, she rather sighed for a woman who,
though possessing every accomplishment, might still be so antiquated
and ugly that she could be sure to keep her for a time at least.

The commandant had some fine greyhounds, and joining the general
with his packs of stag and fox hounds, they had several hunts in the
few days that remained. Of course, after so bright a visit and such
a feast, it was hard to begin again on the march with baking-powder
biscuit and tough beef. The cattle that supplied us with meat were
driven along on the march, and killed every other day, and could not
be expected to be in very good condition. The interest of our journey,
however, made us soon forget all deprivations. Grateful sentiments
towards those who had been so kind to us as strangers remained as a
memory.



CHAPTER VII.

ADVENTURES DURING THE LAST DAYS OF THE MARCH.


My husband and I kept up our little _détours_ by ourselves as we neared
the hour for camping each day. One day one of the officers accompanied
us. We left the higher ground to go down by the water and have the
luxury of wandering through the cottonwood-trees that sometimes fringed
the river for several miles. As usual, we had a number of dogs leaping
and racing around us. Two of them started a deer, and the general
bounded after them, encouraging the others with his voice to follow.
He had left his friend with me, and we rode leisurely along to see
that the younger dogs did not get lost. Without the least warning,
in the dead stillness of that desolate spot, we suddenly came upon a
group of young Indian warriors seated in their motionless way in the
underbrush. I became perfectly cold and numb with terror. My danger in
connection with the Indians was twofold. I was in peril from death or
capture by the savages, and liable to be killed by my own friends to
prevent my capture. During the five years I had been with the regiment
in Kansas I had marched many hundred miles. Sometimes I had to join
my husband going across a dangerous country, and the exposure from
Indians all those years had been constant. I had been a subject of
conversation among the officers, being the only woman who, as a rule,
followed the regiment, and, without discussing it much in my presence,
the universal understanding was that any one having me in charge in an
emergency where there was imminent danger of my capture should shoot me
instantly. While I knew that I was defended by strong hands and brave
hearts, the thought of the double danger always flashed into my mind
when we were in jeopardy.

If time could have been measured by sensations, a cycle seemed to
have passed in those few seconds. The Indians snatched up their guns,
leaped upon their ponies, and prepared for attack. The officer with me
was perfectly calm, spoke to them coolly without a change of voice,
and rode quickly beside me, telling me to advance. My horse reared
violently at first sight of the Indians, and started to run. Gladly
would I have put him to his mettle then, except for the instinct of
obedience, which any one following a regiment acquires in all that
pertains to military directions. The general was just visible ascending
a bluff beyond. To avoid showing fear when every nerve is strung to its
utmost, and your heart leaps into your throat, requires super-human
effort. I managed to check my horse and did not scream. No amount of
telling over to myself what I had been told, that all the tribes on
this side were peaceable and that only those on the other side of the
river were warlike, could quell the throbbing of my pulses. Indians
were Indians to me, and I knew well that it was a matter of no time to
cross and recross on their little tub-like boats that shoot madly down
the tide.

What made me sure that these warriors whom we had just met were from
the fighting bands was the recollection of some significant signs we
had come upon in the road a few days previous. Stakes had been set
in the ground, with bits of red flannel fastened on them peculiarly.
This, the guide explained, meant warnings from the tribes at war to
frighten us from any further advance into their country. Whether
because of the coolness of the officer, or because the warriors knew of
the size of the advancing column, we were allowed to proceed unharmed.
How interminable the distance seemed to where the general awaited us,
unconscious of what we had encountered! I was lifted out of the saddle
a very limp and unconscious thing.

Encouraged by references to other dangers I had lived through without
flinching, I mounted again and followed the leader closely. He took us
through some rough country, where the ambitious horses, finding that by
bending their heads they could squeeze through, forgot to seek openings
high enough to admit those sitting in the saddle. We crashed through
underbrush, and I, with habit torn and hands scratched, was sometimes
almost lifted up, Absalom-like, by the resisting branches. Often we had
no path, and the general’s horse, “Vic,” would start straight up steep
banks after we had forded streams. It never occurred to his rider,
until after the ascent was made, and a faint voice arose from the
valley, that all horses would not do willingly what his thorough-bred
did. He finally turned to look back and tell me how to manage my
horse. I abandoned the bridle when we came to those ascents, and wound
my hands in the horse’s mane to keep from sliding entirely off, while
the animal took his own way. All this was such variety and excitement I
was delighted, and forgot my terror of the morning.

We found a bit of lovely road, which only those who go hundreds of
miles under a blazing sun can appreciate fully. The sunshine came
flickering down through the branches of the trees and covered the
short grass with checkered light and shade. Here we dawdled, and
enjoyed looking up at the patches of blue sky through great grown-up
tree-tops. It was like a bit of woods at home, where I never thought
to be grateful for foliage, but took it as a matter of course. My
husband remembered my having put some biscuit in the leather pocket on
my saddle, and invited himself to luncheon at once. We dismounted, and
threw ourselves on the ground to eat the very frugal fare.

After resting, we gave ourselves the privilege of a swift gallop over
the stretch of smooth ground before us. We were laughing and talking so
busily I never noticed the surroundings until I found we were almost
in the midst of an Indian village, quite hidden under a bluff. My
heart literally stood still. I watched the general furtively. He was
as usual perfectly unmoved, and yet he well knew that this was the
country where it was hardly considered that the Indian was overburdened
with hospitality. Oh, how I wished ourselves safely with the column,
now so far away! There were but few occupants of the village, but they
glowered and growled, and I could see the venomous glances they cast
on us as I meekly followed. I trembled so I could barely keep my seat
as we slowly advanced, for the general even slackened his speed, to
demonstrate to them, I suppose, that we felt ourselves perfectly at
home. He said “How,” of course, which was his usual salutation to them.
An echoing “how” beside him proved that I still had power of utterance.
When we came to one Indian, who looked menacingly at us and doggedly
stood in our road, the officer with us declared that I accompanied my
“how” with a salaam so deep that it bent my head down to the pommel of
my saddle! At all events, I meant, if politeness would propitiate, not
to be deficient in that quality at such a critical moment.

In a few moments, which seemed however a lifetime, we saw the reason
why the village appeared so empty. Men, women, and children had gone
nearly to the top of the bluff, and there, with their bodies hidden,
were looking off at a faint cloud of dust in the distance.

My husband, appreciating my terror, quickly assured me it was the 7th
Cavalry. Even then, what a stretch of country it seemed between us and
that blessed veil of sand, through which we perceived dimly that succor
was at hand.

My horse was rather given to snuggling, and pressed so against the
general that he made his leg very uncomfortable sometimes. But then, in
my terror, it seemed to me an ocean of space was dividing us. I longed
for the old Puritan days, when a wife rode on a pillion behind her
liege as a matter of course.

I found courage to look back at last. The bluff was crowned with little
irregularities, so still they seemed like tufts of grass or stones.
They represented many pairs of bead-like eyes, that peered over the
country at the advancing troops.

The next day the general thought I might rather not go with him than
run the risk of such frights; but I well knew there was something far
worse than fears for my own personal safety. It is infinitely worse
to be left behind, a prey to all the horrors of imagining what may be
happening to one we love. You eat your heart slowly out with anxiety,
and to endure such suspense is simply the hardest of all trials that
come to the soldier’s wife.

I gladly consented to be taken along every day, but there never seemed
a time when it was not necessary to get accustomed to some new terror.
However, it is only the getting used to it that is so bad. It is the
unexpected things that require fresh relays of courage. When a woman
has come out of danger, she is too utterly a coward by nature not
to dread enduring the same thing again; but it is something to know
that she is equal to it. Though she may tremble and grow faint in
anticipation, having once been through it, she can count on rising to
the situation when the hour actually comes.

The rattlesnakes were so numerous on this march that all Texas and
Kansas experience seemed to dwarf in contrast. My horse was over
sixteen hands high, but I would gladly have exchanged him for a
camelopard when I rode suddenly almost upon a snake coiled in the
grass, and looked down into the eyes of the upraised head. We counted
those we encountered in one day’s journey until we were tired. The
men became very expert and systematic in clearing the camp of these
reptiles. If we halted at night in the underbrush, they cut and tore
away the reeds and grass, and began at once to beat the ground and kill
the snakes. When I say that as many as forty were killed in one night,
some literal person may ask if I actually saw the bodies of all those
“lately slain!” It is not an exaggerated story, however, and one only
needs to see hundreds of men pounding and clearing such a place to
realize that many snakes could be disposed of in a short time. After
that, when the ground was selected for our camp in the low part of
the valley, I was loath to lie down and sleep until the soldiers had
come up to prepare the ground. My husband used to indulge this little
prejudice of mine against making my head a reproduction of Medusa’s,
and we often sought the high ground for a rest until the command came
up.

The guide rode often at the head of the column, and we found him full
of information about the country. We began also to listen for a new
domestic disclosure every time we approached an Indian village. He was
the most married of any man I ever saw, for in every tribe he had a
wife. Still this superfluity did not burden him, for the ceremony of
tying a marital knot in the far West is simple, and the wives support
themselves. Sometimes he gave us new points about making ourselves
comfortable in camp. One day I was very grateful to him. We were far in
advance of the wagon-train containing the tents; the sun was scorching;
not a tree, nor even a clump of bushes was near. In a brief time,
however, the guide had returned from the stream, where he had cut some
willow saplings, and sticking them in the ground made what he called
“wik-a-up.” He wove the ends loosely together on top, and over this
oval cover he threw the saddle blankets. There was just room enough to
crawl into this oven-like place, but it was an escape from the heat of
the sun, and I was soon asleep. After I emerged the general took my
place. When he had taken his nap the dogs crept in; so a very grateful
family thanked the guide for teaching us that new device.

The bends in the Missouri River are sometimes so long that the steamer
with supplies would have to make a journey of sixty miles while we had
perhaps only five to march across the peninsula. All the soldiers,
officers’ servants, teamsters, and other citizen employés took that
time to wash their clothes, for we were two days in camp. The creek
on which we halted was lined with bending figures, their arms moving
vigorously back and forth as they wrung out each article. Later on the
camp looked like an animated laundry. From every tent-rope and bush
floated the apparel. I had only a small valise for my summer’s outfit,
but Mary had soon taken out our few things, and around the kitchen-tent
was suspended the family linen. As soon as this was dry she folded and
pressed it as best she could, and laid it between the mattresses as a
substitute for ironing.

All the way up the river the guide was constantly interviewed as to the
chances for fishing. He held out promises that were to be realized upon
reaching Choteau Creek. We arrived there on one of the resting-days,
and camp was no sooner made, and food and water brought, than a great
exodus took place.

The general called me to the tent-door to see the deserted camp, and
wondered how the soldiers could all have disappeared so quickly.
Another problem was, where the fishing-tackle came from! Some had
brought rods, even in the restricted space allotted them, but many
cut them from the bushes along the river, attaching hooks and lines,
while some bent pins and tied them to strings. The soldiers shared so
generously with one another that one pole was loaned about while the
idle ones watched. I never cared for fishing, but my husband begged me
to go with him always, and carried my book and work. I sat under a bush
near him, which he covered with a shawl to protect me from the sun,
and there we stayed for hours. Officers and men competed alike for the
best places by the quiet pools. The general could hardly pay attention
to his line, he was so interested watching the men and enjoying their
pleasure. His keen sense of the ludicrous took in the comical figures
as far as we could see. In cramped and uncomfortable positions, with
earnest eyes fixed steadily in one place for hours, they nearly fell
into the water with excitement if they chanced to draw out a tiny fish.
The other men came from all along the bank to observe if any one was
successful.

One of the men near us was a member of the band. He was a perfect
reproduction of the old prints of Izaak Walton. The fixedness of his
gaze--his whole soul in his eyes--while he was utterly unconscious of
any one being near, was too much for the general’s equanimity. He put
his head under the canopy made by my shawl, not daring to laugh aloud,
for fear he might be heard by the man, and said it was more fun to see
that soldier fish than to hear him play on the violin. No wonder the
men enjoyed the sport, for even these little bull-fish, fairly gritty
from the muddy water in which they lived, were a great addition to
their pork and hard-tack fare.

For once the sun overcame me, and I knew the ignominy of being
compelled to own that I was dizzy and faint. I had not been long in
military life before I was as much ashamed of being ill as if I had
been a real soldier. The troops pride themselves on being invulnerable
to bodily ailments. I was obliged to submit to being helped back to
camp, and in the cool of the evening watched the return of the fishers,
who were as proud of the strings of ugly little things they carried as
if they had been pickerel or bass. Then the blue flame and soft smoke
began to ascend from the evening fires, and the odor from the frying
supper rose on the air.

In my indolent, weak condition I never knew how I was able to perform
such agile pirouettes as I did; but hearing a peculiar sound, I looked
down and saw a huge rattlesnake gliding towards me. I had long ago
learned to suppress shrieks, but I forgot all such self-control then.
How I wished myself the Indian baby we had seen the day before--the
veritable “baby in the tree-top,” for it was tied by buckskin thongs
to a limb! There I thought I could rest in peace. The snake was soon
despatched. The men had left camp so hurriedly in the morning that the
usual beating of the ground was omitted, and so I had this unwelcome
visitor.

When we camped near a village, the Indians soon appeared. Groups of
half a dozen on ponies, with children running after, would come. The
ponies were, most of them, dull and sway-backed. It was no wonder, for
I have seen four persons on one pony--an Indian and three half-grown
boys. No horse could keep its shape loaded down, as those of the
Indians usually are, with game and property. These visitors grew to be
great trials, for they were inveterate beggars. One day an old Indian,
called “The-Man-with-the-Broken-Ear,” came riding in, elaborately
decorated and on a shapely pony. He demanded to see the chief. The
general appeared, assisted him to dismount, and seated him in my
camp-chair. The savage leaned back in a grand sort of manner and calmly
surveyed us all. I was soon in agonies of anxiety, for Colonel Tom and
the young officers lounging near entered the tent. They bowed low,
took the hand of the old fellow with profound deference, and, smiling
benignly, addressed him. In just as suave a voice as if their words
had been genuine flattery, they said, “You confounded old galoot, why
are you here begging and thieving, when your wretched old hands are
hardly dry from some murder, and your miserable mouth still red from
eating the heart of your enemy?” Each one saluted him, and each vied
with the other in pouring forth a tirade of forcible expletives, to
which he bowed in acknowledgment and shook hands. My terror was that he
might understand, for we often found these people as cunning as foxes,
sitting stolid and stupid, pretending not to know a word, while they
understood the gist of much that was said.

The officers gave this chief tobacco--Perique I think it is called--and
so strong that, though I was accustomed to all kinds, I rather avoided
the odor of it. We had no whiskey, but if we had kept it, the general
obeyed the law of the reservation too strictly to allow it to be given
away. He was called to the office-tent a few moments, and in a trice
one of the others had emptied the alcohol from the spirit-lamp and
offered the cup to the distinguished guest. Putting the great square of
Perique into his mouth, with a biscuit beside, he washed it all down
with gulps of the burning fluid. His eyes, heretofore dull, sparkled at
the sight of the fire-water. The officers said, “How,” and he replied,
“How.” This did not surprise me, for that one word is the Indian toast,
and all tribes know it. But my breath almost went out of my body when
they asked him if he would have more, and he replied, “You bet.” I was
sure then that he had understood all the railing speeches and that he
would plan a revenge. Loud cries of laughter greeted his reply; but
matching their cunning against his, they eventually found that he knew
no more English. He had learned these words, without understanding
their meaning, at the trader’s store on the reservation. He waited
around in the tent, hoping for more alcohol, until I was weary of the
sight of him; but I was too much afraid of him, limp as he then was, to
look bored.

Finally he was lifted out, a tumbled up, disorganized heap of drooping
feathers, trailing blanket, and demoralized legs. When once, however,
one drunken old foot was lifted over the pony for him, he swung himself
into the saddle, and though swaying uncertainly, he managed to ride
away.

During the last days of our march we came upon another premonitory
warning from the Indians. A pole was found stuck in the trail before
us, with a red flag, to which were fastened locks of hair. It was
a challenge, and when interpreted meant, that if we persisted in
advancing, the hostiles were ready to meet the soldiers and fight them.
The officers paid little attention to this, but my heart was like lead
for days afterwards.

We encamped that night near what the Indians call “Medicine Rock;”
my husband and I walked out to see it. It was a large stone, showing
on the flat surface the impress of hands and feet made ages ago,
before the clay was petrified. The Indians had tied bags of their herb
medicine on poles about the rock, believing that virtue would enter
into articles left in the vicinity of this proof of the marvels or
miracles of the Great Spirit. Tin cans, spoons, and forks, that they
had bought at the Agency, on account of the brightness of the metal,
were left there as offerings to an unseen God.

Everything pertaining to the Indians was new and interesting to me.
While we were in Kansas the tribes were at war, and we had not the
opportunity to see their daily life as we did while passing through the
Sioux reservations on the march.

I regretted each day that brought us nearer to the conclusion of our
journey, for though I had been frightened by Indians, and though we had
encountered cold, storms, and rough life, the pleasures of the trip
over-balanced the discomforts.



CHAPTER VIII.

SEPARATION AND REUNION.


The day at last came for our march of five hundred miles to terminate.
A rickety old ferryboat that took us over the river made a halt near
Fort Rice, and there we established ourselves. Strange to say, the
river was no narrower there than it was so many hundred miles below,
where we started. Muddy and full of sand-bars as it was, we began
bravely to drink the water, when the glass had been filled long enough
for the sediment partially to settle, and to take our bath in what at
first seemed liquid mud. We learned after a time to settle the water
with alum, and we finally became accustomed to the taste.

The commandant at Fort Rice was most hospitable, and his wife charming.
The quarters were very ordinary frame buildings, with no modern
improvements. They were painted a funereal tint, but one warranted to
last. The interior showed the presence of a tasteful woman. She met
us as cheerfully as if she were in the luxurious home from which we
knew she had gone as a girl to follow a soldier’s life. Contrast often
helps us to endure, and Dakota was not so bad as their last station
in Arizona. The dinner was excellent, and our entertainers were the
happy possessors of a good cook. Rarely do army people have two good
servants at the same time on the frontier. Our host and hostess made
no apologies, but quietly waited on the table themselves, and a merry
time we had over the blunders of the head of the house, who was a
distinguished general, in his endeavors to find necessary dishes in the
china closet.

A steamer that arrived a day or two after we had reached Fort Rice
brought the regimental property, consisting of everything that was not
used on the march. Our household effects and trunks were delivered to
us in a very sorry condition. They had been carelessly stored on the
wharf at Yankton, near the government warehouse, without any covering,
during all the storms that drenched us coming up the river. Almost
everything was mildewed and ruined. We tried to dry our clothing in the
sun. Many a little bit of silken finery that we had cherished since
our marriage days, feeling sure that we should never attain to such
grandeur again, was suspended from the tent-ropes, stained and dull.
Our sister’s husband helped her to unpack her clothes and his own
soaked uniform. He was dignified and reserved by nature, but on that
occasion the barriers were broken. I heard him ask Margaret to excuse
him while he went outside the tent to make some remarks to himself that
he felt the occasion demanded. There were furious people on all sides,
and savage speeches about the thoughtlessness of those who had left our
property exposed to snow and rain, when we were no longer there to care
for it. I endured everything until my pretty wedding-dress was taken
out, crushed and spotted with mildew. My husband had great control
over himself in the small annoyances of life, and was able to repeat
again the proverb he had adopted in his boyhood, “Never cry for spilled
milk.” How he could submit so quietly, when he took out his prized
books and the few pictures I knew that he valued, was a mystery.

All thought began now to centre on the coming events of the summer.
It was decided that the regiment was to go out to guard the engineers
of the Northern Pacific Railroad while they surveyed the route from
Bismarck to the Yellowstone River. The ladies necessarily were to be
left behind. Now began the summer of my discontent. I longed to remain
in Dakota, for I knew it would take much longer for our letters to
reach us if we went East. Besides, it was far more comforting to stay
at a military post, where every one was interested in the expedition,
and talked about it as the chief topic of concern. I remembered when I
had gone East before, during a summer when our regiment was fighting
Indians, and my idea was that the whole country would be almost as
absorbed as we were, how shocked I was to be asked, when I spoke of the
regiment, “Ah, is there a campaign, and for what purpose has it gone
out?”

I was willing to live in a tent alone at the post, but there were not
even tents to be had. Then we all looked with envious eyes at the
quarters at Fort Rice. The post was small, and there were no vacant
rooms except in the bachelor quarters. These are so called when the
unmarried men take rooms in the same house and mess together. No
opportunity was given us to wheedle them into offering us a place. Our
officers hinted to them, but they seemed to be completely intimidated
regarding women. They received an honest and emphatic “no” when they
asked if the ladies of the 7th Cavalry quarrelled. Even then these wary
men said “they did not dare to offer to take in any women.” They added
that there were but three in the post, and no two of them spoke to each
other. They thought if we were asked to remain it might be the history
of the Kilkenny cats repeated, and they were obdurate.

There was nothing left for us, then, but to go home. It was a sore
disappointment. We were put on the steamer that was to take us to
Bismarck, a heart-broken little group. I hated Dakota, the ugly river,
and even my native land. We were nearly devoured with mosquitoes
at once. Only the strongest ammonia on our faces and hands served
to alleviate the torment. The journey was wretchedness itself. I
had thrown myself on the berth in one of the little suffocating
state-rooms, exhausted with weeping, and too utterly overcome with
the anguish of parting to know much of the surroundings. I was roused
by the gentle hand of a woman, who had forgotten her own troubles to
come to me. Ah, even now, when the tears rain down my face at the
remembrance of those agonizing good-byes, which were like death each
time, and which grew harder with each separation, I think of the
sympathy shown me. The sweet, tender eyes of the wives of officers come
to me now, and I feel the soft touch of their hands as they came to
comfort me, even when their own hearts were wrung. Grief is so selfish,
I wonder now that they could have been such ministering angels.

At last the slow, wearisome journey was over, and we went into the
little town of Bismarck to take the cars. The Department Commander,
returning to his head-quarters, had offered to take charge of us to St.
Paul, and was kind enough to share with us the car of the President of
the Northern Pacific Railroad, which had been placed at his disposal.
There were seven of us and his own personal staff. Another five hundred
miles were before us, but in such luxury it hardly seemed that my
sister and I were the same two who had been “roughing it” on the march
a few days before.

The journey was very quiet and over an uninteresting country, but
we ladies had something to occupy our time, as we began to prepare
some of our meals, for the untidy eating-houses on the road were
almost unendurable. The staff of the Commanding General went out at
the stations and foraged for what food they could find to add to our
bill of fare. At St. Paul we bade them all good-bye, and soon found
ourselves welcomed by dear father and mother Custer, at Monroe. Their
hearts were ever with the absent ones.

For several slow, irksome months I did little else than wait for
the tardy mails, and count each day that passed a gain. I had very
interesting letters from my husband, sometimes thirty and forty pages
in length. He wrote of his delight at having again his whole regiment
with him, his interest in the country, his hunting exploits, and the
renewal of his friendship with General Rosser. The 7th Cavalry were
sent out to guard the engineers of the Northern Pacific, while they
surveyed the route to the Yellowstone. This party of citizens joined
the command a few days out from Fort Rice. The general wrote me that
he was lying on the buffalo-robe in his tent, resting after the march,
when he heard a voice outside asking the sentinel which was General
Custer’s tent. The general called out, “Halloo, old fellow! I haven’t
heard that voice in thirteen years, but I know it. Come in and welcome!”

General Rosser walked in, and such a reunion as they had! These two had
been classmates and warm friends at West Point, and parted with sorrow
when General Rosser went into the Southern army. Afterwards they had
fought each other in the Shenandoah Valley time and time again. Both of
them lay on the robe for hours talking over the campaigns in Virginia.
In the varying fortunes of war, sometimes one had got possession of the
wagon-train belonging to the other. I knew of several occasions when
they had captured each other’s head-quarters wagons with the private
luggage. If one drove the other back in retreat, before he went into
camp he wrote a note addressing the other as “dear friend,” and saying,
“you may have made me take a few steps this way to-day, but I’ll be
even with you to-morrow. Please accept my good-wishes and this little
gift.” These notes and presents were left at the house of some Southern
woman, as they retreated out of the village.

Once General Custer took all of his friend’s luggage, and found in it
a new uniform coat of Confederate gray. He wrote a humorous letter
that night thanking General Rosser for setting him up in so many new
things, but audaciously asking if he “would direct his tailor to make
the coat-tails of his next uniform a little shorter” as there was a
difference in the height of the two men. General Custer captured his
herd of cattle at one time, but he was so hotly pursued by General
Rosser that he had to dismount, cut a whip, and drive them himself
until they were secured.

To return to the Yellowstone expedition. The hour for starting never
varied more than a few moments during the summer, and it was so early
the civilians connected with the engineering party could not become
reconciled to it. In the afternoon my husband sometimes walked out on
the outskirts of camp, and threw himself down in the grass to rest with
his dogs beside him.

It was a source of amusement to him if he accidentally overheard the
grumbling. His campaigning dress was so like that of an enlisted
man, and his insignia of rank so unnoticeable, that the tongues ran
on, indifferent to his presence. Sometimes, in their growling, the
civilians accused him of having something on his conscience, and
declared that, not being able to sleep himself, he woke every one else
to an unearthly reveille. At this he choked with laughter, and to their
dismay they discovered who he was.

I remember his telling me of another occasion, when he unavoidably
heard a soldier exclaim, “There goes taps, and before we get a mouthful
to eat, reveille will sound, and ‘Old Curley’ will hike us out for the
march.” The soldier was slightly discomfited to find the subject of his
remarks was within hearing.

The enlisted men were constantly finding new names for the general,
which I would never have known--thereby losing some amusement--if
Mary had not occasionally told me of them. A favorite was “Jack,” the
letters G. A. C. on his valise having served as a suggestion.

When the expedition returned from the Yellowstone, a despatch came to
me in Michigan, saying the regiment had reached Fort Lincoln in safety.
Another soon followed, informing me that my husband was on his way
home. The relief from constant anxiety and suspense, together with all
the excitement into which I was thrown, made me almost unfit to make
preparation to meet him. There was to be an army reunion in the city
nearest us, and in my impatience I took the first train, thinking to
reach there in advance of General Custer. As I walked along the street,
looking into shop-windows, I felt, rather than saw, a sudden rush from
a door, and I was taken off my feet and set dancing in air. Before I
could resent what I thought was an indignity, I discovered that it
was my husband, who seemed utterly regardless of the passers-by. He
was sunburnt and mottled, for the flesh was quite fair where he had
cut his beard, the growth of the summer. He told me the officers with
whom he had travelled in the Pullman car had teased him, and declared
that no man would shave in a car going at forty miles an hour, except
to prepare to meet his sweetheart. I was deeply grateful, though,
for I knew the fiery tint of the beard, and infinitely preferred the
variegated flesh tints of his sunburnt face.



CHAPTER IX.

OUR NEW HOME AT FORT LINCOLN.


In a few days we were ready to return to Dakota, and very glad to go,
except for leaving the old parents.

The hardest trial of my husband’s life was parting with his mother.
Such partings were the only occasions when I ever saw him lose entire
control of himself, and I always looked forward to the hour of their
separation with dread.

For hours before we started, I have seen him follow his mother about,
whispering some comforting word to her; or, opening the closed door
of her own room, where, womanlike, she fought out her grief alone,
sit beside her as long as he could endure it. She had been an invalid
for so many years that each parting seemed to her the final one. Her
groans and sobs were heart-rending. She clung to him every step when he
started to go, and exhausted at last, was led back, half fainting, to
her lounge.

The general would rush out of the house, sobbing like a child, and
then throw himself into the carriage beside me completely unnerved. I
could only give silent comfort. My heart bled for him, and in the long
silence that followed as we journeyed on, I knew that his thoughts
were with his mother. At our first stop he was out of the cars in an
instant, buying fruit to send back to her. Before we were even unpacked
in the hotel, where we made our first stay of any length, he had dashed
off a letter. I have since seen those missives. No matter how hurriedly
he wrote, they were proofs of the tenderest, most filial love, and full
of the prophecies he never failed to make, of the reunion that he felt
would soon come.

After long debates with her parents, we had captured a young lady who
was to return with us. She was a “joy forever,” and submitted without
a word to the rough part of our journey. After we left St. Paul, the
usual struggle for decent food began. Some of the officers returning
from leave of absence had joined us, and we made as merry over our
hardships as we could. When we entered the eating-houses, one young
member of our party, whom we called the “butter fiend,” was made the
experimenter. If he found the butter too rancid to eat undisguised,
he gave us a hint by saying, under his breath, “this is a double-over
place.” That meant that we must put a layer of bread on top of the
butter to smother the taste.

The general was so sensitive when living in civilization that the
heartiest appetite would desert him if an allusion to anything
unpleasant or a reference to suffering was made at the table. But he
never seemed to be conscious of surroundings when “roughing it.” Of
course I had learned to harden myself to almost anything by this time,
but I can see the wide-open eyes of our girl friend when she saw us eat
all around any foreign ingredients we found in our food. She nearly
starved on a diet consisting of the interior of badly-baked potatoes
and the inside of soggy rolls.

One of the eating-places on the road was kept in a narrow little house,
built on a flat car. Two men presided, one cooking and the other
waiting on the table. We were laboriously spearing our food with two
tined forks, and sipping the muddy coffee with a pewter spoon, when
I heard with surprise the general asking for a napkin. It seemed as
foreign to the place as a finger-bowl. The waiter knew him, however,
and liked him too well to refuse him anything; so he said, “I have
nothing but a towel, general.” “Just the thing, just the thing,”
repeated my husband, in his quick, jolly way. So the man tied a long
crash towel under his chin, and the general ate on, too indifferent to
appearances to care because the tableful of travellers smiled.

When we finally reached the termination of the road at Bismarck,
another train was about starting back to St. Paul. The street was full
of people, wildly expostulating and talking loudly and fiercely. It
appeared that this was the last train of the season, as the cars were
not to run during the winter. The passengers were mostly Bismarck
citizens, whose lawless life as gamblers and murderers had so outraged
the sentiments of the few law-abiding residents that they had forced
them to depart. We could see these outlaws crowding at the door,
hanging out of the windows, swearing and menacing, and finally firing
on the retreating crowd as the cars passed out of town. I was inclined
to remain a fixture in our car; to step down into such a _melée_ was
too much for my courage. The general made allowance for my fears, and
we were quietly slipped out on the other side of the depot, hurried
into the ambulance, and driven to the river.

The ice was already thick enough to bear our weight part way over; then
came a swift rushing torrent of water which had to be crossed in a
small boat. Some of the soldiers rowed, while one kept the huge cakes
of floating ice from our frail boat with a long, iron-pointed pole. As
I stepped into the little craft, I dropped upon the bottom and hid my
eyes, and no amount of reference to dangers I had encountered before
induced me to look up. The current of the Missouri is so swift it is
something dreadful to encounter. We were lifted out upon the ice again,
and walked to the bank. Once more on shore, I said to myself, here will
I live and die, and never go on that river again.

Our brother, Colonel Tom, met us, and drove us to our new home. In the
dim light I could see the great post of Fort Lincoln, where only a few
months before we had left a barren plain. Our quarters were lighted,
and as we approached, the regimental band played “Home, Sweet Home,”
followed by the general’s favorite, “Garryowen.”

The general had completely settled the house before he left for the
East, but he had kept this fact secret, as a surprise. Our friends
had lighted it all, and built fires in the fireplaces. The garrison
had gathered to welcome us, and Mary had a grand supper ready. How
we chattered and gloried over the regiment having a home at last. It
seemed too good to believe that the 7th Cavalry had a post of its own,
with room for the half of the regiment assigned to duty there. In
other garrisons, when we had come in late in the fall from campaigns,
the officers, in order to get places for themselves, had been obliged
to turn some one else out. There is a disagreeable, though probably
necessary law in the army regulations, which directs officers to take
their quarters according to rank.

Fort Lincoln was built with quarters for six companies. The barracks
for the soldiers were on the side of the parade-ground nearest the
river, while seven detached houses for officers faced the river
opposite. On the left of the parade-ground was the long granary and the
little military prison, called the “guard-house.” Opposite, completing
the square, were the quartermaster and commissary storehouses for
supplies and the adjutant’s office. Outside the garrison proper, near
the river, were the stables for six hundred horses. Still farther
beyond were the quarters for the laundresses, easily traced by the
swinging clothes-lines in front, and dubbed for this reason “Suds
Row.” Some distance on from there were the log-huts of the Indian
scouts and their families, while on the same side also was the level
plain used for parades and drill. On the left of the post was the
sutler’s store, with a billiard-room attached. Soon after the general
arrived he permitted a citizen to put up a barber-shop, and afterwards
another built a little cabin of cotton-wood, with canvas roof for a
photographer’s establishment.

The post was located in a valley, while just back of us stretched a
long chain of bluffs. On the summit of a hill, nearly a mile to the
left, was a small infantry garrison, which had been established some
time, and now belonged to our post. When we went to return the visits
of the infantry ladies, the mules dragged the ambulance up the steep
hill with difficulty. We found living in this bleak place--in small,
shabbily built quarters, such as a day-laborer would consider hardly
good enough for his family--delicate women and children, who, as usual,
made no complaint about their life. Afterwards we were much indebted to
one of the ladies, who, determined to conquer fate, varied our lives
and gave us something to look forward to, by organizing a reading-club
that met every week. She had sent to the East, before the trains ceased
running, for the new books.

This little post had been built before the railroad was completed, and
the houses were put together with as few materials as possible. There
was no plastering, but the ceilings and partitions were of thick paper
made for the purpose. When narrow mouldings of wood were tacked over
the joined places, and all of it painted, the effect was very pretty.
When it was torn and ragged it looked poverty-stricken enough. In one
set of quarters there chanced to be so many children and so little room
that the parents had invented a three-story bed, where the little ones
could be all stowed at night. While we were calling there one day, I
sat talking with the cheerful little mother, and wondering how she
could be so bright. Everything in garrison life was, of course, new to
my girl friend, and I discovered she was trying to smother a laugh. She
commanded a view of the inner door. One of the children, who had been
beating the wall and crying to enter, had finally made preliminary
preparations. She had thrust through a hole in the paper partition each
article of her little wardrobe, even to her shoes, and was putting the
first rosy foot through after them. When the mother discovered this she
laughed heartily, and gave us thus an opportunity to join her.

Our own post was somewhat sheltered by the bluffs behind; but though
our quarters were plastered, the unseasoned lumber warped, and it was
a struggle to keep warm. The wood with which we were provided was far
from dry, and much of it of that kind that burns quickly but sends out
little heat. It seemed to require the entire time of one man to keep up
the fires. It was thus a blessed thing for the poor fellow whose duty
it was, for he had never been able to remain long with his company at a
time. He had an uncontrollable habit of drinking. Most of the time he
belonged to the band of prisoners who are taken out of the guard-house
every day, under a sentinel, to police the garrison and cut the wood.
Mary gave them the coffee and whatever else was left from the table
every day. This seemingly worthless fellow told Mary that he believed
he could “keep straight” if Mrs. Custer would get the general to remit
his sentence and let him come to us to keep the fires. So he came, and
was occasionally sober for some time. He learned to go through the
house with his arms full of wood when he was quite drunk. He really had
too much heart to cause me trouble, and used to say, “Mary, I am pretty
full, but don’t let Mrs. Custer know it, for I told her I would not do
so again, and I don’t like to make her feel bad.” So Mary spied out the
land before him and opened his doors. After he had tried her patience
long, she finally lost her temper on finding that he had swallowed all
the Worcestershire sauce and her bottle of pain-killer. She held out
the can of kerosene oil to him, and asked if he would not add that to
his dram, and began such a berating that he hurried off to escape from
the violence of her tongue.

The soldiers asked the general’s permission to put up a place in which
they could have entertainments, and he gave them every assistance
he could. They prepared the lumber in the saw-mill that belonged to
the post. The building was an ungainly looking structure, but large
enough to hold them all. The unseasoned cotton-wood warped even while
the house was being built, but by patching and lining with old torn
tents, they managed to keep out the storm. The scenery was painted
on condemned canvas stretched on a frame-work, and was lifted on and
off as the plays required. The footlights in front of the rude stage
were tallow-candles that smoked and sputtered inside the clumsily
cobbled casing of tin. The seats were narrow benches, without backs.
The officers and ladies were always invited to take the front row at
every new performance, and after they entered, the house filled up with
soldiers. Some of the enlisted men played very well, and used great
ingenuity in getting up their costumes. The general accepted every
invitation, and enjoyed it all greatly. The clog-dancing and negro
character songs between the acts were excellent. Indeed, we sometimes
had professionals, who, having been stranded in the States, had
enlisted.

A regiment is recruited from all classes and conditions of men.
Occasionally accident revealed the secret that there were fugitives
from justice in the ranks. If they changed their names, they found
no place where they were so hidden from every one they ever knew as
in a regiment that is always on duty in the territories. It came to
pass sometimes that a man of title, who had “left his country for
his country’s good,” wore the government blue as a disguise, and
served as a trooper for want of anything better to do. Among the men
who sent word they would be glad to help me about the house when we
were settling--either as a carpenter, a saddler to sew carpets, or a
blacksmith to put up stoves--there were several with histories. Though
they were strictly military with the general, observing the rule of
never speaking unless spoken to, they sought the first opportunity to
tell me their troubles. These were invariably domestic difficulties,
until I began to think our regiment was “a city of refuge” for outraged
husbands. It would eventually be found out that these men had run
away and enlisted under assumed names, when driven desperate by the
scoldings of a turbulent wife. Time, and the loneliness of a soldier’s
life, would soften their woes, and they began at last to sigh even
for the high-pitched voice of the deserted woman. The general felt as
badly as I did when I carried their stories to him, begging him to get
them discharged. He had a little fashion, however, of asking me to
remember that about this, as about every other subject that we ever
discussed, “there were always two sides to a question.” My sympathy for
the soldiers in trouble was of little avail, for the law compelling
them to serve the five years out was irrevocable. All I could do was
to write letters at their solicitation, revealing their identity and
asking for a reconciliation.

My husband’s duties extended over a wide range. If the laundresses
had a serious difficulty, he was asked to settle it. They had many
pugilists among them, and the least infringement of their rights
provoked a battle in which wood and other missiles filled the air.
Bandaged and bruised, they brought their wrongs to our house, where
both sides had a hearing. The general had occasionally to listen and
arbitrate between husband and wife, when the laundress and her soldier
husband could not agree. I was banished from the room, while he heard
their story and gave them counsel. In the same way he listened to
whatever complaints the soldiers made. Some of them came into our
quarters on one occasion with a tin cup of coffee for the general to
taste, and determine whether he agreed with them that it was too poor
to drink. From that time on, after every Sunday morning inspection,
the general went with all the officers to visit the kitchens, as well
as the barracks of each company, and every troop commander was called
upon to pass criticisms on the cleanliness of the quarters and the
wholesomeness of the food.



CHAPTER X.

INCIDENTS OF EVERY-DAY LIFE.


The companies each gave a ball in turn during the winter, and the
preparations were begun long in advance. There was no place to buy
anything, save the sutler’s store and the shops in the little town of
Bismarck, but they were well ransacked for materials for the supper.
The bunks where the soldiers slept were removed from the barracks,
and flags festooned around the room. Arms were stacked and guidons
arranged in groups. A few pictures of distinguished men were wreathed
in imitation laurel leaves cut out of green paper. Chandeliers and side
brackets carved out of cracker-box boards into fantastic shapes were
filled with candles, while at either end of the long room great logs in
the wide fireplaces threw out a cheerful light.

The ball opened, headed by the first-sergeant. After this the officers
and their wives were invited to form a set at one end of the room,
and we danced several times. One of the men whose voice was clear and
loud sang the calls. He was a comical genius, and improvised new ways
of calling off. When the place came in the quadrille to “Turn your
partners,” his voice rose above the music, in the notes of the old
song, “Oh swing those girls, those pretty little girls, those girls
you left behind you!” This was such an inspiration to the fun-lovers
that the swinging usually ended in our being whirled in the air by the
privileged members of our family.

The soldiers were a superb lot of men physically. The out-door life
had developed them into perfect specimens of vigorous manhood. After
the company tailor had cut over their uniforms, they were often the
perfection of good fitting. The older soldiers wore, on the sleeves of
their coats, the rows of braid that designate the number of years in
the service. Some had the army badges of the corps in which they fought
during the war, while an occasional foreign decoration showed that
they had been brave soldiers in the fatherland. We were escorted out
to the supper-room in the company-kitchen in advance of the enlisted
men. The general delighted the hearts of the sergeant and ball-managers
by sitting down to a great dish of potato-salad. It was always
well-flavored with the onion, as rare out there, and more appreciated
than pomegranates are in New York. We ladies took cake, of course, but
sparingly, for it was also a great luxury.

When we returned to watch the dancing, the general was on nettles for
fear we should be wanting in tact, and show our amusement by laughing
at the costumes of the women. There was but a sprinkling of them:
several from Bismarck and a few white servants of the officers. Each
company was allowed but three or four laundresses. The soldier was
obliged to ask permission to marry, and his engagement was a weary
waiting sometimes. In order to get a vacancy for his sweetheart, he had
to await the discharge of some other soldier from the company, whose
wife held the appointment of laundress. These women were at the ball in
full force, and each one brought her baby. When we removed our wraps
in the room of the first-sergeant we usually found his bed quite full
of curly-headed infants sleeping, while the laundress mothers danced.
The toilets of these women were something marvellous in construction.
In low neck and short sleeves, their round, red arms and well-developed
figures wheeled around the barracks all night long. Even the tall
Mexican laundress, hereafter specially mentioned, would deck herself
in pink tarletan and false curls, and notwithstanding her height and
colossal anatomy, she had constant partners.

The little Dutch woman, who loved her husband more devotedly after each
beating, and did not dance with any one else, was never absent from the
balls. Her tiny little figure was suspended between heaven and earth
while her tall soldier whirled her around the long hall in the endless
German waltz. Some officer would whisper slyly in my ear, as she bowed
and smiled in passing, “Do you see the get-up of ‘Old Trooble Agin?’”
She had long before earned this sobriquet, when coming to me for help
out of her misfortunes, beginning each story of woe with “Trooble
agin.” Wherever we were, when the orders were issued for a campaign,
she soon appeared claiming sympathy. No one could feel at such a time
more than I the truth of her preface, for if we were to be left behind,
it was, indeed, “Trouble again.”

The pack of hounds were an endless source of delight to the general.
We had about forty: the stag-hounds that run by sight, and are on
the whole the fleetest and most enduring dogs in the world, and the
fox-hounds that follow the trail with their noses close to the ground.
The first rarely bark, but the latter are very noisy. The general
and I used to listen with amusement to their attempts to strike the
key-note of the bugler when he sounded the calls summoning the men to
guard mount, stables, or retreat. It rather destroyed the military
effect to see, beside his soldierly figure, a hound sitting down
absorbed in imitation. With lifted head and rolling eyes there issued
from the broad mouth notes so doleful they would have answered for a
_misericordia_.

The fox-hounds were of the most use in the winter, for the hunting
was generally in the underbrush and timber along the river. I never
tired of watching the start for the hunt. The general was a figure
that would have fixed attention anywhere. He had marked individuality
of appearance, and a certain unstudied carelessness in the wearing of
his costume that gave a picturesque effect, not the least out of place
on the frontier. He wore troop-boots reaching to his knees, buckskin
breeches fringed on the sides, a dark navy blue shirt with a broad
collar, a red necktie, whose ends floated over his shoulder exactly
as they did when he and his entire division of cavalry had worn them
during the war. On the broad felt hat, that was almost a sombrero, was
fastened a slight mark of his rank.

He was at this time thirty-five years of age, weighed one hundred
and seventy pounds, and was nearly six feet in height. His eyes were
clear blue and deeply set, his hair short, wavy, and golden in tint.
His mustache was long and tawny in color; his complexion was florid,
except where his forehead was shaded by his hat, for the sun always
burned his skin ruthlessly.

He was the most agile, active man I ever knew, and so very strong and
in such perfect physical condition that he rarely knew even an hour’s
indisposition.

Horse and man seemed one when the general vaulted into the saddle. His
body was so lightly poised and so full of swinging, undulating motion,
it almost seemed that the wind moved him as it blew over the plain. Yet
every nerve was alert and like finely tempered steel, for the muscles
and sinews that seemed so pliable were equal to the curbing of the most
fiery animal. I do not think that he sat his horse with more grace than
the other officers, for they rode superbly, but it was accounted by
others almost an impossibility to dislodge the general from the saddle,
no matter how vicious the horse might prove. He threw his feet out of
the stirrups the moment the animal began to show his inclination for
war, and with his knees dug into the sides of the plunging brute, he
fought and always conquered. With his own horses he needed neither
spur nor whip. They were such friends of his, and his voice seemed so
attuned to their natures, they knew as well by its inflections as by
the slight pressure of the bridle on their necks what he wanted. By the
merest inclination on the general’s part, they either sped on the wings
of the wind or adapted their spirited steps to the slow movement of the
march. It was a delight to see them together, they were so in unison,
and when he talked to them, as though they had been human beings,
their intelligent eyes seemed to reply.

As an example of his horsemanship he had a way of escaping from the
stagnation of the dull march, when it was not dangerous to do so,
by riding a short distance in advance of the column over a divide,
throwing himself on one side of his horse so as to be entirely out
of sight from the other direction, giving a signal that the animal
understood, and tearing off at the best speed that could be made.
The horse entered into the frolic with all the zest of his master,
and after the race the animal’s beautiful, distended nostrils glowed
blood-red as he tossed his head and danced with delight.

In hunting, the general rode either Vic or Dandy. The dogs were
so fond of the latter, they seemed to have little talks with him.
The general’s favorite dog, Blücher, would leap up to him in the
saddle, and jump fairly over the horse in starting. The spirited
horses, mounted by officers who sat them so well, the sound of the
horn used for the purpose of calling the dogs, their answering bay,
the glad voices, and “whoop-la” to the hounds as the party galloped
down the valley, are impressions ineffaceable from my memory. They
often started a deer within sound of the bugle at the post. In a few
hours their shouts outside would call me to the window, and there,
drooping across the back of one of the orderlies’ horses, would be a
magnificent black-tailed deer. We had a saddle of venison hanging on
the wood-house almost constantly during the winter. The officers’, and
even the soldiers’, tables had this rarity to vary the monotony of the
inevitable beef.

After these hunts the dogs had often to be cared for. They would be
lame, or cut in the chase, through the tangle of vines and branches.
These were so dense it was a constant wonder to the general how the
deer could press through with its spreading antlers. The English
hounds, unacquainted with our game, used to begin with a porcupine
sometimes. It was pitiful, though for a moment at first sight amusing,
to see their noses and lips looking like animated pin-cushions. There
was nothing for us to do after such an encounter but to begin surgery
at once. The general would not take time to get off his hunting-clothes
nor go near the fire until he had called the dog into his room and
extracted the painful quills with the tweezers from his invaluable
knife. I sat on the dog and held his paws, but quivered even when I
kept my head averted. The quills being barbed cannot be withdrawn, but
must be pulled through in the same direction in which they entered. The
gums, lips, and roof of the mouth were full of little wounds, but the
dogs were extremely sagacious and held very still. When the painful
operation was over they were very grateful, licking the general’s hand
as he praised them for their pluck.

Sometimes, when the weather was moderate, and I rode after the
fox-hounds, one of them separated himself from the pack, and came
shaking his great, velvet ears and wagging his cumbrous tail beside my
horse. The general would call my attention to him, and tell me that
it was our latest surgical patient, paying us his bill in gratitude,
“which is the exchequer of the poor.”

Among the pack was an old hound that had occasional fits. When he
felt the symptoms of an attack he left the kennel at the rear of the
house, came round to the front-door, and barked or scratched to get
in. My husband knew at once that the dog was going to suffer, and that
instinct had taught him to come to us for help. Rover would lie down
beside the general until his hour of distress, and then solicit the
ever-ready sympathy with his mournful eyes. The general rubbed and
cared for him, while the dog writhed and foamed at the mouth. He was
always greatly touched to see the old hound, when he began to revive,
try to lift the tip of his tail in gratitude.

With the stag-hounds, hunting was so bred in the bone that they
sometimes went off by themselves, and even the half-grown puppies
followed. I have seen them returning from such a hunt, the one who led
the pack holding proudly in his mouth a jack-rabbit.

The wolves in their desperate hunger used to come up on the bluffs
almost within a stone’s-throw of our quarters. It was far from pleasant
to look out of the window and see them prowling about. Once when the
stag-hounds were let out of the kennel for exercise, they flew like the
winds over the hills after a coyote. The soldier who took care of them
could only follow on foot, as the crust on the snow would not bear the
weight of a horse. After a long, cold walk he found the dogs standing
over the wolf they had killed. When he had dragged it back to our
wood-shed he sent in to ask if the general would come and see what the
dogs had done unaided and alone, for he was very proud of them.

As the family all stood talking over the size of the coyote and its
fur, I said, triumphantly, “Now, I shall have a robe!” It was enough
for them, and they made no end of sport about my planning a robe out
of one small skin. After we had all gone into the house, the soldier,
who was not accustomed to hear such badgering, went in to Mary, and
indignantly exclaimed, “Be jabers, and they’ll not tease her about that
long!” After that, during the winter, he walked frequently over the
plain with the dogs, and when they had started a trail and run almost
out of sight, he patiently followed until he readied the spot where
they had brought down the game. Even in that bitter weather he brought
in enough foxes, swifts, and coyotes to make me a large robe. When it
was made up, I triumphantly placed myself on it, and reminded my family
of their teasing, and the time, so lately past, when I had been an
object of jest to them.

The weather seemed to grow colder and colder as the winter
advanced--from 20° to 30° below zero was ordinary weather. The officers
were energetic enough to get up sleighs, even with all the difficulties
they had to encounter. There was no lumber at the post except
unseasoned cotton-wood. The man who could get a packing-box for the
body of his sleigh was a Crœsus. The carpenter cut and sawed the edges
into scallops and curves; the rudest bobs were ironed by the company
blacksmith; and the huge tongue of an army wagon was attached to the
frail egg-shell. The wood-work was painted black, and really the color
and shape reminded one of a little baby hearse. Sister Margaret and I
disliked sleighing even under favorable circumstances, but that made
no sort of difference; we were expected to go twice a day, and try in
turn each new sleigh.

My husband found a sketch in some of the illustrated papers, which he
thought such a fitting representation of us that he added some lines
and drew some applicable features to the picture, and wrote underneath,
“Margaret and Libbie _enjoying_ a sleigh-ride!” (two wretched,
shivering beings, wrapped in furs, sit with their feet in a tub of
ice-water, while a servant rings a dinner-bell over their heads). When
we were thus taken out, as a sacrifice we were enveloped in so many
wraps we had literally to be carried and dropped into the sleigh, and
after hot bricks were adjusted to our feet, we assumed the martyr look
that women understand how to take on when persuaded against their will,
and off we flew. It made no impression if we were speechless--the
dearth of women made the men far from critical. Sometimes we went to
the Hart River, which empties into the Missouri, and which we were not
afraid to drive over, as it was frozen solid. And yet it should be
understood that we preferred to go and be frozen rather than stay at
home and be comfortable, for we were a band of friends sharing the same
isolation, and each took comfort in contributing to the enjoyment of
the rest.

One sort of sleighing we really did enjoy. One of the officers got up
a long sleigh, using the bed of an army wagon for the box. He was his
own coachman, and stood in front driving an excellent four-in-hand. We
all placed ourselves in the straw and robes, and nothing of the whole
party was visible except two rows of “tip tilted,” rosy-tinted noses
peeping out from under fur caps and gay mufflers. If any one rashly
left a seat to play some prank it was never regained. The space closed
up instantly, and it was a choice of standing for the rest of the
distance, or uncomfortably sitting on the spurs, arctics, or buffalo
over-shoes of the others. Another of our number tried driving tandem;
and as his horses were very fleet and his sleigh very frail, it was a
study from first to last how soon we should gather up the fragments of
our scattered selves from the white plain over which we flew at eagle
speed.

When the thermometer went down to 45° below zero, the utmost
vigilance was exercised to prevent the men from being frozen. The
general took off all the sentinels but two, and those were encased
in buffalo overcoats and shoes, and required to walk their beat but
fifteen minutes at a time. There were no wells or cisterns, and the
quartermaster had no means of supplying the post with water, except
with a water-wagon that required six mules to haul it around the
garrison. The hole in the river through which the water was drawn was
cut through five feet of ice. It was simply dreadful on those bitter
days to see the poor men whose duty it was to distribute the supply.
My husband used to turn away with a shudder from the window when they
came in sight, and beg me not to talk of a matter that he was powerless
to remedy. The two barrels at the kitchen-door were all that we could
have, and on some days the men and wagon could not go around at all. We
husbanded every drop, and borrowed from a neighbor, if any neighbor was
fortunate enough not to have used all his supply.



CHAPTER XI.

THE BURNING OF OUR QUARTERS.--CARRYING THE MAIL.


We had hardly finished arranging our quarters when, one freezing night,
I was awakened by a roaring sound in a chimney that had been defective
from the first. Women have such a rooted habit of smelling smoke and
sending men on needless investigating trips in the dead of night, that
I tried to keep still for a few moments. The sound grew too loud to
be mistaken, and I awakened my husband. He ran up-stairs and found
the room above us on fire. He called to me to bring him some water,
believing he could extinguish it himself. While I hurried after the
water, there came such a crash and explosion that my brain seemed to
reel from fright. I had no thought but that my husband was killed.
Nothing can describe the relief with which I heard his voice calling
back to my agonized question as to his safety. His escape was very
narrow; the chimney had burst, the whole side of the room was blown
out, and he was covered with plaster and surrounded with fallen bricks.
The gas from the petroleum paper put on between the plastering and the
outer walls to keep out the cold had exploded. The roof had ignited at
once, and was blown off with a noise like the report of artillery. The
sentinel at the guard-house fired his carbine as an alarm. The general
ran to one of the lower windows, and with his powerful voice that he
could throw so far called for the guard. Then we hurried to the room
occupied by our girl-friend. The plastering falling on her bed from the
burning roof was the first hint she had of the danger. It was unsafe
for her to stop to gather her clothes, and wrapping a blanket about her
we sent her to our sister next door.

In an incredibly short time the men were swarming about the house. The
general had buttoned his vest, containing his watch and purse, over
his long night-dress, and unconscious of his appearance, gave just as
cool orders to the soldiers as if it were at drill. They, also, were
perfectly cool, and worked like beavers to remove our things; for with
no engine and without water it was useless to try to save the house.
The general stood upon the upper landing and forbade them to join him,
as it was perilous, the floors being then on fire. He had insisted upon
my going out of the house, but I was determined not to do so until he
was safe. When I did leave I ran in my night-dress over the snow to our
sister’s. The house burned very quickly. Fortunately it was a still,
cold night, and there was no wind to spread the flames. Except for this
the whole garrison must have been burned.

When the morning came we went to inspect the heap of household
belongings that had been carried out on the parade-ground. It was
a sorry collection of torn, broken, and marred effects! Most of my
clothes were gone. Our poor girl-friend looked down into her trunk,
empty except for one tarlatan party gown. I had lost silver and linen,
and what laces and finery I had. The only loss I mourned, as it was
really irreparable, was a collection of newspaper clippings regarding
my husband that I had saved during and since the war. Besides these I
lost a little wig that I had worn at a fancy-dress ball, made from the
golden rings of curly hair cut from my husband’s head after the war,
when he had given up wearing long locks.

The fire served one purpose after all. Before it occurred I had always
been a trial to Mary because I cared so little for dress and really
owned so few ornaments. When the servants gathered together after
that to boast of the possessions of their several mistresses, as is
customary with the colored people, who so love display, Mary was armed
with an excuse for me. I used to hear of her saying, “You jist orter
seed what Miss Libbie had afo’ the fire;” and then she would describe
in detail elegant apparel that I had never even thought of having.
Long afterwards I heard of the comments of one of our number, who
loved the loaves and fishes of this life beyond everything. In vain
she accumulated and had the proud satisfaction of out-doing every one
in the number of her dresses. Mary managed to slip into her kitchen on
some feigned errand, and drawing upon her imagination related how much
richer Miss Libbie’s possessions were before the fire. I had a hearty
laugh by myself when I heard that the Miss Flora McFlimsey of our
circle, worn out with the boasting of the cook, was heard to exclaim,
“I wish I might have seen for myself all the gorgeousness described. I
am tired to death of hearing about ‘befo’ the fire.’”

The general selected another set of quarters next to his brother’s,
and thither removed the remnants of our household goods. He begged me
not to go near the house, or attempt to settle, until I had recovered
from the fright of the fire and of his imperilled life the night
before. We were all busy enough trying to fit our things upon our
little friend. Her purse, with abundance to buy a new outfit, was
burned, and it would be weeks before she could receive a remittance
from home by our slow mails. Next day, as she sat among us in
borrowed apparel, several sizes too large, she had a surprise. A huge
clothes-basket was handed in at the door, with a note addressed to
her, begging her to consider herself, what the garrison had long felt
that she was, “the daughter of the regiment.” The basket contained
everything that the generous hearts of friends could suggest. Not
content with this, another was sent on the next day, with a further
supply of things bought in the store at Bismarck. She objected to the
acceptance, and tears rose in her eyes at the thoughtfulness; but there
were no names signed to the note, so we would not heed remonstrances.
Every one came with needles and thimbles, and the scissors flew.

I was too much absorbed in this scheme to ask many questions about the
new quarters. When I did inquire, the general put me off by saying
that in a few days I should begin to settle. The second evening after
the fire he sent for me, and asked if I would come and consult with
him about some arrangement of the furniture, as he was too busy to
come after me. I started at once, but Mary, ever thoughtful of my
appearance, and deep in the mystery that followed, urged me to put on
my other gown. I was unwillingly put into it, and went to the new
house to find both sets of quarters lighted throughout, and the band
playing “Home, Sweet Home.” My husband, meeting me, led me in, and to
my utter surprise I found the whole place completely settled, a door
cut through into Colonel Tom’s quarters, and the garrison assembled at
the general’s invitation for the house-warming. The pantry was full of
good things to eat that Mary had prepared for the supper. Every one
tried, by merry frolic and dancing, to make me forget the catastrophe,
and the general, bubbling over with fun, inspired me to join. Then he
told me to what subterfuges he had resorted to get the house ready, and
repeated to me again that it was never worth while to “cry over spilled
milk.”

The life of the enlisted men was very dull during the cold weather.
In the summer they had mounted drill and parades, and an occasional
scout, to vary the life. They got very little good out of their horses
in the winter. An hour in the morning and another in the afternoon
were spent every day in grooming them. The general took me down to the
stables sometimes to watch the work. Each horse had the name given to
him by his rider printed in home-made letters over his stall. Some of
the men were so careful of their horses that they were able to keep
them for service during the five years of their enlistment. The daily
intercourse of horse and rider quickened the instinct of the brute,
so that he seemed half human. Indeed, I have seen an old troop-horse,
from whose back a raw recruit had tumbled, go through the rest of the
drill as correctly as if mounted by a well-trained soldier. Many of
the soldiers love and pet their dumb beasts, and if the supply of grain
gives out on a campaign they unhesitatingly steal for them, as a mother
would for a starving child.

Beside every stall hung the saddle and equipments of the trooper,
and the companies vied with one another in keeping them in perfect
condition. Some of the horses’ coats shone like satin under the
busy currycomb of an attached master. The captain of a company and
his first-sergeant soon discovered the faults of a horse. When the
preparations for a campaign began, it was really laughable to hear the
ingenious excuses why an apparently sound horse should be exchanged for
another from the fresh supply.

In the same way a soldier who was hopelessly worthless was often
transferred to another company. The officers who had been the recipient
of the undesirable soldier would come to the general to complain. I
could not always keep a straight countenance when the injured captain
narrated his wrongs. One told of what desperate need he had been in
for a tailor. He had been proffered this man with many eulogies by a
brother officer, and the final recommendation given which insured the
acceptance of this seemingly generous offer was, “He has made clothes
for _me_.” Not until the transfer was effected, and a suit of clothes
ruined for the captain, was he told by his would-be liberal friend the
whole story, which was, “Oh yes! he made clothes for me, but, _I forgot
to add_, I couldn’t wear them.”

The general sympathized with the impatience of the enlisted men in
their dull life, which drove the sergeants to solicit as a privilege
the transportation of the mail. For a man of my husband’s temperament
it was easy to understand that danger was more endurable than the dead
calm of barrack life. The telegraph lines were frequently down, and
except for the courage of the sergeants we should have been completely
isolated from the outside world. With four mules and the covered body
of a government wagon on bobs, they went over a trackless waste of snow
for two hundred and fifty miles. Occasionally there were huts that had
once been stage stations, where they could stop, but it was deadly
perilous for them to leave the telegraph line, no matter through what
drifts they were compelled to plunge.

The bewilderment of a snow-storm comes very soon. An officer lying
in the hospital, quite crazed from having been lost in attempting to
cross a parade-ground only large enough for the regiment in line, was
a fearful warning to these venturesome men. If the mail sergeant did
not appear when he was due--at the end of two weeks--the general could
scarcely restrain his anxiety. He was so concerned for the man’s safety
that he kept going to the window and door incessantly. He spoke to me
so often of his fears for him that I used to imagine he would, for
once, express some of his anxiety when the sergeant finally appeared to
report; but military usage was too deeply bred in the bone of both, and
the report was made and received with the customary repressed dignity
of manner. However, I have seen my husband follow the man to the door,
and tell him that he had felt great concern about him, and renew his
directions to take every precaution for his safety. How thankful I
used to be that I was not hedged in with a soldier’s discipline, but
that I could follow the faithful old trooper and tell him how the
general had worried about him, and how thankful we all were for his
safe return.

It did not take long for the garrison to discover the poor mules, with
their tired, drooping heads and wilted ears, dragging the mail-sleigh
into the post. Every officer rushed to the adjutant’s office for his
mail. It was a great event and the letters were hailed with joy. An
orphan, and having no brothers and sisters, I must have been the only
one who was contented not to get any. For my world was there. An
officer’s wife who could hardly wait for news from her lonely, delicate
mother in the East used to say pathetically, realizing the distance
that intervened, that no one knew what it was to be married to a
husband and a mother at the same time.

As soon as the mail was distributed, the general buried himself with
the newspapers. For several days after he agreed with me that an
old engraving, called “My Husband,” was a faithful likeness of him
at such a time (the picture represented a man sitting in a chair,
completely hidden, except his crossed legs and his hands, and clasping
an outspread paper). As soon as the contents were devoured, he cut
from the illustrated papers comic pictures, and adding to them some
doggerel, sent them in to our witty neighbor as illustrating some joke
that had transpired against her. With other papers, by a little drawing
he transposed the figures and likenesses of some of the officers
who had been placed previously in some ludicrous position. Adding
marginal comments, he left the pictures uppermost where they were
sure to be seen by the persons for whom they were intended, when they
came in as usual to look over the papers and magazines in his room. A
clever lady in a neighboring garrison, speaking of the arrival of the
mail, described how voraciously she seized the new reading matter and
closeted herself for hours to read up in advance of the others. She
felt that “having exhausted every other topic she must coach up on
something new.”

In spite of the great risks and dangers of the mail-carriers, their
journeys were accomplished without serious accident. I used to hear
occasionally that the sergeant had levied such a heavy tax upon the
citizens of Bismarck, when he brought small parcels through for them,
that he had quite a little sum of money for himself by spring.



CHAPTER XII.

PERPLEXITIES AND PLEASURES OF DOMESTIC LIFE.


The climate of Dakota was so fine that those who had been poisoned by
malaria in the South became perfectly well after a short residence
there. Sickness was of rare occurrence, and because of its infrequency
it drew forth lavish sympathy. In the autumn a beautiful little girl,
the daughter of the sutler, was brought into the garrison dying with
diphtheria. There was no law, like the city ordinance, compelling a
warning placard to be placed on the door, and it would have been of
no avail in keeping her friends away. When I begged the heart-broken
mother to turn from the last breath of her idol, it seemed to me her
lot was too hard for human endurance. Every sorrow seemed much worse
out there, where we were so unaccustomed to suffering.

As I looked at the little waxen body prepared for burial, lying so like
a pretty flower, I did not wonder at the mother’s grief and despair.
She was a thousand miles from Eastern friends; her husband was absent
on business, and she among strangers. At another time, when a young
mother was caring for her newly-born babe, the little toddling brother
was unfortunately exposed to the cold, and fell violently ill with
pneumonia. Every lady came daily to help care for him, and at last
the officers’ repeatedly proffered services were accepted for night
nursing. I remember watching and admiring the tenderness of a handsome,
dashing young fellow as he walked the floor with the feverish little
sufferer, or rocked him patiently until dawn. And when I saw him often
afterwards gliding about in the dance, or riding beside some pretty
girl, I used to think to myself that I could tell his sweetheart
something good about him. We were all like one family--every one was so
quick to sympathize, so ready to act if trouble came.

After the trains had been taken off, and winter had fairly set in, the
young mother, whom we all loved, was in despair about clothing for her
little ones. We had reached a land where there were no seamstresses,
no ready-made clothing, and nothing suitable for children. Money did
no good, though our friend had abundance of that, but busy fingers
were needed. The ladies quietly arranged, as a surprise, a sewing-bee.
We impressed our brother Tom into our service, and taught him to use
the sewing-machine. A laughing crowd dropped scissors and thimbles at
parade-time and followed to the door to watch him hurry on his belt
and sabre and take his place--the quintessence then of everything
military and manly. A roomful of busy women, cutting, basting, making
button-holes, and joining together little garments, soon had a passable
outfit for the brave mother’s little ones, and even a gown for her own
sweet self. I do not remember ever seeing anything quite so Dutchy
and cumbersome, however, as those little children dressed in the
cobbled-out woollen clothes our ignorant fingers had fashioned.

A woman on the frontier is so cherished and appreciated, because she
has the courage to live out there, that there is nothing that is not
done for her if she be gracious and courteous. In twenty little ways
the officers spoiled us: they never allowed us to wait on ourselves, to
open or shut a door, draw up our own chair, or to do any little service
that they could perform for us. If we ran to the next house for a chat,
with a shawl thrown over our heads, we rarely got a chance to return
alone, but with this undignified head-covering were formally brought
back to our door! I wonder if it will seem that we were foolishly
petted if I reveal that our husbands buttoned our shoes, wrapped us up
if we went out, warmed our clothes before the fire, poured the water
for our bath out of the heavy pitcher, and studied to do innumerable
little services that a maid would have done for us in the States.

I don’t think it made us helpless, however. In our turn we watched
every chance we could to anticipate their wants. We did a hundred
things we would not have remembered to do had not the quickly passing
time brought nearer each day those hours of separation when we would
have no one to do for. I am sure I never saw more tender men than
the officers. One learned to conceal the fact that one was ailing or
fatigued, for it made them so anxious. The eyes of sister Margaret’s
husband come to me now, full of intense suffering for his wife, as she
silently read her home letters telling of our mother Custer’s failing
strength. She suppressed her weeping until they had retired and she
believed him asleep. She found her mistake when his gentle hands stole
softly to her cheeks to feel if they were moistened with tears.

So seldom did we hear of an officer’s unkindness to his wife, that a
very old legend used to be revived if a reference to anything of the
kind was needed. Before the war some officer wished to measure the
distance of a day’s march, and having no odometer elected his wife
to that office. The length of the revolution of a wheel was taken, a
white handkerchief tied to a spoke, and the madam was made to count the
rotations all day long. The story seldom failed to fire the blood of
the officers when it was told. They agreed that nothing but a long life
among Indians, and having the treatment of the squaw before him, would
cause a man to act with such brutality.

Domestic care sat very lightly on me. Nothing seemed to annoy my
husband more than to find me in the kitchen. He determinedly opposed
it for years, and begged me to make a promise that I would never go
there for more than a moment. We had such excellent servants that my
presence was unnecessary most of the time, but even in the intervals
when our fare was wretched he submitted uncomplainingly rather than
that I should be wearied. A great portion of the time my life was so
rough that he knew it taxed me to the utmost, and I never forgot to be
grateful that I was spared domestic care in garrison. We had so much
company that, though I enjoyed it, I sometimes grew weary. When the
winter came and there was little to do officially, my husband made
every preparation for our receptions: ordered the supplies, planned
the refreshment, and directed the servants. The consequence was that
I sometimes had as enjoyable a time as if I had been entertained at
some one else’s house. To prove how much pleasure I had, I recall a
speech that the family kept among a collection of my _faux pas_. They
overheard me saying to some of our guests, “Don’t go home, we are
having such a good time.” Afterwards the tormenting home circle asked
me if it would not have been in a little better taste to let the guests
say that!

We had such a number of my husband’s family in garrison that it
required an effort occasionally to prevent our being absorbed in one
another. A younger brother came on from Michigan to visit us, and
our sister Margaret’s husband had a sister and brother at the post.
Sometimes we found that nine of us were on one side of the room deeply
interested in conversation. Something would rouse us to a sense of our
selfishness, and I was the one sent off to look out the quiet ones
at the hop who needed entertaining. If I chanced to be struggling to
teach new steps in dancing to feet unaccustomed to anything but march
or drill, or strove to animate the one whom all pronounced a bore,
the family never failed to note it. They played every sly trick they
could to disconcert and tease me. I did not submit tamely. As soon
as I could, I made my way to them, and by threats and intimidations
scattered them to their duty!

At the hops the officers waited long and patiently for the women to
dance with them; sometimes the first waltz they could get during the
evening would not come before midnight. I think it would have been
very hard for me to have kept a level head with all the attention and
delightful flattery which the ordinary manners of officers convey, if
I had not remembered how we ladies were always in the minority. The
question whether one was old or young, pretty or plain, never seemed
to arise with them. I have seen them solicit the honor of taking a
grandmamma to drive, and even to ride as gallantly as if she were
young and fair. No men discover beauty and youth more quickly, but the
deference they feel for all women is always apparent.

It seemed very strange to me that with all the value that is set on
the presence of the women of an officer’s family at the frontier
posts, the book of army regulations makes no provision for them, but
in fact ignores them entirely! It enters into such minute detail in
its instructions, even giving the number of hours that bean-soup
should boil, that it would be natural to suppose that a paragraph or
two might be wasted on an officer’s wife! The servants and the company
laundresses are mentioned as being entitled to quarters and rations
and to the services of the surgeon. If an officer’s wife falls ill
she cannot _claim_ the attention of the doctor, though it is almost
unnecessary to say that she has it through his most urgent courtesy. I
have even known a surgeon, who from some official difficulty was not on
friendly terms with an officer, go personally and solicit the privilege
of prescribing through the illness of his wife, whom he knew but
slightly.

The officers used sportively to look up the rules in the army
regulations for camp followers, and read them out to us as they would
the riot act! In the event of any question being raised regarding our
privileges, we women really came under no other head in the book which
is the sole authority for our army. If we put down an emphatic foot,
declaring that we were going to take some decisive step to which they
were justly opposed as involving our safety, perhaps, we would be at
once reminded, in a laughingly exultant manner, of the provision of the
law. The regulations provide that the commanding officer has complete
control over all _camp followers_, with power to put them off the
reservation or detain them as he chooses. Nevertheless, though army
women have no visible thrones or sceptres, nor any acknowledged rights
according to military law, I never knew such queens as they, or saw
more willing subjects than they govern.



CHAPTER XIII.

A “STRONG HEART” DANCE!


The Indian scouts employed by our government and living at our post
belonged to a tribe called the Arickarees. This tribe was small, and
though not strong enough in numbers to attack the more powerful Sioux,
there was implacable enmity between them, and a constant desire for
revenge. During the preceding summer a band of Sioux came to Fort
Lincoln, and drew the scouts belonging to the infantry garrison out of
their quarters by some cunningly devised pretext. No sooner did they
appear than they were fired upon by the Sioux. They fought all day,
and finally the Rees succeeded in driving their enemies away. All this
took place right at the post, where the firing could be seen from the
windows. It was not known how many Sioux were killed, for all tribes
make extraordinary exertions to carry their dead from the field. Four
only were left. After some months the Sioux, for some reason best
known to themselves, sent word that they were coming for a treaty. The
Rees prepared to receive them with what they termed a “Strong Heart”
dance. A message inviting the garrison was sent by them, through the
interpreter, and we hailed with relief the variety in our existence
this spectacle would afford. Indian life was still a novelty to us,
for we had not been with any peaceable tribe before coming into Dakota.
We stowed ourselves away in long sleighs which took us to the quarters
of the scouts. Their buildings were of logs, and were long and low in
construction. Around the walls on the inside were bunks on which were
marks showing the quarters assigned to each family. When the outer door
closed upon us we could scarcely breathe; the atmosphere was stifling,
and loaded with the odor of smoked meat, tanned skins, and killikinick
tobacco. The place was lighted by burning logs in a large fireplace,
and the deep shadows threw into high-relief the figures that came into
the glare of the fire, and produced effects from which Doré might have
found material for a most powerful work.

Before the ceremonies began, we women went round the place to see the
papooses in their mothers’ arms, as they sat in the bunks or on the
earthen floor. Each mother held her baby up for our inspection, with
as much pride as if there had never been a little one on earth before.
The squaws were not permitted to come near the charmed circle in front
of the fire, where the mimic orchestra beat their drums; they were
allowed to sing at a distance, and joined in the low monotone of the
musicians. At regular intervals, as if keeping time, they jerked out a
nasal twanging note which was emphasized by the coarse voices of the
warriors. The dancers were naked, except for the customary covering
over their loins. They had attached to their belts beads and metal
ornaments. Some had so fastened to their girdles the feathers from the
tail of the wild turkey, that they stood up straight as the savages
bent over in the evolutions of the dance. One leg and arm would be
painted bright vermilion or blue, and the other a vivid green, with
cabalistic characters drawn on them in black. The faces were hideous,
being painted in all colors. A few had necklaces of bears’ claws, on
which they set great value. These hung over the bronze shoulders, the
claws pointing into the brown skin of their chests. One, evidently
poorer than the rest, had a rudely cut shirt made out of an old
ham-bag, on which the trade-mark and name of the manufacturing firm
figured conspicuously as his sole decoration. Another, equally poor,
wore only the covering over his hips, while suspended by a cord from
his neck was a huge tin toy horse. From the scalp-lock of some there
was a strip of cloth falling to the ground, on which silver disks made
of coins were fastened at close intervals.

In the plait of hair falling to their waists we saw sticks crossed
and running through the braid. The interpreter explained that these
represented “coups.” Our attention was arrested at once by a little
four-year-old boy, who, from time to time during the evening, was
brought to the circle by his mother, and left to make his little
whirling gyrations around the ring of the dancers. It was explained to
us that he had won his right to join in the festivities of the tribe
when the fight took place the summer before, to settle which this
treaty was planned. Of the four Sioux left on the battle-field that
day, one, though mortally wounded, was not yet dead when the retreat
took place. A Ree squaw, knowing that it would count her child “a
coup” if he put another wound in the already dying man, sent him out
and incited the child to plunge a knife into the wounded warrior. As
a reward he was given the privilege of joining in all celebrations,
and the right to wear an eagle feather standing straight from the
scalp-lock of his tiny head. We saw the mother’s eyes gleam with pride
as she watched this miniature warrior admitted among the mature and
experienced braves. All the dancers rotated around together for a time,
their bodies always bent, and they howled as they moved. In the shadowy
gloom, only momentarily made brilliant by the flashes of light from the
fire, these grotesque, crouching figures were wild enough for gnomes.
Only occasionally, where there was a large mixture of white blood, did
we see a well-developed figure. The legs and arms of Indians are almost
invariably thin. None of them ever do any manual labor to produce
muscle, and their bones are decidedly conspicuous.

We were surprised to observe that though dancing in so small a space,
and weaving in and out in countless figures, without an apparent effort
to avoid collisions, they never interfered or caught their brandished
weapons in the ornaments of one another’s toggery. When a warrior
wished to speak, he made some sign to the others. They then sat down
around him, and the music ceased. He began with a recital of his
achievements--Indians never fail to recapitulate these as a preface
to each speech. Sometimes the speaker’s career was illustrated, and a
cotton sheet was unfolded on which were painted a number of primitive
figures. He gradually grew more and more earnest; his dull eyes glared
as he pointed to the scalps he had taken, which were even then
dangling from his belt. Finally the warrior began to give presents, and
to receive them in return, as is the custom on those occasions. If he
gave a pony, he declared it by throwing down a stick on which were cut
notches that signified the gift to the recipient.

After several had told their “coups,” for so they designate their
deeds of prowess, one bounded with great energy into the circle. He
narrated with spirit how he had revenged the death of two of their band
by killing the murderer at the last fight at the post. Before any one
realized it, an old squaw pushed her way violently into the open space,
threw down a roll of calico at his feet, and flung off her leggings and
blanket as presents in her gratitude, for it was of her husband and son
that he spoke. As she was about to complete the gift by removing her
last garment, the interpreter, in consideration for us, hurried her
out to her bunk in the darkness, and we saw her no more. Last of all
an old Sioux, wrapped in a black mourning blanket, tottered into the
circle, and silence settled down on all. He spoke of his son who had
been in the fight, and had fallen bravely, but said that before he was
killed he had made many Rees “bite the dust,” as he then figuratively
expressed it. Excited by the story of the courage of his offspring, he
tottered back to his place, but his pride soon succumbed to his greater
sorrow; he buried his head in his blanket when he sank down to his
seat. Hardly had he ceased, before a young Ree leaped into the midst
of the warriors, threw off his blanket, and with flashing eye plunged
into a hurried enumeration of his achievements, to prove his courage
in days past. Then, striding up to the bereaved father, he said in
exultant, imperious tones, “Boast no longer of the successes of your
dead, I who stand here am he who killed him!” The father did not even
raise his eyes. The Ree called out to the listening warriors, “Will he
not fight me? I stand ready.” The old warrior remained unmoved, even
under the insolent words of the aggressor. Many years of an eventful
life had made him too well versed in, and too subservient to the laws
of Indian warfare, not to know that a “Strong Heart” dance bound all
in inviolable honor not to break the temporary peace; but he knew that
once meeting each other on the open plain there were no restrictions.

When we left the unearthly music, the gloom, and the barbaric sights,
and breathed pure air again, it seemed as if we had escaped from
pandemonium.

One morning soon after that we heard singing, and found that the squaws
were surging down from their quarters nearly a mile distant. We had
not received a hint of the honor to be conferred, and were mystified
when they all halted in front of our house. They had come to give us
a dance. It was an unusual occurrence, for the women rarely take part
in any but the most menial services. They were headed by Mrs. Long
Back, the wife of the chief of the scouts. She was distinguished as the
leader by a tall dress-hat that had been the property of some society
man when he wore civilian dress in the States. They began going around
after each other in a jogging, lumbering sort of movement, and singing
a humdrum song in a minor key. Much of the finery we had seen at the
genuine war-dance was borrowed from the warriors for this occasion. It
was festooned over the figures of the women already well covered with
blankets, and the weight was not calculated to add materially to their
grace. The ranking lady had a sabre which her chief had received as
a present, and this she waved over the others in command. One woman
carried her six-weeks’-old papoose on her back, and its little, lolling
head rolled from side to side as the mother trotted round and round
after the others.

During the dance one of the officers’ colored servants rushed out,
and in his excitement almost ran his head into the charmed precincts.
An infuriated squaw, to whom all this mummery was the gravest and
most momentous of concerns, flew at him, brandishing a tomahawk over
his head. He had no need to cry, “O, that this too, too solid flesh
would melt!” for his manner of vanishing was little short of actual
evaporation into air. Neither his master nor any one else saw him for
twenty-four hours afterwards.

When the women stopped their circumvolutions for want of breath, we
appeared on the porch and made signs of thanks. They received them
with placid self-satisfaction, but the more substantial recognition of
the general’s thanks, in the shape of a beef, they acknowledged more
warmly.



CHAPTER XIV.

GARRISON LIFE.


There were about forty in our garrison circle, and as we were very
harmonious we spent nearly every evening together. I think it is the
general belief that the peace of an army post depends very much upon
the example set by the commanding officer. My husband, in the six years
previous, had made it very clear, in a quiet way, that he would much
prefer that there should be no conversation detrimental to others in
his quarters. It required no effort for him to refrain from talking
about his neighbors, but it was a great deprivation to me occasionally.
Once in a while, when some one had brought down wrath upon his or her
head by doing something deserving of censure, the whole garrison was
voluble in its denunciation; and if I plunged into the subject also
and gave my opinion, I soon noticed my husband grow silent and finally
slip away. I was not long in finding an excuse to follow him and ask
what I had done. Of course I knew him too well not to divine that I
had hurt him in some manner. Then he would make a renewed appeal to
me beginning by an unanswerable plea, “if you wish to please me,” and
imploring me not to join in discussions concerning any one. He used to
assure me that in his heart he believed me superior to such things.
In vain I disclaimed being of that exalted order of females, and
declared that it required great self-denial not to join in a gossip.
The discussion ended by his desiring me to use _him_ as a safety-valve
if I _must_ criticise others. From motives of policy alone, if actuated
by no higher incentive, it seemed wise to suppress one’s ebullitions of
anger. In the States it is possible to seek new friends if the old ones
become tiresome and exasperating, but once in a post like ours, so far
removed, there is no one else to whom one can turn. We never went away
on leave of absence, and heard ladies in civil life say emphatically
that they did not like some person they knew, and “never would,”
without a start of terror. I forgot that their lives were not confined
to the small precincts of a territorial post, where such avowed enmity
is disastrous.

I had very little opportunity to know much of official matters; they
were not talked about at home. Instinct guided me always in detecting
the general’s enemies, and when I found them out, a struggle began
between us as to my manner of treating them. My husband urged that it
would embarrass him if others found out that I had surmised anything
regarding official affairs. He wished social relations to be kept
distinct, and he could not endure to see me show dislike to any one who
did not like him. I argued in reply that I felt myself dishonest if
I even spoke to one whom I hated. The contest ended by his appealing
to my good-sense, arguing that as the wife of the commanding officer
I belonged to every one, and in our house I should be hospitable
upon principle. As every one visited us, there was no escape for me,
but I do not like to think now of having welcomed any one from whom I
inwardly recoiled.

I was not let off on such occasions with any formal shake of the hand.
My husband watched me, and if I was not sufficiently cordial he gave
me, afterwards, in our bedroom, a burlesque imitation of my manner. I
could not help laughing, even when annoyed, to see him caricature me by
advancing coldly, extending the tips of his fingers, and bowing loftily
to some imaginary guest. His raillery, added to my wish to please him,
had the effect of making me shake hands so vigorously that I came near
erring the other way and being too demonstrative, and thus giving the
impression that I was the best friend of some one I really dreaded.

As I was in the tent during so many summers, and almost constantly
in my husband’s library in our winter quarters, I naturally learned
something of what was transpiring. I soon found, however, that it
would do no good if I asked questions in the hope of gaining further
information. As to curiosity ever being one of my conspicuous faults,
I do not remember, but I do recollect most distinctly how completely I
was taken aback by an occurrence which took place a short time after we
were married. I had asked some idle question about official matters,
and was promptly informed in a grave manner, though with a mischievous
twinkle of the eye, that whatever information I wanted could be had by
application to the adjutant-general. This was the stereotyped form of
endorsement on papers sent up to the regimental adjutant asking for
information. One incident of many comes to me now, proving how little
I knew of anything but what pertained to our own home circle. The wife
of an officer once treated me with marked coldness. I was unaware of
having hurt her in any way, and at once took my grievance to that
source where I found sympathy for the smallest woe. My husband pondered
a moment, and then remembered that the husband of my friend and he had
had some slight official difficulty, and the lady thinking I knew of it
was taking her revenge on me.

When I first entered army life I used to wonder what it meant when I
heard officers say, in a perfectly serious voice, “Mrs. ---- commands
her husband’s company.” It was my good-fortune not to encounter any
such female grenadiers. A circumstance occurred which made me retire
early from any attempt to assume the slightest authority. One of the
inexhaustible jokes that the officers never permitted me to forget was
an occurrence that happened soon after the general took command of the
7th Cavalry. A soldier had deserted, and had stolen a large sum of
money from one of the lieutenants. My sympathy was so aroused for the
officer that I urged him to lose no time in pursuing the man to the
nearest town, whither he was known to have gone. In my interest and
zeal I assured the officer that I knew the general would be willing,
and he need not wait to apply for leave through the adjutant’s office.
I even hurried him away. When the general came in I ran to him with my
story, expecting his sympathy, and that he would endorse all that I had
done. On the contrary, he quietly assured me that he commanded the
regiment, and that he would like me to make it known to the lieutenant
that he must apply through the proper channels for leave of absence.
Thereupon I ate a large piece of humble pie, but was relieved to find
that the officer had shown more sense than I, and had not accepted my
proferred leave, but had prudently waited to write out his application.
Years afterwards, when my husband told me what a source of pride it
was to him that others had realized how little I knew about official
affairs, and assured me that my curiosity was less than that of any
woman he had ever known, I took little credit to myself. It would
have been strange, after the drilling of military life, if I had not
attained some progress.

The general planned every military action with so much secrecy that we
were left to divine as best we could what certain preliminary movements
meant. One morning, when it was too cold for anything but important
duty, without any explanations he started off with a company of cavalry
and several wagons. As they crossed the river on the ice, we surmised
that he was going to Bismarck. It seemed that the general had been
suspicious that the granaries were being robbed, and finally a citizen
was caught driving off a loaded wagon of oats from the reservation in
broad daylight. This was about as high-handed an instance of thieving
as the general had encountered, and he quietly set to work to find out
the accomplices. In a little while it was ascertained that the robbers
had concealed their plunder in a vacant store in the principal street
of Bismarck.

The general determined to go himself directly to the town, thinking
that he could do quickly and without opposition what another might
find difficult. The better class of citizens honored him too highly to
oppose his plan of action, even though it was unprecedented for the
military to enter a town on such an errand. The general knew the exact
place at which to halt, and drew the company up in line in front of the
door. He demanded the key, and directed the men to transfer the grain
to the wagons outside. Without a protest, or an exchange of words even,
the troops marched out of the town as quietly as they had entered. This
ended the grain thefts.

It was a surprise to me that after the life of excitement my husband
had led, he should grow more and more domestic in his tastes. His
daily life was very simple. He rarely left home except to hunt, and
was scarcely once a year in the sutler’s store, where the officers
congregated to play billiards and cards. If the days were too stormy or
too cold for hunting, as they often were for a week or more at a time,
he wrote and studied for hours every day. We had the good-fortune to
have a billiard-table loaned us by the sutler, and in the upper room
where it was placed, my husband and I had many a game when he was weary
with writing.

The general sometimes sketched the outline of my pictures, which I was
preparing to paint, for he drew better than I did, and gladly availed
himself of a chance to secure variety of occupation.

The relatives of the two young housemaids whom we had in our service
regretted that they were missing school, so the general had the
patience to teach them. The day rarely passed that Col. Tom, my
husband, and I did not have a game of romps. The grave orderly who sat
by the hall-door used to be shocked to see the commanding officer in
hot pursuit of us up the steps. The quick transformation which took
place when he was called from the frolic to receive the report of the
officer of the day was something very ridiculous.

Occasionally he joined those who gathered in our parlor every
evening. He had a very keen sense of his social responsibilities as
post-commander, and believed that our house should be open at all
hours to the garrison. His own studious habits made it a deprivation
if he gave up much of his time to entertaining. I learned that in no
way could I relieve him so much as by being always ready to receive.
He grew to expect that I would be in the parlor at night, and plan
whatever diversions we had. I managed to slip away several times in the
evening, and go to him for a little visit, or possibly a waltz, while
the rest danced in the other room. If I delayed going to him while
absorbed in the general amusement, a knock at the door announced the
orderly carrying a note for me. Those missives always reminded me of my
forgetfulness in some ingenious arrangement of words. When I laughed
outright over one of these little scraps, our friends begged me to
share the fun with them. It was only a line, and read, “Do you think I
am a confirmed monk?” Of course they insisted laughingly upon my going
at once to the self-appointed hermit.

We spent the days together almost uninterruptedly during the winter.
The garrison gave me those hours and left us alone. My husband had
arranged my sewing-chair and work-basket next to his desk, and he read
to me constantly. At one time we had read five authorities on Napoleon,
whose military career was a never-ending source of interest to him.
He studied so carefully that he kept the atlas before him, and marked
the course of the two armies of the French and English with pencils
of different color. One of his favorite books was a life of Daniel
Webster, given him in the States by a dear friend. Anything sad moved
him so that his voice choked with emotion, and I have known him lay
down the book and tell me he could not go on. One of the many passages
in that beautifully written book, which my husband thought the most
utterly pathetic of all, was the tribute an old farmer had paid to the
dead statesman. Looking down upon the face of the orator for the last
time, the old man says, in soliloquy, “Ah, Daniel, the world will be
lonesome now you are gone!”

I became so accustomed to this quiet life in the library with my
husband that I rarely went out. If I did begin the rounds of our little
circle with our girl-friend, whom every one besought to visit them,
an orderly soon followed us up. Without the glint of a smile, and in
exactly the tone of a man giving the order for a battle, he said, “The
general presents his compliments, and would like to know when he shall
send the trunks?” I recollect a message of this sort being once brought
to us when we were visiting an intimate friend, by the tallest, most
formidable soldier in the regiment. It was a mystery to us how he
managed to deliver his errand without moving a muscle of his face. He
presented the compliments of the commanding officer, and added, “He
sent you these.” We did not trust ourselves to look up at his lofty
face, but took from his extended bands two bundles of white muslin.
There was no mistaking the shape; they were our night-dresses. When
we hurried home, and took the general to task for making us face the
solemn orderly, he only replied by asking if we had intended to stay
forever, pointing to his open watch, and speaking of the terrors of
solitary confinement!

It was the custom at guard mount every morning to select the cleanest,
most soldierly-looking man for duty as orderly for the post-commander.
It was considered the highest honor, and really was something of a
holiday, as the man detailed for this duty had but little to do, and
then had his night in bed; otherwise, belonging to the guard, and being
newly appointed every twenty-four hours, he would have been obliged
to break his rest to go on picket duty at intervals all night. There
was great strife to get this position, and it was difficult for the
adjutant to make the selection. He sometimes carried his examination
so far as to try and find dust on the carbines with his cambric
handkerchief.

Guard mount in pleasant weather, with the adjutant and officer of the
day in full uniform, each soldier perfect in dress, with the band
playing, was a very interesting ceremony. In Dakota’s severe cold it
looked like a parade of animals at the Zoo! All were compelled to wear
buffalo overcoats and shoes, fur caps and gloves. When the orderly
removed these heavy outside wraps, however, he stood out as fine a
specimen of manhood as one ever sees. His place in our hall was near
the stove, and on the table by his side were papers and magazines,
many of which were sent by the Young Men’s Christian Association of
New York. The general had once met the secretary of the society, and
in response to his inquiry about reading-matter, he impressed him by
a strong statement of what a treasure anything of the kind was at an
isolated post.

There was usually a variety of reading-matter, but one day the orderly
stole out to the cook with a complaint. He asked for the general’s
_Turf, Field, and Farm_, or Wilkes’s _Spirit of the Times_, which he
was accustomed to find awaiting him, and confessed that “those pious
papers were too bagoted” for him! He usually sat still all day, only
taking an occasional message for the general, or responding to a
beckoning invitation from Mary’s brown finger at the kitchen-door.
There he found a little offering from her of home things to eat.
Occasionally, in the evening, the general forgot to dismiss him at
taps. After that a warning cough issued from the hall. When this had
been repeated several times, my husband used to look up so merrily and
say to me it was remarkable how temporary consumption increased after
the hour of bedtime had come. When the general had a message to send,
he opened his door and rattled off his order so fast that it was almost
impossible for one unacquainted with his voice to understand. If I saw
the dazed eyes of a new soldier, I divined that probably he did not
catch a word. Without the general’s noticing it, I slipped through our
room into the hall and translated the message to him.

When I returned, and gave my husband the best imitation I could of
the manner in which he spoke when hurried, and described the orderly,
standing, rubbing his perplexed head over the unintelligible gibberish,
he threw himself on the lounge in peals of laughter. While we were in
the States, sometimes he was invited to address audiences, but being
unaccustomed to public speaking, and easily embarrassed, he made very
droll attempts. He realized that he had not the gift of oratory, and
I used to wish that he would practise the art. I insisted, that if
he continued to speak so fast in public, I would be obliged to stand
beside him on the platform as interpreter for his hearers, or else take
my position in the audience and send him a sign of warning from there.
I proposed to do something so startling that he could not help checking
his mad speed. He was so earnest about everything he did, I assured
him no ordinary signal would answer, and we finished the laughing
discussion by my volunteering to rise in the audience the next time he
spoke, and raise an umbrella as a warning to slacken up!



CHAPTER XV.

GENERAL CUSTER’S LITERARY WORK.


When my husband began to write for publication, it opened to him
a world of interest, and afterwards proved an unfailing source of
occupation in the long Dakota winters. I think he had no idea, when
it was first suggested to him, that he could write. When we were in
New York, several years before, he told me how perfectly surprised
he was to have one of the magazine editors seek him out and ask him
to contribute articles every month. And a few days after he said, “I
begin to think the editor does not imagine that I am hesitating about
accepting his offer because I doubt my ability as a writer, but because
he said nothing about payment at first; for to-day,” he added, not yet
over his surprise at what seemed to him a large sum, “he came again and
offered me a hundred dollars for each contribution.” We at once seemed
to ourselves bonanzas. Many times afterwards we enjoyed intensely the
little pleasures and luxuries given us by what his pen added to the
family exchequer.

On the frontier, where the commanding officer keeps open house, he
has little opportunity to have more than a passing glimpse of his pay
accounts, so quickly do they go to settle table expenses. It made
very little difference to us, though; our tastes became more simple
each year that we lived so much out-of-doors. There was little dress
competition in garrison, and in no way could we enjoy the general’s
salary more than in entertaining.

At our first post after the war, the idle tediousness of the life was
in such contrast to the whirl and dash of the years just passed that
the days seemed insupportable to my husband. While there we entertained
a charming officer of the old school. His experience and age made me
venture to speak to him confidentially of the sympathy I felt for the
aimlessness of my husband’s life. I was in despair trying to think of
some way in which to vary the monotony; for though he said little, I
could see how he fretted and chafed under such an existence. The old
officer appreciated what I told him, and after thinking seriously for
a time, urged me to try and induce him to explore new territory and
write descriptive articles for publication. When the actual offer
came afterwards, it seemed to me heaven-sent. I used every persuasive
argument in my power to induce him to accept. I thought only of its
filling up the idle hours. I believed that he had the gift of a ready
writer, for though naturally reticent, he could talk remarkably well
when started. I had learned to practise a little stratagem in order to
draw him out. I used to begin a story and purposely bungle, so that, in
despair, he would take it up, and in rapid graphic sentences place the
whole scene before us. Afterwards he was commended for writing as he
talked, and making his descriptions of plains life “pen pictures.”

The general said to me that it was with difficulty he suppressed a
smile when his publisher remarked to him that his writing showed the
result of great care and painstaking. The truth was, he dashed off page
after page without copying or correcting. He had no dates or journal to
aid him, but trusted to his memory to take him back over a period of
sixteen years. I sat beside him while he wrote, and sometimes thought
him too intent on his work to notice my going away. He would follow
shortly, and declare that he would not write another line unless I
returned. This was an effectual threat, for he was constantly behind,
and even out there heard the cry for “copy” which the printer’s devil
is always represented as making. I never had anything to do with his
writing, except to be the prod which drove him to begin. He used to
tell me that on some near date he had promised an article, and would
ask me solemnly to declare to him that I would give him no peace until
he had prepared the material. In vain I replied that to accept the
position of “nag” and “torment” was far from desirable. He exacted the
promise.

When he was in the mood for writing, we used laughingly to refer to it
to each other as “genius burning.” At such times we printed on a card,
“this is my busy day,” and hung it on the door. It was my part to go
out and propitiate those who objected to the general shutting himself
up to work.

While my father lived, he used to ask me if I realized what an eventful
life I was leading, and never ceased to inquire in his letters if I was
keeping a journal. When the most interesting portions of our life were
passing, each day represented such a struggle on my part to endure the
fatigues and hardships that I had no energy left to write a line when
the evening came. My husband tried for years to incite me to write,
and besought me to make an attempt as I sat by him while he worked. I
greatly regret that I did not, for if I had I would not now be entirely
without notes or dates, and obliged to trust wholly to memory for
events of our life eleven years ago.

When my husband returned from the East in the spring of 1876 he had
hardly finished his greeting before he said, “Let me get a book that I
have been reading, and which I have marked for you.” While he sought
it in his travelling-bag I brought one to him, telling him that I had
underlined much of it for him, and though it was a novel, and he rarely
read novels, he must make this book an exception. What was our surprise
to find that we had selected the same story, and marked many of the
same passages! One sentiment which the general had enclosed with double
brackets in pencil, was a line spoken by the hero, who is an author. He
begs the heroine to write magazine articles, assuring her she can do
far better than he ever did.

Once, when on leave of absence, the general dined with an old officer,
whose high character and long experience made whatever he said of real
value. He congratulated my husband on his success as a writer, but
added, with a twinkle in his eye, “Custer, they say that your wife
wrote the magazine articles.” “If they say that,” replied my husband,
“they pay me the highest compliment that I could possibly receive.”
“Ah, well,” replied the generous friend, “whoever wrote them they
certainly reflect great credit on the family.” My husband wrote much,
but was not a voluble talker. As I have said, most of the entertaining
devolved upon me, and the fact that I often spoke of the scenes in his
“Life on the Plains” that we had shared together, must have been the
reason why some persons listening to the oft-repeated stories ascribed
the book to me.

As for my congratulations, the very highest meed of praise I could give
him was that he had not taken the opportunity offered in describing
his life in the book to defend himself against the unjust charges of
his enemies. I had found that they expected and dreaded it, for “the
pen is mightier than the sword,” and military people are quick to
realize it. My husband appreciated my having noticed what he studied to
avoid, though while I commended, I frankly owned I could not have been
equal to the task of resisting what could not but be a temptation to
retaliate.



CHAPTER XVI.

INDIAN DEPREDATIONS.


Long after the flowers were blooming in the States, the tardy spring
began to appear in the far North. The snow slowly melted, and the ice
commenced to thaw on the river. For a moment it would be a pleasure to
imagine the privilege of again walking out on the sod without peril
of freezing. The next instant the dread of the coming campaign, which
summer is almost certain to bring to a cavalry command, filled every
thought, and made me wish that our future life could be spent where
the thermometer not only went down to twenty degrees below zero but
remained there.

When I spied the first tiny blade of grass, I used to find myself
acting like a child and grinding the innocent green with my heel, back
from where it sprang. The first bunch of flowers that the soldiers
brought me, long before the ground had begun to take on even a faint
emerald tint, were a variety of anemone, a bit of blue set deep down
in a cup of outer petals of gray. These were so thick and fuzzy they
looked like a surrounding of gray blanket. And well the flowers needed
such protection on the bleak hills where they grew. They were a great
novelty, and I wanted to go and seek them myself, but my husband gave
me the strictest injunction in reply not to step outside the garrison
limits. We had received warning only a short time before that the
Indians had crawled out of their winter tepees, and we knew ourselves
to be so surrounded that it became necessary to station pickets on the
high ground at the rear of the post.

On the first mild day my husband and I rode over to the opposite bank
of the river, which was considered the safe side. Thinking ourselves
secure from danger there, we kept on further than we realized. A
magnificent black-tailed deer, startled by our voices and laughter, and
yet too well hidden by the underbrush to see us, resorted to a device
habitual with deer when they wish to see over an extent of country.
He made a leap straight into the air, his superb head turned to us
searchingly. He seemed hardly to touch the earth as he bounded away. It
was too great a temptation to resist. We did not follow far though, for
we had neither dogs nor gun.

Scarcely any time elapsed before an officer and a detachment of men
riding over the ground where we had started the deer, but obliged to
pursue their way further up the valley as they were on duty, came to a
horrible sight. The body of a white man was staked out on the ground
and disembowelled. There yet remained the embers of the smouldering
fire that consumed him. If the Indians are hurried for time, and cannot
stay to witness the prolonged torture of their victim, it is their
custom to pinion the captive and place hot coals on his vitals.

The horror and fright this gave us women lasted for a time, and
rendered unnecessary the continued warnings of our husbands about
walking outside the line of the pickets. Even with all the admonitions,
we began to grow desperate, and chafed under the imprisonment that
confined us to a little square of earth month in and month out. One day
temptation came suddenly upon us as three of us were loitering on the
outskirts of the post. The soldier who drove our travelling-wagon, the
imperturbable Burkman, came near. We cajoled him into letting us get
in and take ever so short a turn down the valley. Delighted to have
our freedom again, we wheedled the good-natured man to go a “little
and a little further.” At last even he, amiable as he was, refused
to be coaxed any longer, and he turned around. We realized then how
far away we were; but we were not so far that we could not plainly
discover a group of officers on the veranda at our quarters. They were
gesticulating wildly, and beckoning to us with all their might. As we
drove nearer we could almost see by a certain movement of the lower
jaw that the word being framed was one that seems to be used in all
climates for extreme cases of aggravation. They were all provoked, and
caught us out of the carriage and set us down, after a little salute,
for all the world like mothers I have seen who receive their children
from narrow escapes with alternate shakings and hugs. It seemed hard to
tell whether anger or delight predominated. In vain we made excuses,
when order was restored and we could all speak articulately. We were
then solemnly sworn, each one separately, never to do such a foolhardy
thing again.

The Government had made a special appropriation for rations to be
distributed, through the officers, to the suffering farmers throughout
Minnesota and Dakota whose crops had been destroyed by grasshoppers. As
we were on the side of the river with the warlike Indians, we knew of
but one ranch near us. It was owned by an old man who had been several
times to the general for assistance. He was a man of extraordinary
courage, for he had located his claim too far away from any one to
be able to obtain assistance if he needed it. He never left his home
except to bring into market the skins that he had trapped, or his
crops, when the season was profitable. He was so quaint and peculiar,
and so very grateful for the help given him, that my husband wanted
me to hear him express his thanks. The next time he came, the door
into our room was left open, in order that I might listen to what
otherwise he would have been too shy to utter. He blessed the general
in the most touching and solemn manner. The tears were in his eyes,
and answering ones rose in my husband’s, for no old person failed to
appeal to his sympathies and recall his own aged parents. Referring to
some domestic troubles that he had previously confided to the general,
he spoke of their having driven him beyond the pale of civilization
when he was old and feeble, and compelled him to take his “dinner of
herbs” in a deserted spot. At this point in his narrative the door was
significantly shut, and I was thus made aware that the gratitude part
was all that I was to be permitted to hear. My husband considered his
confidence sacred. We knew that the old man lived a hermit’s life,
entirely alone the year through. In the blizzards he could not leave
his door-step without being in danger of freezing to death. Some time
after this a scout brought word that during the spring he had passed
the ranch, and nothing was to be seen of the old man. The general
suspected something wrong, and took a company himself to go to the
place. He found that the Indians had been there, had dismantled and
robbed the house, driven off the cattle and horses, and strewn the road
with plunder. On the stable floor lay the body of the harmless old man,
his silvery hair lying in a pool of blood, where he had been beaten to
death. They were obliged to return and leave his death unavenged, for
by the time the first news reached us the murderers were far away.



CHAPTER XVII.

A DAY OF ANXIETY AND TERROR.


When the air became milder it was a delight, after our long housing,
to be able to dawdle on the piazza. The valley below us was beginning
to show a tinge of verdure. Several hundred mules belonging to the
supply-wagon train dotted the turf and nibbled as best they could the
sprouting grass. Half a dozen citizens lounged on the sod, sleepily
guarding the herd, for these mules were hired by the Government from a
contractor. One morning we were walking back and forth, looking, as we
never tired of doing, down the long, level plain, when we were startled
by shouts. We ran to the edge of the piazza, and saw the prisoners,
who had been working outside the post, and the guard who had them in
charge, coming in at a double-quick. A hatless and breathless herder
dashed up to the officer on an unsaddled mule. With blanched face and
protruding eyeballs he called out that the Indians were running off the
herd.

The general came hastily out, just in time to see a cloud of dust
rising through a gap in the bluffs, marking the direction taken by
the stampeded mules. Instantly he shouted with his clear voice to the
bugler to sound the call, “Boots and saddles,” and keep it up until he
told him to stop. The first notes of the trumpet had hardly sounded
before the porches of the company quarters and the parade were alive
with men. Every one, without stopping to question, rushed from the
barracks and officers’ quarters to the stables. The men threw their
saddles on their horses and galloped out to the parade-ground. Soldiers
who were solely on garrison duty, and to whom no horse was assigned,
stole whatever ones they could find, even those of the messengers tied
to the hitching-posts. Others vaulted on to mules barebacked. Some
were in jackets, others in their flannel shirt-sleeves. Many were
hatless, and occasionally a head was tied up with a handkerchief. It
was anything but a military-looking crowd, but every one was ready for
action, and such spirited-looking creatures it is rarely one’s lot to
see. Finding the reason for the hasty summons when they all gathered
together, they could hardly brook even a few moments’ delay.

The general did not tarry to give any but brief directions. He detailed
an officer to remain in charge of the garrison, and left him some
hurried instructions. He stopped to caution me again not to go outside
the post, and with a hasty good-bye flung himself into the saddle and
was off. The command spurred their horses towards the opening in the
bluff, not a quarter of a mile away, through which the last mules
had passed. In twenty minutes from the first alarm the garrison was
emptied, and we women stood watching the cloud of dust that the hoofs
of the regimental horses had stirred as they hurled themselves through
the cleft in the hills.

We had hardly collected our senses before we found that we were almost
deserted. As a rule, there are enough soldiers on garrison duty, who
do not go on scouts, to protect the post, but in the mad haste of
the morning, and impelled by indignant fury at having the herd swept
away from under their very noses as it were, all this home-guard had
precipitately left without permission. Fortunately for them, and his
own peace of mind regarding our safety, the general did not know of
this until he returned. Besides, the officers never dreamed the pursuit
would last for more than a mile or so, as they had been so quick in
preparing to follow.

After our gasping and wild heart-beating had subsided a little, we
realized that, in addition to our anxiety for those who had just left
us, we were in peril ourselves. The women, with one instinct, gathered
together. Though Indians rarely attack a post directly, the pickets
that were stationed on the low hills at the rear of the garrison had
been fired upon previously. We also feared that the buildings would be
set on fire by the wily, creeping savages. It was even thought that
the running off of the herd was but a ruse to get the garrison out, in
order to attack the post. Of course we knew that only a portion of the
Indians had produced the stampede, and we feared that the remainder
were waiting to continue the depredations, and were aware of our
depleted numbers.

Huddled together in an inner room, we first tried to devise schemes for
secreting ourselves. The hastily-built quarters had then no cellars.
How we regretted that a cave had not been prepared in the hill back
of us for hiding the women in emergencies. Our means of escape by the
river were uncertain, as the ferry-boat was in a shocking condition;
besides, the citizens in charge would very naturally detain the boat
upon some pretext on the safe side of the river. Finally, nervous and
trembling over these conferences, we returned to the piazza, and tried
to think that it was time for the return of the regiment. Our house
being the last in the line, and commanding an extended view of the
valley, we kept our lookout there. Each of us took turns in mounting
the porch railing, and, held there in place by the others, fixed the
field-glass on the little spot of earth through which the command had
vanished. With a plaintive little laugh, one of our number called
out the inquiry that has symbolized all beleaguered women from time
immemorial, “Sister Anne, do you see any one coming?”

All of us scanned the horizon unflaggingly. We knew the Indian mode
of taking observation. They pile a few stones on the brow of the hill
after dark; before dawn they creep up stealthily from the farther
side, and hiding behind the slight protection, watch all day long with
unwearying patience. These little picket posts of theirs were scattered
all along the bluffs. We scarcely allowed ourselves to take our eyes
off them. Once in a while one of our group on watch called out that
something was moving behind the rocks. Chairs were brought out and
placed beside her, in order that a second pair of eyes might confirm
the statement. This threw our little shivering group into new panics.

There was a window in the servants’ room at the rear of the house, to
and from which we ascended and descended all day long. I do not think
the actual fear of death was thought of so much as the all-absorbing
terror of capture. Our regiment had rescued some white women from
captivity in Kansas, and we never forgot their stories. One of our
number became so convinced that their fate awaited us, that she called
a resolute woman one side to implore her to promise that, when the
Indians came into the post, she would put a bullet through her heart,
before she carried out her determination to shoot herself. We sincerely
discussed whether, in extreme danger, we could be counted upon to load
and fire a carbine.

It would be expected that army women would know a great deal about
fire-arms; I knew but few who did. I never even went into the corner
of my husband’s library, where he kept his stand of unloaded arms,
if I could help it. I am compelled to confess that the holster of a
pistol gave me a shiver. One of our ladies, however, had a little of
the Mollie Pitcher spirit. She had shot at a mark, and she promised
to teach us to put in the cartridges and discharge the piece. We were
filled with envy because she produced a tiny Remington pistol that
heretofore she had carried in her pocket when travelling in the States.
It was not much larger than a lead-pencil, and we could not help
doubting its power to damage. She did not insist that it would kill,
but even at such a time we had to laugh at the vehement manner in which
she declared that she could disable the leg of an enemy. She seemed to
think that sufficient pluck would be left to finish him afterwards.
The officer who had remained in command was obliged to see that the
few troopers left were armed, and afterwards he visited the pickets.
Then he came to us and tried to quiet our fears, and from that time his
life became a burden.

We questioned twenty times his idea as to _where_ he thought the
command had gone, _when_ it would come back, and such other aimless
queries as only the ingenuity of frightened women can devise. He was
driven almost desperate. In assuring us that he hoped there was no
immediate danger, he asked us to remember that the infantry post was
near enough to give assistance if we needed it. Alas, that post seemed
miles away, and we believed the gulleys that intervened between the two
garrisons would be filled with Indians. After a prolonged season of
this experience, the officer tried to escape and go to his quarters. We
were really so anxious and alarmed that he had not the heart to resist
our appeals to him to remain near.

And so that long day dragged away. About five o’clock in the afternoon
a faint haze arose on the horizon. We could hardly restrain our
uneasy feet. We wanted to run up over the bluff to discover what it
meant. We regretted that we had given our word of honor that we would
not leave the limits of the post. Soon after the mules appeared,
travelling wearily back through the same opening in the bluffs through
which so many hours before they had rushed headlong. We were bitterly
disappointed to find only a few soldiers driving them, and they gave
but little news. When the regiment overtook the stock these men had
been detailed to return with the recaptured animals to the garrison;
the command had pushed on in pursuit of the Indians.

The night set in, and still we were in suspense. We made a poor attempt
to eat dinner; we knew that none of the regiment had taken rations with
them, and several of the officers had not even breakfasted. There was
nothing for us to do but to remain together for the night.

From this miserable frame of mind we were thrown into a new excitement,
but fortunately not of fear: we heard the sound of the band ringing out
on the still evening air. Every woman was instantly on the piazza. From
an entirely different direction from that in which they had left, the
regiment appeared, marching to the familiar notes of “Garryowen.”

Such a welcome as met them! The relief from the anxiety of that
unending day was inexpressible. When the regiment was nearing the post,
the general had sent in an orderly to bring the band out to meet them.
He cautioned him to secrecy, because he wished us to have a joyous
release from the suspense he knew we had endured.

The regiment had ridden twenty miles out, as hard as the speed of the
horses would allow. The general, and one other officer mounted like
himself on a Kentucky thorough-bred, found themselves far in advance,
and almost up to some of the Indians. They seeing themselves so closely
pressed, resorted to the cunning of their race to escape. They threw
themselves from their ponies, and plunged into the underbrush of a
deep ravine where no horse could follow. The ponies were captured, but
it was useless to try any further pursuit. All the horses were fagged,
and the officers and men suffering from the want of food and water.

When the herders were questioned next day, it was found that the
Indians had started the stampede by riding suddenly up from the river
where they had been concealed. Uttering the wildest yells, they each
swung a buffalo robe about the ears of the easily excited mules.

An astonishing collection of maimed and halt appeared the next morning;
neither men nor officers had been in the saddle during the winter.
This sudden ride of so many miles, without preparation, had so bruised
and stiffened their joints and flesh that they could scarcely move
naturally. When they sat down it was with the groans of old men. When
they rose they declared they would stand perpetually until they were
again limber and their injuries healed.

As to the officer who had been left behind, he insisted that their fate
was infinitely preferable to his. We heard that he said to the others
in confidence, that should he ever be detailed to command a garrison
where agitated women were left, he would protest and beg for active
duty, no matter if his life itself were in jeopardy.



CHAPTER XVIII.

IMPROVEMENTS AT THE POST, AND GARDENING.


The general began, as soon as the snow was off the ground, to improve
the post. Young cotton-wood trees--the only variety that would grow
in that soil--were transplanted from the river bank. They are so full
of sap that I have seen the leaves come out on the logs that had been
cut some time and were in use as the framework of our camp-huts. This
vitality, even when the roots were dying, deceived us into building
hopes that all the trees we planted would live. We soon found by
experience, however, that it was not safe to regard a few new leaves
as a sure augury of the long life of these trees. It would have been
difficult to estimate how many barrels of water were poured around
their roots during the summer. A few of them survived, even during the
dry season, and we watched them with great interest.

One day my husband called me to the door, with a warning finger to come
softly. He whispered to me to observe a bird perched on a branch, and
trying to get under the shade of two or three tiny leaflets that were
struggling to live. Such a harbinger of hope made us full of bright
anticipations of the day when our trees would cast a broad shadow.

No one who has not experienced it can dream what it is to live so many
years in a glare as we did. Many of the officers were almost blind
from time to time, owing to the reflection of the sand over which they
marched, and with which they were surrounded in camp and garrison. I
once asked a friend who had crossed the plains several times, what she
would prefer above everything else on the march. When she replied,
“a tree,” I agreed with her that nothing else could have been such a
blessing.

My husband felt that any amount of care spent on the poor little
saplings would be labor well bestowed. If we were ordered away, he knew
that others coming after us, stationed in that dreary waste, would
derive the benefit. Several years afterwards I was assured that some
one was reaping his sowing, for a large leaf was enclosed to me in an
envelope, and a word added to explain that it was from the tree in
front of our quarters.

On the opposite side of the Missouri River, except for the scattered
underbrush along the banks, there was a stretch of country for eighty
miles eastward without a tree, and with hardly a bush. The only one I
knew of, on our side of the river, I could not help calling a genuine
ancestral tree. It was a burying-place for the Indians. We counted
seventeen of them that were lashed to boards and laid across the main
branches, and there securely fastened, so that a tornado could not
dislodge them. Much as we longed to enjoy what had become by its rarity
a novelty, the sitting under the shade of green trees, and hearing the
sound of the wind through the foliage, not one of us could be induced
to tarry under those sepulchral boughs.

The struggles to make the grass grow on the sandy parade-ground were
unceasing. Not only would it have been an improvement to the post, in
its general appearance, but it would certainly have added materially
to our comfort. How we longed to escape from the clouds of dust that
the unceasing wind took up in straight whirling eddies and then wafted
in great sheets of murky yellow into our doors and windows, making
our eyes smart and throats raw and parched, as alkali sand can do so
effectually.

The general sent East for grass-seed, which, with oats, were sown over
and over again. Our referee on all agricultural questions assured us
that the oats sprouted so soon, the oncoming blades of grass would be
protected. He was so enthusiastically in earnest that he seemed to be
studying the soil at all hours of the day to detect a verdant tinge.

One moonlight night we were attracted to the gallery by seeing
him stalking slowly back and forth, waving his arms in apparent
gesticulation of speech as he traversed the length of the
parade-ground. Some said, in explanation, that the moon was at that
stage when reason totters on her throne most readily; another declared
that, having become tired of the career of a Mars, he had resumed his
old rôle as a statesman, and was practising, addressing his imaginary
constituents. All were wrong. The faithful promoter of the general
good was sowing oats again, doubtless hoping that the witchery of the
moonlight would be a potent spell to induce their growth. Even after
such indefatigable efforts, the soil refused to encourage the sprouting
of more than occasional patches of pallid green.

A portion of ground near the river was assigned the companies for their
gardens, and there were enough soldiers looking forward to the result
who counted it no hardship to plant, dig, and weed. All this tilling
of the soil inspired our energies, and a corner of our own yard was
prepared. A high fence was put up so that the stag-hounds, which make
such incredible leaps, could not scale the enclosure. The household
even gathered about the general to see him drop the seed, so full of
interest were we all. Long before it was time to look for sprouting, we
made daily pilgrimages to the corner and peered through the fence.

The general, Colonel Tom, and I watered, weeded, and watched the little
bit of earth; the cook and house-maid took our places and resumed our
work when we ceased. Never was a patch of _terra firma_ so guarded and
cared for! At last Mary became impatient, and even turned the tiny
sprouts upside down, putting the plants back after examining the roots.
Her watch was more vigilant than ours, and she actually surprised the
general one morning by putting beside him a glass of radishes. It was
really a sensation in our lives to have raised them ourselves, and we
could not help recalling the pitiful statement of a dear friend, who
also belonged to a mounted regiment, that she had planted gardens for
twelve successive springs, but had never been stationed long enough in
one place to reap the benefit of a single attempt. Of course, being
naturally so sanguine as a family, we began in imagination almost
to taste the oncoming beets, turnips, etc. We reckoned too hastily,
however, for a perfect army of grasshoppers appeared one day. They came
in swarms, and when we looked up at the sun we seemed to be gazing
through clouded air. Absorbed in this curious sight we forgot our
precious garden; but Colonel Tom remembered, and insisted upon trying
an experiment recommended in print by a Minnesota farmer. Seizing some
tins from the kitchen, and followed by the servants and their mistress,
all armed in the same manner, we adopted the advice of the newspaper
paragraph, and beat the metal with perfectly deafening noise around the
small enclosure. Had grasshoppers been sensitive to sound, it would
have ended in our triumph. As it was, they went on peacefully and
stubbornly, eating every twig in our sight. Having finished everything,
they soared away, carrying on their departing wings our dreams of
radishes and young beets! The company gardens were demolished in the
same manner, and every one returned for another year to the tiresome
diet of canned vegetables.

I remember the look of amazement that came into the face of a luxurious
citizen when I told him that we gave a dinner at once if we had the
good-fortune to get anything rare. “And, pray, what did you call a
rarity?” he responded. I was obliged to own that over a plebeian
cabbage we have had a real feast. Once in a great while one was
reluctantly sold us in Bismarck for a dollar and a half.

We used condensed milk, and as for eggs, they were the greatest of
luxuries. In the autumn we brought from St. Paul several cases, but
five hundred miles of jostling made great havoc with them.

The receipt-books were exasperating. They invariably called for cream
and fresh eggs, and made the cook furious. It seemed to me that some
officer’s servant on the frontier must have given the receipt for
waffles, for it bears the indefinite tone of the darky: “Eggs just as
you haz ’em, honey; a sprinklin’ of flour as you can hold in your hand;
milk! well, ‘cordin’ to what you has.”

The crystallized eggs, put up in cans and being airtight, kept a long
time, and were of more use to us than any invention of the day. In
drying the egg, the yolks and whites were mixed together, and nothing
could be made of this preparation when the two parts were required to
be used separately. It made very good batter-cakes, however, and at
first it seemed that we could never get enough.

In the spring, when it was no longer safe to hunt, we had to return
to beef, as we had no other kind of meat. My husband never seemed to
tire of it, however, and suggested to one of our friends who had the
hackneyed motto in his dining-room, that she change it to “Give us this
day our daily beef.”

Once only, in all those years of frontier life, I had strawberries.
They were brought to me as a present from St. Paul. The day they
came there were, as usual, a number of our friends on the piazza. I
carefully counted noses first, and hastily went in before any one else
should come, to divide the small supply into infinitesimal portions.
I sent the tray out by the maid, and was delayed a moment before
following her. My husband stepped inside, his face as pleased as a
child over the surprise, but at the same time his eyes hastily scanning
the buttery shelves for more berries. When I found that in that brief
delay another officer had come upon the porch, and that the general
had given him his dish, I was greatly disappointed. In vain my husband
assured me, in response to my unanswerable appeal, asking him why he
had not kept them himself, that it was hardly his idea of hospitality.
I was only conscious of the fact that having been denied them all these
years, he had, after all, lost his only strawberry feast.

This doubtless seems like a very trifling circumstance to chronicle,
and much less to have grieved over, but there are those who, having
ventured “eight miles from a lemon,” have gained some faint idea what
temporary deprivations are.

When such a life goes on year after year, and one forgets even the
taste of fruit and fresh vegetables, it becomes an event when they _do_
appear.



CHAPTER XIX.

GENERAL CUSTER’S LIBRARY.


The order came early in the season to rebuild our burned quarters, and
the suggestion was made that the general should plan the interior. He
was wholly taken up with the arrangement of the rooms, in order that
they might be suitable for the entertainment of the garrison. Though he
did not enter into all the post gayety, he realized that ours would be
the only house large enough for the accommodation of all the garrison,
and that it should belong to every one. It was a pleasure to watch the
progress of the building, and when the quartermaster gave the order for
a bay-window, to please me, I was really grateful. The window not only
broke the long line of the parlor wall, but varied the severe outlines
of the usual type of army quarters.

On one side of the hall was the general’s library, our room and
dressing-room. The parlor was opposite, and was thirty-two feet in
length. It opened with sliding-doors into the dining-room, and still
beyond was the kitchen. Up-stairs there was a long room for the
billiard-table, and we had sleeping-rooms and servant-rooms besides.
To our delight, we could find a place for everybody. Space was about
all we had, however; there was not a modern improvement. The walls were
unpapered, and not even tinted; the windows went up with a struggle,
and were held open by wooden props. Each room had an old-fashioned
box-stove, such as our grandfathers gathered round in country
school-houses. We had no well or cistern, and not even a drain, while
the sun poured in, unchecked by a blind of even primitive shape. It
was a palace, however, compared with what we had been accustomed to in
other stations, and I know we were too contented to give much thought
to what the house lacked.

My husband was enchanted to have a room entirely for his own use. Our
quarters had heretofore been too small for him to have any privacy
in his work. He was like a rook, in the sly manner in which he made
raids on the furniture scattered through the rooms, and carried off
the best of everything to enrich his corner of the house. He filled
it with the trophies of the chase. Over the mantel a buffalo’s head
plunged, seemingly, out of the wall. (Buffaloes were rare in Dakota,
but this was one the general had killed from the only herd he had seen
on the campaign.) The head of the first grisly that he had shot, with
its open jaws and great fang-like teeth, looked fiercely down on the
pretty, meek-faced jack-rabbits on the mantel. (My husband greatly
valued the bear’s head, and in writing to me of his hunting had said
of it: “I have reached the height of a hunter’s fame--I have killed
a grisly.”) Several antelope heads were also on the walls. One had
a mark in the throat where the general had shot him at a distance
of six hundred yards. The head of a beautiful black-tailed deer was
another souvenir of a hunt the general had made with Bloody Knife, the
favorite Indian scout. When they sighted the deer they agreed to fire
together, the Indian selecting the head, the general taking the heart.
They fired simultaneously, and the deer fell, the bullets entering head
and heart. The scout could not repress a grunt of approval, as the
Indian considers the white man greatly his inferior as a hunter or a
marksman. A sand-hill crane, which is very hard to bring down, stood on
a pedestal by itself. A mountain eagle, a yellow fox, and a tiny fox
with a brush--called out there a swift--were disposed of in different
corners. Over his desk, claiming a perch by itself on a pair of
deer-antlers, was a great white owl. On the floor before the fireplace,
where he carried his love for building fires so far as to put on the
logs himself, was spread the immense skin of a grisly bear. On a wide
lounge at one side of the room my husband used to throw himself down on
the cover of a Mexican blanket, often with a dog for his pillow. The
camp-chairs had the skins of beavers and American lions thrown over
them. A stand for arms in one corner held a collection of pistols,
hunting-knives, Winchester and Springfield rifles, shot-guns and
carbines, and even an old flint-lock musket as a variety. From antlers
above hung sabres, spurs, riding-whips, gloves and caps, field-glasses,
the map-case, and the great compass used on marches. One of the sabres
was remarkably large, and when it was given to the general during the
war it was accompanied by the remark that there was doubtless no other
arm in the service that could wield it. (My husband was next to the
strongest man while at West Point, and his life after that had only
increased his power.) The sabre was a Damascus blade, and made of such
finely-tempered steel that it could be bent nearly double. It had been
captured during the war, and looked as if it might have been handed
down from some Spanish ancestor. On the blade was engraved a motto in
that high-flown language, which ran:

    “Do not draw me without cause;
     Do not sheathe me without honor.”

Large photographs of the men my husband loved kept him company on
the walls; they were of General McClellan, General Sheridan, and Mr.
Lawrence Barrett. Over his desk was a picture of his wife in bridal
dress. Comparatively modern art was represented by two of the Rogers
statuettes that we had carried about with us for years. Transportation
for necessary household articles was often so limited it was sometimes
a question whether anything that was not absolutely needed for the
preservation of life should be taken with us; but our attachment for
those little figures, and the associations connected with them, made
us study out a way always to carry them. At the end of each journey
we unboxed them ourselves, and sifted the sawdust through our fingers
carefully, for the figures were invariably dismembered. My husband’s
first occupation was to hang the few pictures and mend the statuettes.
He glued on the broken portions and moulded putty in the crevices where
the biscuit had crumbled. Sometimes he had to replace a bit that was
lost, and, as he was very fond of modelling, I rather imagined that he
was glad of an opportunity to practise on our broken statuettes.

My husband, like many other men who achieve success in the graver walks
of life, could go on and accomplish his ends without being dependent
on the immediate voice of approval. In all the smaller, more trifling
acts of daily life he asked for a prompt acknowledgment. It amused
me greatly, it was so like a woman, who can scarcely exist without
encouragement. When he had reset an arm or modelled a cap I could quite
honestly praise his work.

On one occasion we found the head of a figure entirely severed from
the trunk. Nothing daunted, he fell to patching it up again. I had not
the conscience to promise him the future of a Thorwaldsen this time.
The distorted throat, made of unwieldy putty, gave the formerly erect,
soldierly neck a decided appearance of goitre. My laughter discouraged
the impromptu artist, who for one moment felt that a “restoration”
is not quite equal to the original. He declared that he would put a
coat of gray paint over all, so that in a dim corner they might pass
for new. I insisted that it should be a very dark corner! Both of the
statuettes represented scenes from the war. One was called “Wounded
to the Rear,” the other, “Letter Day.” The latter was the figure of a
soldier sitting in a cramped, bent position, holding an inkstand in
one hand and scratching his head for thoughts, with the pen. The inane
poise of his chin as he looked up into the uninspiring air, and the
hopeless expression of his eyes as he searched for ideas, showed how
unusual to him were all efforts at composition.

We had a witty friend who had served with my husband during the war.
Many an evening in front of our open fire they fought over their old
battles together. He used to look at the statuette quizzically, as
he seated himself near the hearth, and once told us that he never
saw it without being reminded of his own struggles during the war to
write to his wife. She was Southern in sympathies as well as in birth,
but too absolutely devoted to her husband to remain at her Southern
home. When he wrote to her at the North, where she was staying, it
was quite to be understood that there was a limit to topics between
them, as they kept strictly to subjects that were foreign to the vexed
question. To the army in the field, the all-absorbing thought was of
the actual occurrences of the day. The past was for the time blotted
out; the future had no personal plans in the hearts of men who fought
as our heroes did. And so it came to pass that the letters between
the two, with such diversity of sentiment regarding the contest, were
apt to be short and solely personal. How the eyes of that bright man
twinkled when he said, “I used to look just like that man in the Rogers
statuette, when I was racking my brains to fill up the sheet of paper.
My orders carried me constantly through the country where my wife’s
kin lived. Why, Custer, old man, I could not write to her and say, ‘I
have cut the canal in the Shenandoah Valley and ruined your mother’s
plantation;’ or, ‘Yesterday I drove off all your brother’s stock to
feed our army.’ Of course one can’t talk sentiment on _every_ line, and
so I sometimes sent off a mighty short epistle.”

We often lounged about my husband’s room at dusk without a lamp. The
firelight reflected the large glittering eyes of the animals’ heads,
and except that we were such a jolly family, the surroundings would
have suggested arenas and martyrs. I used to think that a man on the
brink of _mania a potu_, thrust suddenly into such a place in the dim
flickering light, would be hurried to his doom by fright. We loved the
place dearly. The great difficulty was that the general would bury
himself too much, in the delight of having a castle as securely barred
as if the entrance were by a portcullis.

When he had worked too long and steadily I opened the doors, determined
that his room should not resemble that of Walter Scott. An old
engraving represents a room in which but one chair is significantly
placed. In our plans for a home in our old age we included a den for
my husband at the top of the house. We had read somewhere of one like
that ascribed to Victor Hugo. The room was said not even to have a
staircase, but was entered by a ladder which the owner could draw up
the aperture after him.



CHAPTER XX.

THE SUMMER OF THE BLACK HILLS EXPEDITION.


I used to be thankful that ours was a mounted regiment on one account:
if we had belonged to the infantry, the regiment would have been
sent out much sooner. The horses were too valuable to have their
lives endangered by encountering a blizzard, while it was believed
that an enlisted man had enough pluck and endurance to bring him out
of a storm in one way or another. Tardy as the spring was up there,
the grass began at last to be suitable for grazing, and preparations
for an expedition to the Black Hills were being carried on. I had
found accidentally that my husband was fitting up an ambulance for
travelling, and as he never rode in one himself, nor arranged to take
one for his own comfort, I decided at once that he was planning to
take me with him. Mary and I had lived in such close quarters that she
counted on going also, and went to the general to petition. To keep her
from knowing that he intended to take us, he argued that we could not
get along with so little room; that there was only to be allowed half
a wagon for the camp outfit of the head-quarters mess. “You dun’ know
better’n that, giniral?” she replied; “me and Miss Libbie could keep
house in a flour-barr’l.”

At the very last, news came through Indian scouts that the summer might
be full of danger, and my heart was almost broken at finding that the
general did not dare to take me with him. Whatever peril might be
awaiting me on the expedition, nothing could be equal to the suffering
of suspense at home.

The black hour came again, and with it the terrible parting which
seemed a foreshadowing of the most intense anguish that our Heavenly
Father can send to his children. When I resumed my life, and tried to
portion off the day with occupations, in order that the time should
fly faster, I found that the one silver thread running through the
dark woof of the dragging hours was the hope of the letters we were
promised. Scouts were to be sent back four times during the absence of
the regiment.

The infantry came to garrison our post. In the event of attack, my
husband left a Gatling gun on the hills at the rear of the camp. It is
a small cannon, which is discharged by turning a crank that scatters
the shot in all directions, and is especially serviceable at short
range. A detachment of soldiers was stationed on the bluff back of us,
that commanded the most extended view of the country. The voice of the
sentinel calling, at regular intervals during the night, “All’s well,”
often closed our anxious eyes. Out there one slept lightly, and any
unusual noise was attributed to an attack on our pickets, and caused us
many a wakeful hour. With what relief we looked up daily to the little
group of tents, when we finally realized that we were alone.

The officer who commanded this little station was an old bachelor who
did not believe in marriage in the army. Not knowing this, we told
him, with some enthusiasm, how safe and thankful we felt in having
him for our defender. He quite checked our enthusiasm by replying,
briefly, “that in case of attack, _his duty_ was to protect Government
_property_; the defence of _women_ came _last_.” This was the first
instance I had ever known of an officer who did not believe a woman was
God’s best gift to man.

We were not effectually suppressed, for the only safe place in which
we could walk was along the beat of the sentry, on the brow of the
hill, near the tent of this zoological specimen. Here we resorted every
evening at twilight to try and get cool, for the sun burns fiercely
during the short Northern summer. With the hot weather the mosquito
war began--Fort Lincoln was celebrated as the worst place in the
United States for these pests. The inundations recurring each spring
opposite us, brought later in the year myriads of the insects; those I
had known on the Red River of the South were nothing in comparison. If
the wind was in a certain direction, they tormented us all day long. I
can see now how we women looked, taking our evening stroll: a little
procession of fluttering females, with scarfs and over-dresses drawn
over our heads, whisking handkerchiefs and beating the air with fans.
It required constant activity to keep off the swarms of those wretched
little insects that annoyed us every moment during our airing. In the
evening we became almost desperate. It seemed very hard, after our long
winter’s imprisonment, to miss a single hour out-of-doors during the
short summer.

We had petitioned, that in the rebuilding of our house the piazza
around it should be made wide, like those we enjoyed in the South. On
this delightful gallery we assembled every evening. We were obliged
to make special toilets for our protection, and they were far from
picturesque or becoming. Some one discovered that wrapping newspapers
around our ankles and feet, and drawing the stocking over, would
protect down to the slipper; then, after tucking our skirts closely
around us, we fixed ourselves in a chair, not daring to move.

One night a strange officer came to see us, and taking his place among
the group of huddled-up women, he tried not to smile. I discovered him
taking in my _tout ensemble_, however, and realized myself what an
incongruity I was on that lovely gallery and in the broad moonlight.
I had adopted a head-net: they are little tarlatan bags, gathered at
one end and just large enough to slip over the head; rattans are run
round these to prevent their touching the face--they look like dolls’
crinolines, and would make a seraph seem ugly. In desperation I had
added a waterproof cloak, buckskin gauntlets, and forgot to hide under
my gown the tips of the general’s riding-boots! Tucked up like a mummy,
I was something at which no one could resist laughing. The stranger
beat off the mosquitoes until there lay on the floor before him a black
semi-circle of those he had slain. He acknowledged later that all
vanity regarding personal appearance would be apt to disappear before
the attacks to which we were subjected. We fought in succession five
varieties of mosquitoes; the last that came were the most vicious.
They were so small they slid easily through the ordinary bar, and we
had to put an inside layer of tarlatan on doors and windows. We did
not venture to light a lamp in the evening, and at five o’clock the
netting was let down over the beds, and doors and windows closed. When
it came time to retire we removed our garments in another room, and
grew skilful in making sudden sallies into the sleeping-room and quick
plunges under the bar.

The cattle and horses suffered pitiably during the reign of the
mosquitoes. They used to push their way into the underbrush to try if
a thicket would afford them protection; if a fire were lighted for
their relief, they huddled together on the side towards which the wind
blew the smoke. As it was down by the river, they were worse off than
ever. The cattle grew thin, for there were days when it was impossible
for them to graze. We knew of their being driven mad and dying of
exhaustion after a long season of torment. The poor dogs dug deep holes
in the side of the hills, where they half smothered in their attempt to
escape.

The Missouri River at the point where we had to cross sometimes
represented a lifetime of terror to me. We were occasionally compelled
to go to the town of Bismarck, four miles back on the other side.
I could not escape the journey, for it was the termination of the
railroad, and officers and their families coming from the East were
often detained there; while waiting for the steamer to take them to
their posts they were compelled to stay in the untidy, uncomfortable
little hotel. If I sent for them they declined to come to us, fearing
they might make extra trouble; if I went for them in the post
ambulance, I rarely made a fruitless errand. Even when elated with the
prospect of a little outing at St. Paul, I so dreaded that terrible
river that we must cross going and coming, it almost destroyed my
pleasure for a time. The current was so swift that it was almost
impossible for the strongest swimmer to save himself if once he fell
in: the mud settled on him instantly, clogged his movements, and bore
him under. Some of the soldiers had been drowned in attempting to
cross, in frail, insecure skiffs, to the drinking-huts opposite. As I
looked into this roaring torrent, whose current rushes on at the rate
of six miles an hour, I rarely failed to picture to myself the upturned
faces of these lost men.

The river is very crooked, and full of sand-bars, the channel changing
every year. The banks are so honeycombed by the force of the water that
great portions are constantly caving in. They used to fall with a loud
thud into the river, seeming to unsettle the very foundations of the
earth. In consequence, it was hard work for the ferry-boat to make a
landing, and more difficult to keep tied up, when once there.

The boat we were obliged to use was owned by some citizens who had
contracted with the Government to do the work at that point. In
honor of its new duty they renamed it _The Union_. The Western word
“ram-shackly” described it. It was too large and unwieldy for the
purpose, and it had been condemned as unsafe farther down the river,
where citizens value life more highly. The wheezing and groaning of the
old machinery told plainly how great an effort it was to propel the
boat at all. The road down to the plank was so steep, cut deep into the
bank as it was, that even with the brakes on, the ambulance seemed to
be turning a somersault over the four mules. They kicked and struggled,
and opposed going on the boat at all. We struck suddenly at the foot of
the incline, with a thump that threw us off the seat of the ambulance.
The “hi-yis” of the driver, the creak of the iron brake, and the
expressive remarks of the boatman in malediction upon the mules, made
it all seem like a descent into Hades, and the river Styx an enviable
river in contrast. The ambulance was placed on deck, where we could see
the patched boiler, and through the chinks and seams of the furnaces we
watched the fire, expecting an explosion momentarily.

After we were once out in the channel the real trouble began. I never
knew, when I started for Bismarck, whether we would not land at
Yankton, five hundred miles below. The wheel often refused to revolve
more than half-way, the boat would turn about, and we would shoot
down the river at a mad rate. I used to receive elaborate nautical
explanations from the confused old captain why that happened. My
intellect was slow to take in any other thought than the terrifying
one--that he had lost control of the boat. I never felt tranquil, even
when the difficulty was righted, until I set my foot on the shore,
though the ground itself was insecure from being honeycombed by the
current. The captain doubtless heard my pæan of thanks when I turned
my back on his old craft, for once afterwards I received from him a
crumpled, soiled letter, with curious spelling and cramped hand, in
which he addressed me as “highly honored lady,” and in lofty-sounding
terms proceeded to praise his boat, assuring me that if I would deign
to confer on him the honor of my presence, he would prove it to be
quite safe, and as “peert” a steamer as sailed. With a great flourish,
he ended, “for _The Union_ must and shall be preserved,” and signed
himself my most humble admirer.

We were told, when the expedition started, that we might expect our
first letters in two weeks. The mail was delayed, unfortunately, and
each day after the fortnight had expired seemed a month. In spite of
all my efforts to be busy, there was little heart in any occupation.
The women met together every day and read aloud in turn. Every one set
to work to make a present for the absent ones with which to surprise
them on their return. We played croquet. This was tame sport, however,
for no one dared to vary the humdrum diversion by a brisk little
quarrel, which is the usual accompaniment of that game. We feared to
disagree even over trifles, for if we did it might end in our losing
our only companionship.

We knew that we could not expect, in that climate, that the freshness
of summer would last for more than a short time after the sun had come
to its supremest in the way of heat. The drouth was unbroken; the
dews were hardly perceptible. That year even our brief enjoyment of
the verdure was cut short. A sirocco came up suddenly. The sky became
copper-colored, and the air murky and stifling; the slightest touch
of metal, or even the door-handles, almost blistered the fingers.
The strong wind that blew seemed to shrivel the skin as it touched
us. The grass was burned down into the roots, and we had no more of
it that season. This wind lasted for two hours, and we could not keep
back apprehensions at the strange occurrence. After that, during the
summer, as we walked over the little space allowed us, our shoes were
cut by the crisp brown stubble, and the sod was dry and unyielding
under our feet. As far as we could see, the scorched earth sent up
over its surface floating waves of heated atmosphere. No green thing
was left. The only flowers that had not been scorched out of existence
were the soap plants, which have a sword-like stalk, out of which grow
the thick, creamy petals of its flower. The roots that extend for
many feet in all directions near the surface of the soil, enable it
to secure moisture sufficient to keep it alive. The only other flower
was the blue-bell, which dotted a hill where we were accustomed to
climb in order to command a better view of the country in our efforts
to discover the scouts with the mail. One can scarcely imagine how
hungrily we gazed at those little blossoms. They swung lightly on their
cunningly fashioned stems, that swayed and tossed the tiny azure cups,
but withstood the strongest wind. I cannot see even a sketch of that
flower now without thinking how grateful we were for them out there in
that stripped and almost “God-forgotten” land. When we threw ourselves
on the turf among them, the little bells almost seemed to us to ring
out a tiny sound, as if they were saying, in flowery cadence, “The hand
that made us is divine.”

Some of our eyes seemed to be perpetually strained, watching the
horizon for the longed-for scouts. At dawn one morning--which is at
three o’clock in summer in Dakota--I was awakened by strange sounds
at the door. When I drew the curtain, there were the Ree scouts, and
on their ponies the mail-bag, marked by some facetious hand, “Black
Hills Express.” It took but a second to fling on a wrapper and fairly
tumble down the steps. The Indians made the sign of long hair and
called “Ouches,” which is the word denoting that in their language.
(The general had borne this name with them for some time.) I was too
impatient to wait their tardy movements, and tried to loosen the
mail-bag. The Indian, always pompous and important if he carries
despatches, wafted me away. I understood enough, to be sure, that no
one would receive the mail but the officer in command. As the scouts
slowly moved down the line towards his quarters, other impatient female
figures with flying hair came dancing restlessly out on the porches.
Every woman soon knew that news had come. Even the cooks, scantily
attired, ran out to stand beside their mistresses and wave their fat
arms to the Indians to hurry them on. Our faithful soldier, Keevan,
whom my husband had left to care for us, hearing the commotion, came to
ask what he could do. I sent him to bring back the letters. He, in his
turn, thinking only to serve me, made an effort to open the mail-bag,
but the watchful Indian suppressed him quickly. The old fellow’s face
beamed with delight when he placed the great official envelope, crowded
with closely-written pages, in my hand. How soon they were devoured,
though, and what a blank there seemed in the day when we knew that we
had nothing more to expect!

Three times after that we had letters. They were most interesting, with
descriptions of the charm of travelling over ground no white feet had
ever before touched. My family could not avoid, even at that distance,
studying up little plans to tease me. After describing their discovery
and entrance into a large and almost hidden cave, my husband said that
Colonel Tom and he had come upon the bones of a white man, doubtless
the only one who had ever set foot in that portion of the world. Beside
him lay a tin cup, some buttons from his coat, and a rusty, ancient
flint-lock musket. All were marked with his initials. They were the
same as those of one of the friends whom I had known when a little
romping girl of seventeen. “This,” they said, in the language of a dime
novel, “explains the mysterious disappearance of your old love. Rather
than meet such a fate as awaited him in marrying you, old lady, he has
chosen to seek out solitude in a cavern, and there die.” Of course I
thought even the story of the finding of the cave a fabrication for
my benefit. I enjoyed it hugely, and thought what ingenuity they had
employed to invent such a tale. When they came back at the end of
the summer, and brought the musket and other mementos, with the very
initials rusting in the metal, and declared on honor that they had
found the skeleton, I was compelled to believe them. Not that the
remains of the unfortunate man were those of my early friend, who was
soon afterwards accounted for, but that some unhappy man had actually
wandered into that dismal place and died a tragic death alone.

When the day of their return came, I was simply wild with joy. I hid
behind the door as the command rode into garrison, ashamed to be
seen crying and laughing and dancing up and down with excitement. I
tried to remain there and receive the general, screened from the eyes
of outsiders. It was impossible. I was down the steps and beside my
husband without being conscious of how I got there. I was recalled to
my senses and overwhelmed with confusion by a great cheer from the
soldiers, who, I had forgotten, were lookers-on. Regular soldiers
rarely cheer, and the unusual sound, together with the embarrassment
into which I had unconsciously plunged myself, made the few steps back
to the house seem a mile.

When we could take time to look every one over, they were all amusing
enough. Some wives did not know their husbands, and looked indignant
enough when caught in an embrace by an apparent stranger. Many, like
the general, had grown heavy beards. All were sun-burnt, their hair
faded, and their clothes so patched that the original blue of the
uniform was scarcely visible. Of course there had been nothing on the
expedition save pieces of white canvas with which to reinforce the
riding-breeches, put new elbows on sleeves, and replace the worn knees.

The boots were out at the toes, and the clothing of some were so beyond
repairing that the officers wanted to escape observation by slipping,
with their tattered rags, into the kitchen-door. The instruments of
the band were jammed and tarnished, but they still produced enough
music for us to recognize the old tune of “Garryowen,” to which the
regiment always returned.

By-and-by the long wagon-train appeared. Many of the covers had elk
horns strapped to them, until they looked like strange bristling
animals as they drew near. Some of the antlers were brought to us as
presents. Besides them we had skins, specimens of gold and mica, and
petrified shells of iridescent colors, snake rattles, pressed flowers,
and petrified wood. My husband brought me a keg of the most delicious
water from a mountain-stream. It was almost my only look at clear water
for years, as most of the streams west of the Missouri are muddy.

As soon as the column appeared in sight, the old soldier who had served
me with such fidelity all summer went to Mary to tell her the news. He
also said that as long as the general had put Mrs. Custer in his charge
he knew how to behave. Now, being no longer on honor, he added, “I
intend to celebrate their return by going on a tremendous ‘bum.’” How
any one could get drunk in so short a time was a mystery. The general
had hardly removed his buckskin-coat before the old fellow stumbled up
the steps and nearly fell in the door, with his arms full of puppies
that had arrived during the summer. The rejoicing was too general for
misdemeanors to be noticed. The man was thanked for his watchful care
over me during the months past, and advised to find a place to go to
sleep in as soon as possible.



CHAPTER XXI.

DOMESTIC TRIALS.


From the clouds and gloom of those summer days, I walked again into
the broad blaze of sunshine which my husband’s blithe spirit made. I
did everything I could to put out of my mind the long, anxious, lonely
months. It was still pleasant enough to ride, and occasionally we
went out in parties large enough to be safe, and had a jack-rabbit or
wolf chase. In the autumn we went into the States on a short leave of
absence. Much to our regret we had to take our prized girl-friend home.
Her family begged for her return. The last good-bye to us was an appeal
from the young officers to bring back another; and we did so, for while
we were East we had the good-fortune to persuade another father and
mother to part with their daughter.

An incident of our journey was an amusing illustration of the
vicissitudes of Western life. In passing through Fargo, on the Northern
Pacific Railroad, an old townsman of ours always came to see us, but
invariably after dark. He had taken a claim in the very heart of the
town, which was disputed by an energetic widow. If he left his place in
the daytime for a few hours, he invariably returned to find his cabin
occupied by the goods and chattels of the widow, and his own effects
reposing on the snow outside his door. Then ensued the ejection of
the interloper by one of the town authorities, and our friend would
re-establish himself. After these raids were repeated a few times, he
learned to keep guard during the day and steal out after dark. In vain
outsiders advised him to settle the difficulty by asking a clergyman to
unite the claims. His eyes turned from the widow to a young girl in his
native State, who now presides unmolested over the disputed domicile,
while the widow has forsaken war for the peace of another hearthstone.

The question of servants was a very serious one to those living on the
borders of civilization as we did. There was never a station equal to
those frozen-up regions. Should servants go out there in the fall, they
were almost certain to become engaged to the soldiers and marry after
the trains were taken off and no new ones could reach us. It often
happened that delicate ladies had to do all kinds of menial service for
a time. Except for a kind-hearted soldier now and then, who was too
devoted to the wife of his company officer to see her do everything,
I hardly know how army ladies would have endured their occasional
domestic trials. The soldiers were especially fond of children, and
knew how to amuse them; indeed, a willing heart made them quick to
learn all kinds of domestic work. I think they even regretted that
they could not sew, when they saw an overtaxed lady wearily moving
her needle. We had no trouble, fortunately. Our colored cook not only
commanded us, and as much of the post as she could, but she tyrannized
over her two sisters whom she had brought from Kentucky for us. These
were thought excellent servants, but Mary, invested with a “little
brief authority,” ruled like a despot. The youngest having been born
after the emancipation proclamation, was looked down upon by her elder
sister, who had been a slave. In her moments of rage the most deadly
insult was to call the younger one “you worthless free nigger, you!” I
think with deep gratitude of their devotion to us. As they were colored
people they had not even the excitement of beaux among the enlisted
men. Sometimes they sighed and longed for home. At such times Mary used
to say to me, “Miss Libbie, you has the giniral, and you don’ mind whar
you is so long as you has him, but you can’t tell what it is for us to
live in a country wha’ there’s no festibuls, meetin’-houses, or dances.”

When we reached St. Paul, on our return from leave of absence, we
were generally met with telegrams from our friends at Fort Lincoln,
imploring us to bring them cooks. The railroad officials were good
enough to give us passes, so we could always take them without much
trouble. The first time after advertising, only the young and pretty
ones were selected from those who came to us at the hotel. Their
almost instantaneous capitulation to the devotion of the soldiers
taught us a lesson. After that we only took the middle-aged and plain.
When we were fairly started on our journey, the general would look
them over, chuckle to himself, and jog my elbow for me to see the
ancients as tourists. He would add, under his breath, that evidently
we had settled the question that time, for no soldier would look
at such antediluvians. He reckoned too soon. He hardly took into
consideration that after hundreds of soldiers had lived for months
without seeing so much as the distant flutter of a woman’s drapery,
they ceased to be fastidious or critical. Without an exception these
antique, parchment-faced women, in a few weeks after we had delivered
them over to their mistresses, began to metamorphose. They bought
tawdry ornaments at the sutler’s store, and hurried after dinner to
adorn themselves to meet the enlisted men, who even under adverse
circumstances will “a-wooing go.”

I remember well the disheartened eyes of one of our pretty young
friends when she told me it was of no manner of use to try and keep a
white servant. Even the ugly old female that we had brought her, and
that cooked so well, was already beginning to primp and powder. By
this time our dearly loved neighbor had become exhausted by the almost
constant care of her two children, and with only inefficient servants
to help her. Through our sympathy for the hard life she led out in that
wilderness we had fallen into the way of calling her “poor Miss Annie,”
having known her as a girl. In the States she would have been “rich
Miss Annie.” With a brave, handsome husband, a distinguished father,
an abundant income, and bright, healthful children, she _was_ rich. It
would not have been strange if the clouds had obscured these blessings,
living the taxing, wearying life she did on the frontier. In vain the
devoted husband sought to share her cares. The very climax of her
troubles seemed to have arrived when she confided to me that she would
soon need an experienced nurse to care for her through her coming
peril. The trains had ceased running, so that one could not be sent on
from St. Paul. There was no neighborly help to be expected even, for
all of our ladies were young and inexperienced. There seemed to be no
one to whom we could look for aid. Instead of rejoicing, as we would
have done in the States over the sweet privilege of coming maternity,
we cried and were almost disconsolate. There were no soft, dainty
clothes to receive the little stranger, no one to take care of it when
it did come; the young surgeon was wholly inexperienced in such duty,
and the future looked gloomy enough. Fortunately, I remembered at last
one of the camp women, who had long followed the regiment as laundress,
and had led a quiet, orderly life. “Poor Miss Annie” shuddered when I
spoke of her, for the woman was a Mexican, and like the rest of that
hairy tribe she had so coarse and stubborn a beard that her chin had a
blue look after shaving, in marked contrast to her swarthy face. She
was tall, angular, awkward, and seemingly coarse, but I knew her to
be tender-hearted. In days gone by I had found, when she told me her
troubles, that they had softened her nature.

When she first came to our regiment she was married to a trooper, who,
to all appearances, was good to her. My first knowledge of her was in
Kentucky. She was our laundress, and when she brought the linen home,
it was fluted and frilled so daintily that I considered her a treasure.
She always came at night, and when I went out to pay her she was very
shy, and kept a veil pinned about the lower part of her face. The cook
told me one day that she was sick and in trouble, and I went to see
her. It seemed the poor thing had accumulated several hundred dollars
by washing, baking pies for the soldiers, and sewing the clothes for
them that had been refitted by the tailor. Her husband had obtained
possession of the money and had deserted. She told me that she had
lived a rough life before coming to the 7th, even dressing as a man
in order to support herself by driving the ox-teams over the plains
to New Mexico. The railroads had replaced that mode of transporting
freight, and she was thrown out of employment. Finding the life as a
laundress easier, she had resumed her woman’s dress and entered the
army, and thinking to make her place more secure, had accepted the
hand of the man whose desertion she was now mourning. It was not long
after this, however, before “Old Nash” (for through everything she
kept her first husband’s name) consoled herself. Without going through
the ceremony or expense of a divorce, she married another soldier,
and had come with us out to Dakota. Of course her husband was obliged
to march with his company. It was a hard life for her, camping out
with the other laundresses, as they are limited for room, and several
are obliged to share a tent together. In the daytime they ride in an
army wagon, huddled in with children and baggage. After all the rough
summer out-of-doors, it was a great boon to her to get a little cabin
in Laundress Row, at our post. Another trouble came to her, however:
her new husband succeeded in stealing her savings and deserting like
the first. “Old Nash” mourned her money a short time, but soon found
solace in going to the soldiers’ balls dressed in gauzy, low-necked
gowns. Notwithstanding her architectural build and massive features,
she had no sooner accumulated another bank account than her hand was
solicited for the third time. Again ignoring the law, and thinking
divorce a superfluous luxury, she captured the handsomest soldier in
his company. He was Colonel Tom’s own man, and when we were riding we
often admired the admirably fitting uniform his wife had made over,
and which displayed to advantage his well-proportioned figure. It was
certainly a _mariage de convenance_. Fortunes are comparative; a few
hundred dollars out there was quite equal to many thousands in New
York. The trooper thought he had done a very good thing for himself,
for notwithstanding his wife was no longer young, and was undeniably
homely, she could cook well and spared him from eating with his
company, and she was a good investment, for she earned so much by her
industry. In addition to all these traits, she was already that most
desirable creature in all walks of life--“a woman of means.”

The bride and groom returned from the ceremony performed by the
Bismarck clergyman, and began house-keeping in the little quarters
“Old Nash” had refurbished for the occasion. When “Miss Annie” and I
went down to see her and make our petitions, we found the little place
shining. The bed was hung with pink cambric, and on some shelves she
showed us silk and woollen stuffs for gowns; bits of carpet were on the
floor, and the dresser, improvised out of a packing-box, shone with
polished tins. Outside we were presented to some chickens, which were
riches indeed out there in that Nova Zemblian climate. She was very
gentle with our friend when we told our errand, and gave her needful
advice in her broken Mexican tongue. After listening to her tribute to
the goodness of her husband, we made such pitiful entreaties that we at
last prevailed on her to leave him. She insisted upon the promise that
she might come home every evening and cook her “manny manny’s supper.”
We learned from her that her own two children had died in Mexico, and
that she had learned midwifery from her mother, and confirmed, what I
had previously heard, that she had constant practice among the camp
women. “Old Nash” appeared at the required hour, and was as skilful
a physician as she was a nurse. My friend used to whisper to me that
when she watched her moving about in the dim light of the sick-room,
she thought with a shiver sometimes how like a man she seemed.
Occasionally she came to the bed, and in her harsh voice asked, “Are
you comph?”--meaning comfortable. The gentle, dexterous manner in which
she lifted and cared for the little woman quieted her dread of this
great giraffe. By degrees I was promoted to the duty of bathing and
dressing the little new-comer, the young mother giving directions from
the pillow. When “Old Nash” was no longer absolutely necessary she went
back to her husband--a richer woman by much gratitude and a great deal
of money.

Her past life of hardship and exposure told on her in time, and she
became ailing and rheumatic. Finally, after we had left Dakota, we
heard that when death approached, she made an appeal to the camp women
who surrounded her and had nursed her through her illness; she implored
them to put her in her coffin just as she was when she died and bury
her at once. They, thinking such a course would not be paying proper
attention to the dead, broke their promise. The mystery which the old
creature had guarded for so many years, through a life always public
and conspicuous, was revealed: “Old Nash,” years before, becoming
weary of the laborious life of a man, had assumed the disguise of a
woman, and hoped to carry the secret into the grave. The surgeon’s
certificate, stating the sex of “Old Nash,” together with the simple
record of a laundress in the regiment for ten years, was all the brief
history ever known. After enduring the gibes and scoffs of his comrades
for a few days, life became unbearable to the handsome soldier who had
played the part of husband in order to gain possession of his wife’s
savings and vary the plain fare of the soldier with good suppers;
he went into one of the company’s stables when no one was there and
shot himself. When our friend, whom the old creature had so carefully
nursed, read the newspaper paragraph describing the death, her only
comment was a reference to the Mexican’s oft-repeated question to her,
“Poor old thing, I hope she is ‘comph’ at last.”



CHAPTER XXII.

CAPTURE AND ESCAPE OF RAIN-IN-THE-FACE.


As the second winter progressed it bade fair to be a repetition of the
first, until an event happened that excited us all very much.

I must preface my account of the occurrence by going back to the summer
of the Yellowstone campaign. Two of the citizens attached to the
expedition, one as the sutler, the other as the veterinary surgeon,
were in the habit of riding by themselves a great deal. Not being
enlisted men, much more liberty than soldiers have was allowed them.
Many warnings were given, however, and an instance, fresh in the minds
of the officers, of the killing by Indians of two of their comrades the
year before was repeatedly told to them. One day their last hour of
lingering came. While they stopped to water their horses, some Indians
concealed in a gully shot them within sight of our regiment, who
were then fighting on the hill, and did not find the bodies for some
time afterwards. Both of the murdered men were favorites; both left
families, and regret and sympathy were general throughout the command.

A year and a half afterwards information came to our post, Fort
Lincoln, that an Indian was then at the Agency at Standing Rock,
drawing his rations, blankets, and ammunition from the Government,
and at the same time boasting of the murder of these two men. This
intelligence created intense indignation in our garrison. A detachment
was quickly prepared, and started out with sealed orders. The day
was bitter, and not a still cold, for the wind blew, and cut like
needle-points into the faces of the troopers. No one was aware even
what direction they were to take. General Custer knew that it was
absolutely necessary that caution and secrecy should be observed. At
the next post, twenty miles below, there were scouts employed. They
would not fail to send out a runner and warn the Standing Rock Indians
of the coming of the command and its object, if they could learn what
it was. When the runner carries important news he starts with an even
gait in the morning and keeps it up all day, hardly stopping to drink
at the streams he crosses. Such a courier would outstrip a command of
cavalry in the ordinary time it makes on a march.

Accordingly, Fort Rice was left behind many miles before the orders
were opened. They contained directions to capture and bring back an
Uncapapa Indian, called Rain-in-the-face, the avowed murderer of
the sutler and the veterinary surgeon. The command contested of two
officers and a hundred men. The general had selected his brother to
assist in this delicate transaction, as he had been wont to do ever
since they began their life of adventure together during the war.
They arrived on the day that the Indians were drawing their rations
of beef. There were five hundred at the Agency, armed with the latest
long-range rifles. It was more and more clear that too much care could
not be taken to prevent the object of the visit being known to the
warriors. An expedition had been sent down once before, but news of its
intentions had reached the Agency in time for the culprit to escape. He
could not refrain, even after this warning, from openly vaunting his
crime.

In order then to deceive as to the purport of their appearance at the
Agency, the captain in command resorted to a ruse. He sent fifty men
to the camp ten miles away to make inquiries for three Indians who had
murdered citizens on the Red River the year before. Colonel Custer was
ordered to take five picked men and go to the trader’s store, where the
Indians resort constantly. This required great coolness and extreme
patience, for they had to lounge about, seemingly indifferent, until
they could be certain the right man was discovered. The cold made the
Indians draw their blankets around them and over their heads. There is
never any individuality about their dress unless when arrayed for a
council or a dance; it was therefore almost impossible to tell one from
the other.

Colonel Tom had to wait for hours, only looking furtively when the
sharp eyes of these wary creatures were off guard. At last one of
them loosened his blanket, and with the meagre description that had
been given him, Colonel Tom identified him as Rain-in-the-face.
Coming suddenly from behind, he threw his arms about him, and
seized the Winchester rifle that the savage attempted to cock. He
was taken entirely by surprise. No fear showed itself, but from the
characteristically stolid face hate and revenge flashed out for an
instant. He drew himself up in an independent manner, to show his
brother warriors that he did not dread death.

Among them he had been considered brave beyond precedent, because he
had dared to enter the Agency store at all, and so encounter the risk
of arrest. The soldiers tied his hands and mounted guard over him.
About thirty Indians surrounded them instantly, and one old orator
commenced an harangue to the others, inciting them to recapture their
brother. Breathless excitement prevailed. At that moment the captain in
command appeared in their midst. With the same coolness he had shown in
the war and during the six years of his Indian campaigns, he spoke to
them, through an interpreter. With prudence and tact he explained that
they intended to give the prisoner exactly the treatment a white man
would receive under like circumstances; that nothing would induce them
to give him up; and the better plan, to save bloodshed, would be for
the chiefs to withdraw and take with them their followers. Seeing that
they could accomplish nothing by intimidation or by superior numbers,
they had recourse to parley and proposed to compromise. They offered as
a sacrifice two Indians of the tribe in exchange for Rain-in-the-face.

It was generosity like that of Artemus Ward, who offered his wife’s
relatives on the altar of his country, for they took care not to offer
for sacrifice any but Indians of low rank. Rain-in-the-face was a
very distinguished warrior among them, and belonged to a family of
six brothers, one of whom, Iron Horse, was very influential. The
officers prevailed in the end, and the prisoner was taken to the
cavalry camp. During the time that the Indians were opposing his
removal, the troopers had assembled around the entrance, ready for
any emergency, and prepared to escort the murderer away. The Indians
instantly vanished; all went quickly and quietly to their camp, ten
miles distant. Later in the day a party of fifty mounted warriors
dashed through the Agency to the road beyond, which had to be taken
by our troopers on the way home. Of course our officers expected an
attack from that party when they began their homeward march; to their
surprise, they were unmolested. We learned afterwards that the mounted
Indians went to the camp of Two Bears to urge the young braves there
to combine with them in the recapture of Rain-in-the-face. Two Bears
had long been friendly to the white man; he was too old to fight, and
prevented his young men from joining in the contemplated rescue.

After the command had returned and the officers had reported, General
Custer sent for Rain-in-the-face. He was tall, straight, and young. His
face was quite imperturbable. In a subsequent interview the general
locked himself in his room with him. Through an interpreter, and with
every clever question and infinite patience he spent hours trying to
induce the Indian to acknowledge his crime. The culprit’s face finally
lost its impervious look, and he showed some agitation. He gave a
brief account of the murder, and the next day made a full confession
before all the officers. He said neither of the white men was armed
when attacked. He had shot the old man, but he did not die instantly,
riding a short distance before falling from his horse. He then went to
him and with his stone mallet beat out the last breath left. Before
leaving him he shot his body full of arrows. The younger man signalled
to them from among the bushes, and they knew that the manner in which
he held up his hand was an overture of peace. When he reached him the
white man gave him his hat as another and further petition for mercy,
but he shot him at once, first with his gun and then with arrows. One
of the latter entering his back, the dying man struggled to pull it
through. Neither man was scalped, as the elder was bald and the younger
had closely cropped hair.

This cruel story set the blood of the officers flowing hotly. They
had already heard from one of the white scouts a description of
Rain-in-the-face at a sun-dance, when he had betrayed himself as the
murderer of the veterinary surgeon, by describing in triumph his
beating out the brains of the old man with his mallet. After all this,
it is not to be wondered at that each officer strode out of the room
with blazing eyes.

Two Indians, one of them Iron Horse, had followed the cavalry up from
the Agency and asked to see their comrade. The general sent again for
Rain-in-the-face. He came into the room with clanking chains and with
the guard at his heels. He was dressed in mourning. His leggings were
black, and his sable blanket was belted by a band of white beads. One
black feather stood erect on his head. Iron Horse supposed that he
was to be hung at once, and that this would be the final interview.
The elder brother, believing there was no hope, was very solemn. He
removed his heavily-beaded and embroidered buffalo robe, and replaced
it with the plain one that Rain-in-the-face wore. He exchanged pipes
also, giving him his highly-ornamented one that he might afterwards
present it to the general. These pipes are valuable, as the material of
which the bowls are made has to be brought from Kansas. Then finding
that there was a prospect of Rain-in-the-face having his trial in
Washington, he took off the medal that had been given to his father by
a former president, whose likeness was in the medallion, and placed it
over the neck of his brother, that it might be a silent argument in his
favor when he confronted the “Great Father.”

It was an impressive and melancholy scene. Iron Horse charged his
brother not to attempt to escape, saying, that if he did get back to
the reservation he would surely be recaptured. He believed that he
would be kindly treated while a captive, and perhaps the white chief
would intercede for him to obtain his pardon. After asking him not to
lose courage, they smoked again, and silently withdrew. In about ten
days Iron Horse returned, bringing a portion of his tribe with him.

The valley of the Missouri is wide, and slopes gradually back to the
bluffs. Beyond are the plains, rolling away for hundreds of miles to
another river. There was a level stretch of three miles below our post
down the river. From this direction we were accustomed to watch the
approach of the bands of Indians coming from the reservation. We could
see their arms glistening far down the valley long before we could
distinguish who they were, except with a powerful field-glass. As they
came nearer, the sun caught a bit of gaudy scarlet, or touched for a
moment one of the feathers in a war-bonnet.

A New York Charity Ball could bring out no more antique heirlooms, nor
take more time in preparations than the costumes of Indians prepared
for council. The war-bonnets, shields, and necklaces of bear’s claws
are all handed down from far-away grandfathers, and only aired on
grand occasions. Every available bit of metal that could catch the
light reflected and shone in the morning sun. The belts were covered
with brass nails, shining with many an hour’s polishing. They had many
weapons, all kept in a brilliant and glistening state. The tomahawk
is one of the heirlooms of the collection of arms. It is not like the
ones I used to see at Mackinac as a child. It looks more like a large
ice-pick. The knife, pistol, and Henry rifle are very modern, and are
always kept in the most perfect condition. Mrs. “Lo” is the Venus
who prepares Mars for war, and many a long weary hour she spends in
polishing the weapon and adorning the warrior.

The Indians with Iron Horse came directly to head-quarters and asked
for a council. As many as could get into the general’s room entered.
There was time, while they were preparing, to send for the ladies,
and a few of us were tucked away on the lounge, with injunctions not
to move or whisper, for my husband treated these Indians with as much
consideration as if they had been crowned heads. The Indians turned
a surprised, rather scornful glance into the “ladies’ gallery,” for
their women are always kept in the background. In return for this we
did not hesitate to criticise their toilets. They were gorgeous in
full dress. Iron Horse wore an elaborately beaded and painted buckskin
shirt, with masses of solid embroidery of porcupine quills. The sleeves
and shoulders were ornamented with a fringe of scalp-locks; some of
the hair, we saw with a shudder, was light and waving. I could not but
picture the little head, “sunning over with curls,” from which it had
been taken, for all the Indian locks I have ever seen were straight
and black. The chief wore on his shoulders a sort of cape, trimmed
with a fringe of snowy ermine; his leggings and moccasins were a mass
of bead-work. He wore a cap of otter, without a crown, though, for it
is their custom to leave the top of the head uncovered. His hair was
wound round and round with strips of otter that hung down his back; the
scalp-lock was also tightly wound. Three eagle feathers, that denote
the number of warriors killed, were so fastened to the lock that they
stood erect. There were several perforations in each ear from which
depended bead ear-rings. He had armlets of burnished brass; thrown
around him was a beaded blanket. The red clay pipe had the wooden stem
inlaid with silver, and was embellished with the breast feathers of
brilliantly plumaged birds. The tobacco-bag, about two feet long, had
not an inch that was not decorated. The costume was simply superb.

The next in rank had an immense buffalo robe as the distinguishing
feature of his dress. The inside was tanned almost white, and his
history was painted on the surface. Whoever ran might read, for it
represented only two scenes, oft repeated--the killing and scalping of
warriors and the capture of ponies.

The general’s patience with Indians always surprised me. He was of such
an active temperament and despatched his own work so rapidly that I
have often wondered how he contained himself waiting an hour or more
for them to get at the object of their visit. They took their places
according to rank in a semicircle about the general. The pipe was
filled and a match lighted by one of their number of inferior grade,
and then handed to Iron Horse, who took a few leisurely whiffs. Though
we were so shut in, the smoke was not oppressive. Their tobacco is
killikinick, prepared by drying the bark of the ozier and mixing it
with sumach. They inhale the smoke and exhale it from their nostrils.
After all in the first circle had smoked a little, the general
included, they observed the Indian etiquette and passed the pipe back
through each warrior’s hand to the chief. It was then relighted, and
he began again. It seemed to us that it went back and forth an endless
number of times. No matter how pressing the emergency, every council
begins in this manner.

Iron Horse tired us out, but he was collecting himself and rehearsing
his speech. We found afterwards that it was prepared in advance, for
during its recital he forgot, and was prompted by one of the Indians in
the outer circle.

When the pipe was finally put away, they asked to have Rain-in-the-face
present. He came into the room, trying to hide his pleasure at seeing
his friends and his grief at his imprisonment. In an instant the
imperturbable expression settled down on his face like a curtain. The
officers present could scarcely believe their eyes when they saw his
brother approach and kiss him. Only once before, among all the tribes
they had been with, had they seen such an occurrence. The Indian kiss
is not demonstrative; the lips are laid softly on the cheek, and no
sound is heard or motion made. It was only this grave occasion that
induced the chief to show such feeling. Several of the ranking Indians
followed his example; then an old man among them stepped in front of
Rain-in-the-face, lifted his hands, and raising his eyes reverentially
said a few words of prayer to the Great Spirit in behalf of their
unfortunate brother. The prisoner dropped his head to hide the look in
his eyes that he thought ill became a warrior as brave as he really
was. The bitter, revengeful thoughts with which I had entered the room
were for a moment forgotten, and I almost wished that he might be
pardoned. The vision of the hearth-stones he had desolated came back to
me directly, and I could not forget.

Iron Horse began his speech in the usual high-pitched, unchangeable
key. He thanked the general for his care of his brother, and the whole
tenor of the rest was repeated petitions to ask the Great Father in
Washington to spare his life. He then slowly took off his elaborate
buckskin shirt and presented it to my husband. He ended by making a
singular request, which was worthy of Damon and Pythias: two shy young
braves in the outer circle of the untitled asked permission through
their chief to share the captivity of Rain-in-the-face. I could not
help recalling what some one had told me in the East, that women
sometimes go to the State prison at Sing Sing and importune to be
allowed to share the imprisonment of their husbands or brothers; but
no instance is found in the history of that great institution where a
man has asked to divide with a friend or relative the sufferings of his
sentence.

Consent was given to the comrades to return to the guard-house,
but they were required to remain in confinement as he did until
they were ready to return to the reservation. After all the ranking
Indians had followed Iron Horse in speeches, with long, maundering,
slowly-delivered sentences, each like the other, the pipe was again
produced. When it was smoked, the whole band filed out to eat the
presents of food the general had given them, and soon afterwards
disappeared down the valley on their way home.

After his two friends had left him, Rain-in-the-face occupied a part
of the guard-house with a citizen who had been caught stealing grain
from the storehouse. For several months they had been chained together,
and used to walk in front of the little prison for exercise and air.
The guard-house was a poorly-built, insecure wooden building. After a
time the sentinels became less vigilant, and the citizen, with help
from his friends outside, who were working in the same way, cut a hole
in the wall at night and escaped. He broke the chain attaching him
to the Indian, who was left free to follow. We found afterwards that
Rain-in-the-face did not dare to return to the reservation, but made
his way to the hostile camp. In the spring of 1874 he sent word from
there by an Agency Indian that he had joined Sitting Bull, and was
awaiting his revenge for his imprisonment.

As will be seen further on, the stained waters of the Little Big Horn,
on June 25, 1876, told how deadly and fatal that was. The vengeance of
that incarnate fiend was concentrated on the man who had effected his
capture. It was found on the battle-field that he had cut out the brave
heart of that gallant, loyal, and lovable man, our brother Tom.



CHAPTER XXIII.

GARRISON AMUSEMENTS.


The second winter at Fort Lincoln was very much the same as the first.
We had rented a piano at St. Paul in the autumn. It hardly had a
respite from morning until late at night. Every day and evening the
sound of happy voices went through the house. Old war-songs, college
choruses, and negro melodies, that every one knew, were sung, and on
Sunday our only church-service most of the time was to meet together
and sing hymns. In our little circle of forty, many denominations were
represented, but all knew the old-time hymns. The Moody and Sankey book
had soon found its way out there, and incited every one that could
raise a note to make the attempt. We had forgotten to bring a tuner for
the piano, but the blacksmith made a very good one. One of the band,
who had been in a piano-house before enlisting, kept the instrument
in order. We had hard work to keep it in tune, for not only did the
extreme cold affect the sound, but it had to endure the constant
drumming of untaught fingers. Even my husband, who was not nervous,
used sometimes to beg Colonel Tom to stop “feeling about for that tune!”

The general loved music, and had so correct an ear that he often
sang or whistled the airs of an opera after hearing them once. Music
so charmed him that when we have been in the States, listening to an
oratorio, the Thomas orchestra, or a recital of any kind, he has begged
me not to be hurt if he did not speak during the rendering. There was
a Swiss soldier in our regiment who had contrived to bring his zither
with him. My husband would lie on the bear-skin rug in front of the
fire and listen with delight as long as he ventured to tax the man. He
played the native Tyrolese airs, which seemed to have caught in them
the sound of the Alpine horn, the melody of the cascade, and the echo
of the mountain passes. The general often regretted that he had not had
the opportunity to learn music. It seemed to me that it was a great
solace and diversion to officers if they knew some musical instrument
well enough to enjoy practice. They certainly gave great pleasure to
those around them.

If the ladies had any accomplishment that gave gratification to others,
it was never allowed to grow rusty. Of course, where there was so
little to interest, whatever they did was overrated. Sometimes we
heard of one of the officers of the 7th matching the perfections of
our ladies against those of another regiment which he might happen to
be visiting. His _esprit de corps_ carried him so far that he would
insist that no women sang, played, danced, painted, or rode as we did!
We could only hope that we would never see the people to whom he had
boasted, and so awaken them from his overdrawn story to the reality.

I used to pity the officers from the bottom of my heart because of the
tameness and dead calm of their lives in winter. Each year’s service
with them made me wonder more and more how they could come through the
test of so much unemployed time, the really fine men they were. Watts
spoke lines that will do for all time, when he told us who it was that
found mischief for idle hands. We had no good company libraries, like
the infantry, because we had so long been without a place to call our
own. Every officer coming from leave, brought what books he could, and
they went the rounds until the worn leaves would hardly hold together.
We women had many a simple occupation that interested us, but the men
could not content themselves with trifles. If the young ladies and I
stole away to try to take a nap or change our dress, we were almost
invariably called back by the lonely men, who wished to be amused. They
were certainly so grateful for the slightest kindness it was no tax.
Besides, people cannot go up and down the face of the earth together
for nine years of hardships, trials, and deprivation without being as
nearly like one family as is possible.

I used to dread the arrival of the young officers who came to the
regiment from West Point, fearing that the sameness and inactivity
of the garrison life would be a test to which their character would
succumb. When they came to pay the first ceremonious call in full
uniform, we spoke of commonplace topics. I kept up a running line of
comments to myself, usually on one subject: “I wonder if you are likely
to go to the bad under temptation; I am sorry for your mother, having
to give you up and be anxious for your habits at the same time; I hope
you don’t drink; I pray that you may have stamina enough to resist
evil.” Our sister knew that I believed so in matrimony as a savior of
young officers that she used to teasingly accuse me of greeting all of
them when they arrived with the same welcome: “I am very glad to see
you; I hope that you are engaged.” I hardly remember being quite so
abrupt as that in speaking, but I never failed to wish it to myself.
Their frequent difficulty was that they desired to do everything that
the old officers did. I have known them rub and try to mar their
shining new uniforms to have them look as if they had seen service.
One, especially youthful in appearance, wondered how I came to divine
that the reason he wore his grandfather’s fob and seal, and carried
the gold-headed cane when off duty, was that he wished to look old and
experienced. I could not help praising them when they went through the
first few telling years of service and came off conquerors. I was sure
that had I had the misfortune to be a man I could not have borne the
tests to which I knew they were subjected.

I am sure that we could not have been so contented as we were under
such circumstances had there not been such perfect health among us all.
It was a pleasure to live among so many hundred people and scarcely
see any one who was not perfectly well. Another relief in that life
was that we never saw crippled or maimed people, and there were no
suffering poor.

We found our new quarters admirable for the garrison gayety. On Friday
nights we all gathered together to dance, or have private theatricals
or games. During the early part of the winter, while the supply of
eggs we had brought from St. Paul lasted, Mary used to give us cake,
frozen custard, or some luxury of which these formed a part. This, in
addition to the usual ham-sandwiches, coffee, and venison, made our
refreshments. As winter advanced, and the supplies began to give out,
we had to be content with crullers, coffee, and sandwiches. There was
very little spirit of criticism, and in that climate one is always
hungry.

Of course every one relied on cards as the unfailing amusement. Almost
without exception they played well and with great enthusiasm. Every one
struggled over me, and I really worked faithfully to become an adept.
For though I did not enjoy it ever, it seemed very ungracious in me
not to be able to take a hand when I was needed. There must have been
something lacking in my mental organization, for I could not learn. I
had one friend who was equally stupid. He certainly was a comfort to
me. We became perfectly hardened to the gibes of our friends when they
called to him, “Come, Smith, and try this new game; it is easy. Why,
even Mrs. Custer learned it!” I labored on, until at the end of twelve
years of effort I trumped my partner’s ace, and was formally excused
from ever trying again.

A fancy-dress party was always amusing out there, for it was necessary
to exercise great ingenuity in getting up costumes. We were masked
carefully, and often the dress was such a complete disguise that a
husband and wife were kept in ignorance of each other until the signal
for unmasking was given at supper.

It was impossible to conceal our eccentricities living in such close
daily association. As there was continual chaffing and innumerable
practical jokes, it was difficult to know at what moment one’s
peculiarities were to be served up for the amusement of others. At
all events, when one’s personal traits and singularities were openly
joked about, it was something of a consolation to know that the worst
to be said was directed to the face and not behind the back, as is the
general rule. There was one of our number towards whom we could not
fire the shot and shell of ridicule. He was far older than any one
at the post, and there was too much reverence for his hoary head to
permit extreme raillery. I confess to laughing over some of his strange
aberrations when his young lieutenant gave us an imitation of their
company drill. The old officer, mounted on a horse as toned down as
himself, stood in front of his troops and addressed them as he would
have done his supporters in the old political days. They appreciated
the stump eloquence, but more keenly the fact that while he talked
they would escape the tedious evolutions of their work. Sometimes
while going through the directions of the tactics, the captain lost
his suavity and called a halt. Then, with all the inflections and
emphasis placed as carefully as if he were flinging the Constitution at
a crowd of citizens on the 4th of July, he harangued in slightly heated
tones, “Men, do you suppose you are men? If so, act like men. If you
are geese, act like geese.” This would finish the self-control of even
the oldest soldier, and a great guffaw would burst out. For nothing
can be more ridiculous than a regular officer pausing to address his
men in such a place. The drill is conducted usually without another
word than a repetition of the exact language of the book of tactics.
The young lieutenant in his position at the rear would nearly choke
with laughter. He told us how he rode along the line, and prodded
the soldiers in the back, without the captain seeing him, to try and
make them more deferential. His short burlesque repetitions of the
aphorisms, philosophy, and theories on all subjects, that the old
captain delivered daily on the drill-ground, were convulsing. If the
speeches themselves were half as funny as the imitations, the men would
have been stolidity itself if they had not forgotten their discipline
and laughed. My husband was truly attached to this officer, and spared
him from hardships and trying campaigns when he could. In a measure he
felt himself responsible for the incongruous position the elderly man
occupied in a cavalry regiment full of young, active men. After the
war, when the old officer was mustered out of the Volunteer service,
he found that in his native State the waves had closed over him, and
his place was lost in public life. The general went personally to the
War Department, and solicited an appointment for him in the Regular
Army. Some time after, he was surprised to find him assigned to his own
regiment, doubtless because a personal application gave the impression
that it would be a special favor to place him there. Had he only asked
for an infantry appointment for the already tired out man, it would
have been a far easier life for him, but it had not occurred to the
general.

Many of us had been laughingly rechristened, and called a name that was
in some way suggested by trifling incidents in our history. The names
were absurd. One of the most delicate and refined of our women was a
superb rider and had shot buffalo, so her intimates spoke of her, when
trying to provoke repartee, as “Buffalo Ann.” My sobriquet of “the old
lady” dated back to the first days of my married life. When the general
and his merry young staff returned from a raid in the Shenandoah
Valley, they descried an old Dutchman, who did not care which side in
the war succeeded, so long as he and his property were left alone.
His house had been their head-quarters in a former raid, and they all
rode up there to halt again. The old Hans stood on his steps as they
approached and wafted them away at the same time reiterating, by way
of emphasis, “Gentlemens, I have no objections to your coming in, but
the old lady she kicks agin it.” After that I could not raise the
mildest protest against any plan but that those mischievous brothers
would exclaim pathetically, and in a most tormenting tone, “What a good
time we might have if the old lady didn’t kick agin it.” Sometimes the
mildest and quietest one of us all would be called by some appellation
so suggestive of ruffianism and bloodshed that it was the extreme of
the ridiculous to associate the person and the name together. For
instance, the best regulated and least sensational one would find
himself addressed as “Shacknasty Bill, or the Sinewy Slayer of the
Ghostly Gulch.” Another, always inclined to gloom, was given a rousing
slap on the back as his good-morning, and a hearty “How are you, Old
Skull and Cross-bones?” No one escaped. I used to think the joking was
carried too far sometimes, but it was easy to go to extremes when the
resources were so limited for a variety in our life. My own blood rose
to lava heat when I found people twitting one another on unpleasant
facts, and a smile of ridicule circulating. It was too great a triumph
for the teaser to stir up wrath though, and the life was a lesson of
constant self-control. Certainly it was excellent discipline, and
calculated to keep one’s self-confidence within bounds. It was the same
sort of training that members of a large family have, and they profit
by the friction, for they are rarely so selfish and exacting as only
children usually are.



CHAPTER XXIV.

AN INDIAN COUNCIL.


The Indians came several times from the reservations for counsel, but
the occasion that made the greatest impression upon me was towards
the spring. They came to implore the general for food. In the fall
the steamer bringing them supplies was detained in starting. It had
hardly accomplished half the required distance before the ice impeded
its progress, and it lay out in the channel, frozen in, all winter.
The suffering among the Indians was very great. They were compelled to
eat their dogs and ponies to keep from starving. Believing a personal
appeal would be effectual, they asked to come to our post for a council.

The Indian band brought their great orator Running Antelope. He was
intensely dignified and fine-looking. His face when he spoke was
expressive and animated, contrary to all the precedents of Indian
oratory we had become familiar with. As he stood among them all in
the general’s room, he made an indelible impression on my memory.
The Indians’ feet are usually small; sometimes their vanity induces
them to put on women’s shoes. The hands are slender and marvellously
soft considering their life of exposure. Their speech is full of
gesture, and the flexible wrist makes their movements expressive.
A distinguished scholar, speaking of the aid the hand is to an
orator, calls it the “second face.” It certainly was so with Running
Antelope. He described the distressing condition of the tribe with real
eloquence. While he spoke, lifting his graceful hands towards Heaven
in appeal, one of my husband’s birds that was uncaged floated down and
alighted on the venerable warrior’s head. It had been so petted, no
ordinary movement startled the little thing. It maintained its poise,
spreading its wings to keep its balance, as the Indian moved his head
in gesture. The orator saw that the faces of the Indians showed signs
of humor, but he was ignorant of what amused them. His inquiring eyes
saw no solution in the general’s, for, fearing to disconcert him,
General Custer controlled every muscle in his face. Finally the bird
whirled up to his favorite resting-place on the horn of the buffalo
head, and the warrior understood the unusual sight of a smile from his
people.

His whole appeal was most impressive, and touched the quick sympathies
of my husband. He was a sincere friend of the reservation Indian. The
storehouses at our post were filled with supplies, and he promised
to telegraph to the Great Father for permission to give them rations
until spring. Meantime, he promised them all they could eat while they
awaited at the post the answer to the despatch. Not content with a
complaint of their present wrongs, Running Antelope went off into an
earliest denunciation of the agents, calling them dishonest.

One of the Indians, during the previous summer, with fox-like cunning
had lain out on the dock all day apparently sleeping, while he watched
the steamer unloading supplies intended for them. A mental estimate was
carefully made of what came off the boat, and compared as carefully
afterwards with what was distributed. There was an undeniable deficit.
A portion that should have been theirs was detained, and they accused
the agent of keeping it. The general interrupted, and asked the
interpreter to say that the Great Father selected the agents from among
good men before sending them out from Washington. Running Antelope
quickly responded, “They may be good men when they leave the Great
Father, but they get to be desperate cheats by the time they reach us.”
I shall have to ask whoever reads, to substitute another more forcible
adjective, such as an angry man would use, in place of “desperate.” The
Indian language is not deficient in abusive terms and epithets.

When the council was ended and the Indians were preparing to leave, my
husband asked me to have Mary put everything we had ready to eat on the
dining-room table. The manner in which Running Antelope folded his robe
around him and strode in a stately way down the long parlor was worthy
of a Roman emperor.

I had been so impressed by his oratory and lordly mien that I could
hardly believe my eyes when I saw him at table, and descend from the
lofty state of mind into which he had taken me to realize what he was
doing. After gorging himself, he emptied the plates and swept all the
remains from before the places of the other chiefs into the capacious
folds of his robe. This he rebelted at the waist, so that it formed a
very good temporary haversack. With an air signifying to “the victor
belong the spoils,” he swept majestically out of the house.

The answer came next day from the Secretary of War that the Department
of the Interior which had the Indians in charge refused to allow any
army supplies to be distributed. They gave as a reason that it would
involve complexities in their relations with other departments. It
was a very difficult thing for the general to explain to the Indians.
They knew that both army and Indians were fed from the same source,
and they could not comprehend what difference it could make when a
question of starvation was pending. They could not be told, what we all
knew, that had the War Department made good the deficiencies it would
have reflected discredit on the management of the Department of the
Interior. The chiefs were compelled to return to their reservations,
where long ago all the game had been shot and their famishing tribe
were many of them driven to join the hostiles. We were not surprised
that the warriors were discouraged and desperate, and that the
depredations of Sitting Bull on the settlements increased with the new
accessions to his numbers.



CHAPTER XXV.

BREAKING UP OF THE MISSOURI.


The day of the final breaking up of the ice in the Missouri was one
of great excitement to us. The roar and crash of the ice-fields could
be heard a great distance. The sound of the tremendous report was the
signal for the whole garrison to go out on the hill near the infantry
post and watch the grand sight. Just above us was a bend in the river,
and around this curve great floes of ice rushed, heaping up in huge
masses as they swept down the furious current. All the lowlands that
lay between Bismarck and the river were inundated, and the shore far
in covered with blocks of ice that the force of the water had thrown
there. Just across the river from us was a wretched little collection
of huts, occupied by outlaws, into which the soldiers were decoyed
to drink and gamble. The law forbidding liquor to be sold on the
reservation was so strict that whiskey venders did not dare set foot on
the Government land. The reservation was too large to permit them to
place themselves on its other boundaries; they would have been at such
a distance from the post that it would not have been worth while. Just
on the water’s edge opposite, these human fiends had perched to watch
and entice the enlisted men. Over their rude cabins they had painted
elaborate and romantically expressed signs. In the midst of bleak
surroundings rose an untidy canvas-covered cabin, called “My Lady’s
Bower,” or over the door of a rough log-hut was a sign of the “Dew Drop
Inn” (Do drop in).

These shanties were placed on a little rise of ground, with a
precautionary thought of the usual spring floods. The day of the first
ice-breaking we saw the water rise to such a height that cabin after
cabin was abandoned. The occupants dragged their property as best they
could to the little rise where one or two, more cautious than the rest,
had built. On this narrow neck of land huddled together the whole of
the group, in desperate peril. No one on our side of the river could
help them, for the water was the maddest of whirlpools, while on the
other side the overflow had made a great lake, cutting them off from
Bismarck. As we watched them scrambling on the little knoll, like
drowning men clinging to the upturned keel of a boat, we suffered real
distress at our powerlessness to help them. The company commanders,
remembering how they had been the cause of the demoralization of some
of their best soldiers, openly avowed at first their relief that the
whole wretched lot were about to drown; but as the peril increased, not
one of the officers’ hearts remained unsoftened. They forgot what an
utterly abandoned, lawless company it was, and wished that some means
might be found by which they could be saved.

We women had discovered through the field-glasses a few of our own
sex among them, and were alarmed at their danger; for no matter what
they were, the helplessness of women at such a time makes one forget
everything, save that their lives hang in the balance. At last one of
them stepped into the only small boat they had been able to retain,
and standing bravely at the side of the one man at the bow, they were
swept down the river out of sight among the gorge of ice-blocks and
never again heard from. It was too exhausting watching these imperilled
beings, knowing how incapable we were of helping them, and we went back
to our quarters to spend hours of suspense. We could not set ourselves
about doing anything while the lives of human beings so near us were
in jeopardy. As day began to close, word came for our relief that the
water was subsiding; not, alas, until some of them had been borne to
their last home. Those that were left waded back to their huts, and,
unheeding the warning of that fearful day, began again their same
miserable existence.

Of all our happy days, the happiest had now come to us at Fort Lincoln.
I never knew more united married people than those of our regiment.
It will be easily understood that in the close companionship involved
in the intimate relationships of that life, either uncontrollable
hatred or increasing affection must ensue. If a desperate attack
of incompatibility set in out there, the climate, fine as it was,
simply had to disagree with the wife, for it was next to madness
for both of them if they did not escape from a life where almost
every hour is spent with each other. The wife had the privilege of
becoming the comrade of her husband in that isolated existence, and
the officers seemed to feel that every amusement was heightened if
shared by the other sex. That perpetual intimacy was a crucial test
of the genuineness of the affection. My husband used to quote a line
or two from one of Mrs. Stowe’s books that we had read together. The
new husband is asked why he knows that he loves his wife: “Because
she never tires me; she never makes me nervous.” He believed that if
husbands and wives bore that proof successfully as time advanced, they
might count on a happy future.

Life grew more enjoyable every day as we realized the blessings of our
home. When the winter was finally gone there was not an hour that we
would not have recalled. I have seen my husband with all the abandon
of a boy throw himself on a rug in front of the fire and enumerate his
blessings with real gratitude. Speaking of his regiment first, his
district (for he then had five posts under his command), the hunting,
his dogs and horses, and his own room, which was an unceasing delight,
he used to declare to me that he would not exchange places with any
one--not even a friend in civil life who stood at the head of his
profession as a journalist, who had wealth and youth, and who lived in
almost princely luxury. My husband used to tell me that he believed
he was the happiest man on earth, and I cannot help thinking that he
was. For with all the vicissitudes of those twelve eventful years, I
never knew him to have an hour’s depression. The presence of so many of
his family about him was an unceasing pleasure. There was an abiding
fondness between his brother, Colonel Tom, and himself. This brother
was scarcely more than a lad when he joined us. The general said to
some Eastern friends when he was in the States the last time, “To prove
to you how I value and admire my brother as a soldier, I think that he
should be the general and I the captain.”

Colonel Tom always lived with us, and the brothers played incessant
jokes on each other. Both of them honored and liked women extremely.
Colonel Tom used to pay visits of an unconscionable length to ladies
of the garrison, and no amount of teasing on his brother’s part would
induce him to shorten them. He never knew, when he started to go home
from these visits, but that he would find on the young lady’s door-mat
his trunk, portmanteau, and satchel--this as a little hint from the
general that he was overtaxing the lady’s patience. I used to think my
husband too severe with his brother, for in his anxiety not to show
favoritism he noticed the smallest misdemeanor. If, in visiting with
the young ladies in our parlor, he overstayed the hour he was due
at the stables or drill, the general’s eye noticed it, and perhaps
overlooked others in the room who were erring in the same manner. I
knew that a reprimand would be sent from the adjutant’s office in
the morning if I did not invent some way to warn the offender, so I
learned the bugle-call for stables, and hovering around Colonel Tom,
hummed it in his ear, which the voice of the charmer had dulled to the
trumpet-call. When the sound penetrated, he would make a plunge for his
hat and belt, and tear out of the house, thus escaping reproof.

When spring came again, it is impossible to express the joy I felt
that there was to be no summer campaign; and for the first time
in many years I saw the grass grow without a shudder. The general
began the improvement of the post with fresh energy, and from the
drill-ground came the click of the horses’ hoofs and the note of the
bugles repeating the commands of the officers. As soon as it was warm
enough, several charming girls came out from the States to our garrison
to visit us. They gave every one pleasure, and effectually turned the
heads of the young officers.

We had supposed that when travelling from the Gulf of Mexico almost to
the border of the British possessions, we could safely call ourselves
“West;” but we found that there was a post fifteen hundred miles beyond
us, on the Missouri River. The steamers were constantly taking officers
and their families from Bismarck into Montana. Sometimes the delay of
the boats in starting gave us the privilege of entertaining them. I
remember going down to bid good-bye to a family who had gone on board
a steamer at our landing. The officer was returning from an infantry
recruiting detail in the States. He had eight children and a dog.
These, with a lieutenant’s pay, constituted his riches. He disappeared
into a state-room and brought out the new baby, exhibiting it with as
much pride as if it had been the first-born! They told me afterwards
that during all that slow, wearisome journey of fifteen hundred miles,
on a boat that needs be seen to be appreciated, the mother was placid
and happy. There were no guards around the deck, so she tied the
children separately to the different articles of stationary furniture,
and let them play out to the limits of their tethers.

Almost our only exercise on summer evenings was walking on the
outskirts of the garrison surrounded by the dogs. It was dangerous to
go far, but we could walk with safety in the direction of the huts of
the Indian scouts. Their life always interested us, and by degrees they
became so accustomed to our presence that they went on with all their
occupations without heeding us.

There was a variety of articles among the litter tossed down in front
of these Indian quarters; lariats, saddles, and worn-out robes were
heaped about an arrangement for conveying their property from place to
place. The construction was simple, and rendered wheels unnecessary.
About midway on two long saplings, placed a short distance apart, is
a foundation of leather thongs. Upon this the effects belonging to an
Indian family are lashed. Two pole ends are attached to either side of
a rude harness on the pony, while the other two drag on the ground. In
following an Indian trail, the indentation made by the poles, as they
are pulled over the ground, traces the course of travel unmistakably.

Some of their boats lay upturned about the door. They were perfectly
round, like a great bowl, and composed of a wicker frame over which
buffalo hide was tightly drawn. The primitive shape and construction
dates back to the ancient Egyptians, and these boats were called
coracles in olden times. They seemed barely large enough to hold two
Indians, who were obliged to crouch down as they paddled their way with
short, awkward oars through the rapid current of the Missouri.

Bloody Knife was naturally mournful; his face still looked sad when he
put on the presents given him. He was a perfect child about gifts, and
the general studied to bring him something from the East that no other
Indian had.

He had proved himself such an invaluable scout to the general that they
often had long interviews. Seated on the grass, the dogs lying about
them, they talked over portions of the country that the general had
never seen, the scout drawing excellent maps in the sand with a pointed
stick. He was sometimes petulant, often moody, and it required the
utmost patience on my husband’s part to submit to his humors; but his
fidelity and cleverness made it worth while to yield to his tempers.

I was always interested in the one pretty squaw among them, called
Et-nah-wah-ruchta, which means Medicine Mother. Her husband was young,
and she was devoted to him. I have seen him lounging on the floor of
the hut while she made his toilet, combing and plaiting his hair,
cutting and oiling the bangs which were trimmed to cover his forehead,
and plucking the few scattered hairs from his chin--for they do not
consider it an honor to have a suspicion of a beard. She strapped on
his leggings, buckled his belt, and finally lighted his pipe. Once the
war bonnet of her lord had to be rearranged. He deigned to put it on
her head, readjusted the eagle feathers, and then gave it to her to
fasten them in securely. The faithful slave even used to accompany him
to his bath. Indians do bathe--at long intervals. I was not ambitious
to know if she actually performed the ablutions. However, I have seen
him, at a distance, running along the river bank on his return, his
wife waving a blanket behind him to keep off the mosquitoes!

If the Indians kill any game, they return home, order the squaws to
take the ponies and bring back what they have killed, and then throw
themselves down to sleep among the sprawling Indian babies, tailless
dogs, and general filth. The squaws do all the labor, and every skin is
tanned by their busy fingers. I never knew but one Indian who worked.
He was an object of interest to me, though he kept himself within the
gloom of the cabin, and skulked around the fire when he cooked. This
was the occupation forced upon him by the others. He had lacked the
courage to endure the torture of the sun-dance; for when strips of
flexible wood had been drawn through the gashes in his back, and he was
hung up by these, the poor creature had fainted. On reviving he begged
to be cut down, and ever after was an object of scorn. He was condemned
to wear squaw’s clothing from that time on. They mocked and taunted
him, and he led as separate an existence as if he were in a desert
alone. The squaws disdained to notice him, except to heap work upon his
already burdened shoulders.

Once my husband and I, in walking, came suddenly upon a queer little
mound, that we concluded we would observe at a distance. An Indian
was seen carrying buckets and creeping with difficulty into the small
aperture. It was about six feet in diameter, and proved to be a kind
of steam-bath, which they consider great medicine. A hole is first dug
in the ground and filled with stones; a fire is kindled upon them long
before, and they are heated red-hot. The round framework of saplings
over these is covered with layer upon layer of blankets and robes,
so that no air can penetrate. The Indians, almost stripped of their
clothing, crouch round them, while the one acting as servant brings
water to pour on the heated rocks. The steam has no escape, and the
Indians are thoroughly roasted. While we were looking at this curious
bath-house a small Indian boy crept out from under the edges of the
blankets, and ashamed to have given in before the rest, drew his almost
parboiled little body into a hiding-place. Ever ambitious, like small
boys of all nationalities, he had at first believed experience better
than hearsay.

We went one day into a tepee that was placed by itself to see an Indian
who was only slightly ill. His father and friends were talking to him
of his death as a certainty, and making all the plans in advance.
They even took his measure for a coffin, assuring him that they would
honor him by putting him in a box in imitation of the white man. The
general used to listen wonderingly when they referred to their dead in
the speeches in council. It was always in some roundabout way, never
directly.

The Indians all seemed a melancholy people. They sometimes ask
embarrassing questions. Perhaps, when some young girl accompanied
us, they spoke to my husband in the sign language, in which he was
versed. Once they inquired if the young lady was his other wife. The
blush of the girl so amused us that our laugh rang out among them, and
seemed to be a sound they knew nothing of. They sat on the ground for
hours, gambling for iron, brass and silver rings, but always glum and
taciturn. The tallest Indian of them all, Long Soldier, grew to be very
cunning when he learned what a curiosity he was. He would crouch down
at our approach, and only at the sight of a coin as a “tip” would he
draw up his seven feet of height.

The Ree scouts entertained their chief, Star-of-the-North, during the
summer. We were all asked to the feast, and all formally presented
to the distinguished stranger, who could not comprehend why he was
expected to shake hands with women. After going through what he found
was courtesy among the whites, he offered us a place around the circle.
Taking a bone from the meat broiling before the fire he offered it to
the general. My husband, after getting some salt, had the courage to
eat it. It was want of tact on my part to decline, but my heart failed
me when I recognized the master of ceremonies for the evening. As he
proffered me some meat, I found him to be the ferocious-looking savage
who had killed his enemy from another tribe and eaten his heart warm.



CHAPTER XXVI.

CURIOUS CHARACTERS AND EXCURSIONISTS AMONG US.


I wish that I could recall more about the curious characters among us.
Most of them had some strange history in the States that had been the
cause of their seeking the wild life of the frontier. The one whose
past we would have liked best to know was a man most valued by my
husband. All the important scoutings and most difficult missions where
secrecy was required were intrusted to him. We had no certain knowledge
whether or not he had any family or friends elsewhere, for he never
spoke of them. He acknowledged once, in a brief moment of confidence,
that he was a gentleman by birth. Startled, perhaps, by the look of
curiosity that even a friend’s face showed, he turned the conversation,
and said, “Oh, but what’s the use to refer to it now?” We did not even
know whether Charley Reynolds was his real name or one that he had
assumed. Soon after we reached Dakota the general began to employ him
as a scout. He remained with him much of the time, until he fell in the
battle of the Little Big Horn. My husband had such genuine admiration
for him that I soon learned to listen to everything pertaining to his
life with marked interest. He was so shy that he hardly raised his
eyes when I extended my hand at the general’s introduction. He did
not assume the picturesque dress, long hair, and belt full of weapons
that are characteristic of the scout. His manner was perfectly simple
and straightforward, and he could not be induced to talk of himself. He
had large, dark-blue eyes, and a frank face. Year after year he braved
the awful winters of Dakota alone. I have known him start out from Fort
Lincoln when even our officers, accustomed as they were to hardships,
were forbidden to go. He had been the best shot and most successful
hunter in the territory for fifteen years. When I watched the scouts
starting off on their missions, I invariably thanked Heaven that I was
born a woman, and consequently no deed of valor would ever be expected
from me. I felt, though, that were I compelled to be brave, I would far
rather go into battle with the inspiration of the trumpet-call and the
clash of arms, than go off alone and take my life in my hands as did
the scouts.

The year that the regiment explored the Black Hills, Charley Reynolds
undertook to carry despatches through to Fort Laramie, over one hundred
and fifty miles distant. He had only his compass to guide him, for
there was not even a trail. The country was infested with Indians, and
he could only travel at night. During the day he hid his horse as well
as he could in the underbrush, and lay down in the long grass. In spite
of these precautions he was sometimes so exposed that he could hear the
voices of Indians passing near. He often crossed Indian trails on his
journey. The last nights of his march he was compelled to walk, as his
horse was exhausted, and he found no water for hours. The frontiersmen
frequently dig in the beds of dried-up streams and find water, but this
resource failed. His lips became so parched and his throat so swollen
that he could not close his mouth. In this condition he reached Fort
Laramie and delivered his despatches. It was from the people of that
post that the general heard of his narrow escape. He came quietly back
to his post at Fort Lincoln, and only confessed to his dangers when
closely questioned by the general long afterwards. When I think how
gloriously he fell, fighting for his country, with all the valor and
fidelity of one of her officers, my eyes fill with tears; for he lies
there on that battle-field, unwept, unhonored, and unsung. Had he worn
all the insignia of the high rank and the decorations of an adoring
country, he could not have led a braver life or died a more heroic
death; and yet he is chronicled as “only a scout.”

We were inundated with excursionists during the summer. In order to
induce immigration the railroads had reduced the rates. One of the
incidents of the trip was to cross from Bismarck to Fort Lincoln.
Sometimes I had assistance in entertaining, but oftener I was left to
perform this duty alone. I have been sitting with the general and four
of his family, when we would see the post-ambulance unloading at the
door. In an instant I would find myself standing alone in the room, the
vanishing forms of all the family disappearing through the doors, and
even out of the windows opening upon the piazza. In vain I entreated
them to return; a smothered laugh at my indignation was all the
response.

It was sometimes tiresome to receive large groups of people, who
wanted to know impossible things about the country, and if it was a
good soil for wheat. I only remember one party who taxed my patience
to the uttermost. They cared nothing about Dakota as an agricultural
territory, but had come on purpose to see the general. To satisfy
them, I sent the servants and orderly to find him, but all returned
with the same answer--he was nowhere to be seen. I walked about the
garrison with them, explaining our post as best I could; the band came
to play for them; and finally, as a last resort, I opened the general’s
room to show them his hunting mementos. It was all of no avail. One
very decided woman said, “This is all very interesting, but we _came_
to see General Custer, and we do not intend to leave until we do.”
Finally I said, in desperation, he is much interested in improvements
for the post, and spends much time out-of-doors. “Very well,” said the
chief spokesman, “we will go all around the garrison and try to find
him.” As soon as I had bowed them away, I ran out to Mary to ask where
the general really was. I had known from the first, by a twinkle in
her eye, that she was helping him to escape. “Law, Miss Libbie, the
giniral most got sunstroke hidin’ in the chicken-coop.” The coop was
still unroofed, and my husband had been superintending the building of
a double wall to keep out the cold in winter; and there I found him,
really ill, having beaten his hasty retreat without a hat, and remained
in the broiling sun rather than submit to the odious ordeal of being on
exhibition.

Our house was so full of company, and we had so little time for each
other, that in order to visit together we were obliged to take our
horses, and ride up and down the valley as far as it was safe to go.
Even then my husband’s eyes scanned the horizon so searchingly, hardly
turning his face away from where the Indians were wont to dash, that it
intimidated me to see such watchfulness. If we went even a few paces
beyond our usual beat, which was bounded by the grazing stock and the
guard, and the busy chatter at his side ceased, my husband would look
quickly to see the cause of the unusual silence. My lip quivered with
fear, and I was wont to wink busily and swallow to keep back a tear
of terror, of which I was always ashamed, and against which I made
constant battle. The moment our horses’ heads were turned towards home
the endless flow of laughter and talk began again. When we could not
ride, we went out on the bluffs, just on the edge of the garrison,
for an uninterrupted hour. We were often out for hours, my husband
shooting at a mark, while I was equally busy taking accurate aim at the
ever-present mosquito, our constant companion in all our good times.

As the soldiers and citizens all knew the general’s love of pets, we
had constant presents. Many of them I would have gladly declined,
but notwithstanding a badger, porcupine, raccoon, prairie-dog, and
wild-turkey, all served their brief time as members of our family.
They were comparatively harmless, and I had only the inconvenience to
encounter. When a ferocious wild-cat was brought in, with a triumphant
air, by the donor, and presented with a great flourish, I was inclined
to mutiny. My husband made allowance for my dread of the untamed
creature, and decided to send him into the States, as a present to
one of the zoological gardens; for in its way it was a treasure. While
it remained with us it was kept in the cellar. Mary used to make many
retreats, tumbling up the stairs, when the cat flew at her the length
of its chain. She was startled so often that at last she joined with me
in requesting its removal as soon as convenient. The general regretted
giving it up, but Keevan was called to chloroform and box it for the
journey. Colonel Tom printed some facetious words on the slats of the
cover--something like “Do not fondle.” They were somewhat superfluous,
for no one could approach the box, after the effects of the chloroform
had passed away, without encountering the fiery-red eyes, and such
scratchings and spittings and mad plunges as suggested the propriety
of keeping one’s distance. Some detention kept the freight-train
at a station over Sunday; the box with the wild-cat was put in the
baggage-room. The violence of the animal as it leaped and tore at the
cover loosened the slats, and it escaped into the room. The freight
agent spent a wretched day! Chloroform was again resorted to, and
it was deemed a good riddance when the animal was sent off. When we
received a letter of thanks from the Scientific Board for so splendid a
specimen, I was relieved to know that the wild-cat was at last where it
could no longer create a reign of terror.

At one time the general tamed a tiny field-mouse, and kept it in a
large, empty inkstand on his desk. It grew very fond of him, and
ran over his head and shoulders, and even through his hair. Women
are not responsible for their fear of mice; they are born so. I had
fortunately only to keep away from the desk when the little creature
was free, for it was contented to consider that its domain. The
general, thinking at last that it was cruel to detain the little thing
in-doors when it belonged by nature to the fields, took it out and
left it on the plain. The kindness was of no earthly use; like the
oft-quoted prisoner of the Bastile, it was back again at the steps in
no time, and preferred captivity to freedom.



CHAPTER XXVII.

RELIGIOUS SERVICES.--LEAVE OF ABSENCE.


We had clergymen and missionaries of different denominations as our
guests during the summer months. Among them was a man from the East,
who was full of zeal and indifferent to the opinion of others as
long as he felt that he was right. He began to brave public opinion
on his way to Fort Lincoln. The cars had stopped for some time at a
station where there was a town; the missionary, wishing to improve
every opportunity for doing good, went out on the platform and began
a sermon. Before long he had a crowd of people around him, listening
with curiosity. There were laughter and sneers when the quavering voice
of the old man started a hymn that was familiar throughout the length
and breadth of the land. No one joined. Our brother Tom and a friend,
sitting in the car, but knowing nothing of the mission of the man,
realized his unsupported position, and quickly went to him. Standing
on either side of him, they joined their fresh young voices in the
hymn. Before long one after the other of the crowd joined in the music,
inspired by the independence of the example. The missionary returned
then with the officers, and came to our house, where my husband asked
him to remain indefinitely. We found him almost a monomaniac on the
subject of converting the Indians, and had not the general prevented
him from risking his life, he would have gone out alone among the
warlike tribes.

While he was waiting for an opportunity to go farther west, he begged
to begin meetings among the soldiers, and said that in order to do
more good and get at the hearts of those he would help, he must live
among them. For this purpose he left us, and went down to share the
rations of the enlisted men. The general had a room in a vacant barrack
put in order, and there the old man began his work. Every night the
garrison echoed with the voices of hundreds of soldiers singing hymns.
The simple, unaffected goodness of the missionary caused them to
believe in him, and he found his way to many a heart that beat under
the army blue. My husband felt thankful to have some work go on among
the enlisted men. We often talked of their condition, and he felt that
some of the energies of good people in behalf of foreign missions
might well be expended upon our army on the frontier. Among his plans
was the building of an assembly-room at the post, especially for the
soldiers: a place where they could have their own entertainments, and
where the papers, magazines, and general library might be kept. He
regretted constantly that there was no regular place where there could
be services for the men when the itinerant clergyman came. The service
was usually held in our parlor, but it was only large enough for the
officers and their families. In the following letter he touches upon
the subject of bettering the condition of the enlisted men, and bears
tribute to the good man who forgot himself in his love for mankind.

                        “FORT LINCOLN, DAKOTA, _September 17, 1875_.

  “_Dr. Newman_:

  “DEAR SIR,--I take the liberty of addressing you a few lines in
  regard to the Christian work in which Mr. Matchett has been engaged
  at this post. He came here under the auspices of the Indian Bureau,
  intending to labor among the tribes of the Upper Missouri River,
  but owing to some obstacles encountered at points above this
  on the river, he returned here some weeks ago to await further
  instructions from those under whom he is acting.

  “In the mean time he has devoted himself to missionary work among
  the soldiers--a class, by-the-way, whose moral welfare, at least
  on the frontier, is as sadly neglected as that of any of our
  aboriginal tribes. Mr. Matchett enters into his work with great
  earnestness and zeal. He has impressed all with whom he has been
  associated with his unselfishness, his honesty of purpose, and his
  great desire to do good.

  “It is but due to him and the holy cause he represents, and a
  pleasure to me, to testify to the success which has crowned his
  labors, particularly among the soldiers of this command. If our
  large posts on the remote frontier, which are situated far from
  church and Church influences, had chaplains who were as faithful
  Christians as I believe Mr. Matchett to be, and who, like him,
  are willing to labor faithfully among the enlisted men, the moral
  standard, now necessarily so low among that neglected class, would
  be elevated far above its present level, and great results would
  follow.

  “Hoping you will receive these lines in the spirit which prompts me
  to send them, I am truly yours,

            “G. A. CUSTER, Brevet Major-General U. S. A.”

In the autumn we went into the States, and spent most of the winter
delightfully in New York. We went out a great deal. Of course we were
compelled to dress very plainly, and my husband made great sport of
his only citizen overcoat--an ulster. He declared that it belonged so
to the past that he was the only man beside the car-drivers that wore
one. It did not disturb him in the least; neither did going in the
horse-cars to receptions and dinners. He used laughingly to say, “Our
coachman wears our livery, Libbie,” when the car-driver had on an army
overcoat. No one so perfectly independent as he was could fail to enjoy
everything.

Colonel Tom and one of the oldest friends we had in the 7th were with
us part of the time, and we had many enjoyable hours together. The
theatre was our unfailing delight. They were all desirous that I should
see the military play of “Ours,” which was then so admirably put on the
stage at Wallack’s, but dreaded the effect it would have on me. At last
one of them said that it was too finely represented for me to miss, and
I heard them say to each other, “We must take ‘the old lady,’ though it
will break her heart and she will cry.” It ended in my going. When we
reached the part in the play where the farewell comes, and the sword is
buckled on the warrior by the trembling hands of the wife, I could not
endure it. Too often had the reality of such suffering been my own. The
three men were crying like children, and only too willing to take me
out into the fresh air.

My husband spent many hours with Mr. Barrett in his dressing-room at
the theatre, during the long wait of _Cassius_ in the play of “Julius
Cæsar.” There were forty nights that these friends sat side by side,
until the call-boy summoned the actor to the footlights. The general
listened every evening with unflagging interest to the acting of his
friend.

Every one seemed to vie with every one else in showing appreciation of
my husband during that winter. He dined often with men who learned to
draw him out in talk of his Plains life. While in the midst of some
story, the butler would pass him a dish that he especially liked. The
host at once directed the man to pass on, and told my husband that he
could not spare time for him to take a second helping while they were
impatient for the rest of the tale. After going hungry once or twice,
the general learned to dine with me before he left the hotel, so that
he might be free to give himself up to others.

He repeated a story to me about Ole Bull, who was asked to dinner and
requested to bring his violin. He accepted for himself, but sent word
that his violin did not dine. My husband made a personal application
of the story, and threatened, playfully, to send word that his Indian
stories did not dine, hoping thereby to secure to himself the privilege
of satisfying his hunger unmolested. At the Century Club he received
from distinguished men the most cordial congratulations on his essay
into the literary field. They urged him with many an encouraging word
to continue the work. Some of the authors he met there were double
his age, and he received each word they said with deep gratitude. My
husband knew how I valued every expression of appreciation of him, and
he used to awaken me, when he returned, to tell me what was said. He
never failed to preface every such hesitating and reluctant repetition
by exacting promises of secrecy. He feared that in my wifely pride I
might repeat what he told me, and it would look like conceit on his
part. I knew that he did not tell me the half, for when the tears of
delight dropped from my eyes at the acknowledgment and commendation
of others his voice ceased. I felt that nine years was a long time
out of a young life to live in the wilderness, away from the sound
of approving voices, and the association of men whose very presence
incites to new effort. In February we had to say good-bye to all this
pleasurable life. Our friends asked us why we went so soon. In army
life it is perfectly natural to speak of one’s financial condition,
and it did not occur to us that civilians do not do the same. I do not
wonder now that they opened their eyes with well-bred astonishment when
we said we were obliged to go because we had used all the money we had
saved for leave of absence.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

A WINTER’S JOURNEY ACROSS THE PLAINS.


When we reached St. Paul the prospect before us was dismal, as the
trains were not to begin running until April, at the soonest. The
railroad officials, mindful of what the general had done for them in
protecting their advance workers in the building of the road, came and
offered to open the route. Sending us through on a special train was a
great undertaking, and we had to wait some time for the preparations
to be completed. One of the officers of the road took an engine out
some distance to investigate, and it looked discouraging enough when he
sprang down from the cab on his return in a complete coating of ice.

The train on which we finally started was an immense one, and certainly
a curiosity. There were two snow-ploughs and three enormous engines;
freight-cars with coal supplies and baggage; several cattle-cars,
with stock belonging to the Black Hills miners who filled the
passenger-coaches. There was an eating-house, looming up above
everything, built on a flat car. In this car the forty employés of
the road, who were taken to shovel snow, etc., were fed. There were
several day-coaches, with army recruits and a few passengers, and last
of all the paymaster’s car, which my husband and I occupied. This had
a kitchen and a sitting-room. At first everything went smoothly. The
cook on our car gave us excellent things to eat, and we slept soundly.
It was intensely cold, but the little stove in the sitting-room was
kept filled constantly. Sometimes we came to drifts, and the train
would stop with a violent jerk, start again, and once more come to
a stand-still, with such force that the dishes would fall from the
table. The train-men were ordered out, and after energetic work by the
stalwart arms the track was again clear and we went on. One day we
seemed to be creeping; the engines whistled, and we shot on finely.
The speed was checked so suddenly that the little stove fairly danced,
and our belongings flew through the car from end to end. After this
there was an exodus from the cars; every one went to inquire as to the
ominous stop. Before our train there seemed to be a perfect wall of
ice; we had come to a gully which was almost filled with drifts. The
cars were all backed down some distance and detached; the snow-ploughs
and engines having thus full sweep, all the steam possible was put
on, and they began what they called “bucking the drifts.” This did a
little good at first, and we made some progress through the gully.
After one tremendous dash, however, the ploughs and one engine were so
deeply embedded that they could not be withdrawn. The employés dug and
shovelled until they were exhausted. The Black Hills miners relieved
them as long as they could endure it; then the officers and recruits
worked until they could do no more. The impenetrable bank of snow was
the accumulation of the whole winter, first snowing, then freezing,
until there were successive layers of ice and snow. It was the most
dispiriting and forlorn situation.

Night was descending, and my husband, after restlessly going in and
out to the next car, showed me that he had some perplexity on his
mind. He described to me the discomfort of the officers and Bismarck
citizens in the other coach in not having any place to sleep. His
meaning penetrated at last, and I said, “You are waiting for me to
invite them all to room with us?” His “exactly” assured me it was
precisely what he intended me to do. So he hurried out to give them my
compliments and the invitation. The officers are generally prepared
for emergencies, and they brought in their blankets; the citizens left
themselves to the general’s planning. In order to make the car-blankets
go further, he made two of the folding-beds into one broad one. Two
little berths on each side, and rolls of bedding on the floor, left
only room for the stove, always heated to the last degree. I was
invited to take the farthest place towards the wall, in the large bed;
then came my husband. After that I burrowed my head in my pillow, and
the servant blew out some of the candles and brought in our guests. It
is unnecessary for me to say that I did not see the order in which they
appeared. The audible sleeping in our bed, however, through the long
nights that followed, convinced me that the general had assigned those
places to the oldest, fattest, and ranking civilians. Every morning I
awoke to find the room empty and all the beds folded away. The general
brought me a tin basin with ice-water, and helped me to make a quick
toilet; our eleven visitors waited in the other coach, to return to
breakfast with us in the same room. Every one made the best of the
situation, and my husband was as rollicking as ever. Though I tried to
conceal it, I soon lost heart entirely, and it cost me great effort to
join with the rest in conversation.

The days seemed to stretch on endlessly; the snow was heaped up about
us and falling steadily. All we could see was the trackless waste of
white on every side. The wind whistled and moaned around the cars, and
great gusts rocked our frail little refuge from side to side. The snow
that had begun to fall with a few scattered flakes now came down more
thickly. I made the best effort I could to be brave, and deceived them
as to my real terrors--I had no other idea than that we must die there.
We tried to be merry at our meals, and made light of the deficiencies
that occurred each time we sat down. The increase at the table quickly
diminished our stores, and I knew by the careful manner in which the
wood was husbanded that it was nearly exhausted. The general, always
cool and never daunted by anything, was even more blithe, to keep me
from knowing that there was anything alarming in the situation. If I
could have worked as the men did, even though it was at the hopeless
snow-drifts, the time would not have seemed so long. Of course I had
needle-work, but at such a time any industry that admits of thinking is
of little use as a distraction. During those anxious days it used to
seem strange to hear a dinner-bell through the air, muffled with snow.
For an instant I was deluded into the thought that by some strange
necromancy we had been spirited on to a station, and that this was the
clang of the eating-house bell. It was only the call from the car where
the employés were fed. The lowing of the cattle and howling of our dogs
in the forward cars were the only other sounds we heard. Finally the
situation became desperate, and with all their efforts the officers
could no longer conceal from me their concern for our safety.

Search was made throughout all the train to find if there was a man who
understood anything about telegraphy, for among the fittings stowed
away in the car a tiny battery had been found, with a pocket-relay.
A man was finally discovered who knew something of operating, and it
was decided to cut the main wire. Then the wires of the pocket-relay
were carried out of our car and fastened to either end of the cut wire
outside, so making an unbroken circuit between us and our Lincoln
friends, besides uniting us with Fargo station. In a little while the
general had an answer from Colonel Tom, most characteristic: “Shall I
come out for you? You say nothing about the old lady; is she with you?”
The “old lady” begged the privilege of framing the reply. I regretted
that the telegram could not be underscored--a woman’s only way of
emphasizing--for I emphatically forbade him to come. On this occasion
I dared to assume a show of authority. The stories of the risk and
suffering of our mail-carriers during the two previous winters were too
fresh in my memory for me to consent that Colonel Tom should encounter
so much for our sake.

After that we kept the wires busy, talking with our friends and
devising plans for our relief. We only succeeded in suppressing our
headlong brother temporarily. Against our direct refusal he made
all his preparations, and only telegraphed, when it was too late to
receive an answer, that he was leaving garrison. Then our situation
was forgotten in our solicitude about him. The time seemed to move on
leaden wings, and yet it was in reality not long. He went to Bismarck,
and looked up the best stage-driver in all the territory, and hired
him. This driver was cool, intrepid, and inured to every peril. At
an old stage-station along the route he found relays of mules that
belonged to the mail-sleigh.

At last a great whoop and yell, such as was peculiar to the Custers,
was answered by the general, and made me aware for the first time that
Colonel Tom was outside. I scolded him for coming before I thanked him,
but he made light of the danger and hurried us to get ready, fearing a
coming blizzard. His arms were full of wraps, and his pockets crowded
with mufflers and wraps the ladies had sent out to me. We did ourselves
up in everything we had, while the three hounds were being placed in
the sleigh. The drifts were too deep to drive near the cars, so my
husband carried me over the snow and deposited me in the straw with the
dogs. They were such strangers they growled at being crowded. Then the
two brothers followed, and thus packed in we began that terrible ride,
amid the cheers of those we were leaving. It was understood that we
were to send back help to those we left.

The suspense and alarm in the car had been great, but that journey
through the drifts was simply terrible. I tried to be courageous, and
did manage to keep still; but every time we plunged into what appeared
to be a bottomless white abyss, I believed that we were to be buried
there. And so we would have been, I firmly believe, had it not been for
the experience and tenacity of will shown by the old driver. He had a
peculiar yell that he reserved for supreme moments, and that always
incited the floundering mules to new efforts. The sleigh was covered,
but I could look out in front and see the plucky creatures scrambling
up a bank after they had extricated us from the great drift at the
bottom of the gully. If there had been a tree to guide us, or had it
been daytime, it would not have seemed so hopeless a journey. The moon
was waning, and the clouds obscured it entirely from time to time.
There was nothing to serve as guide-posts except the telegraph-poles.
Sometimes we had to leave them to find a road where the sleigh could
be pulled through, and I believed we never would reach them again.
Divide after divide stretched before us, like the illimitable waves of
a great white sea. The snow never ceased falling, and I knew too much
of the Dakota blizzard not to fear hourly that it would settle into
that driving, blinding, whirling atmosphere through which no eyes can
penetrate and no foot progress. It is fortunate that such hours of
suspense come to an end before one is driven distracted.

When at last I saw the light shining out of our door at Fort Lincoln
I could not speak for joy and gratitude at our release from such
peril. Our friends gathered about us around the great log-fire in the
general’s room. No light ever seemed so bright, no haven ever so
blessed, as our own fireside. The train remained in the spot where we
had left it until the sun of the next spring melted down the great ice
banks and set free the buried engines. All the help that Bismarck could
give was sent out at once, and even the few cattle that survived were
at last driven over that long distance, and shelter found for them in
the town.

Hardly had we arrived before a despatch came recalling the general to
the East. I had no thought but that I would be allowed to accompany
him, and went at once to repack my things. My husband found me thus
employed, and took my breath away by telling me he could not endure the
anxiety of having me go through such peril again. In vain I pleaded,
and asked him to remember that I had summoned sufficient self-control
not to utter a word about my fears; I promised more courage the next
time. It was of no avail, I had to submit.

Not the shadow of an anxiety, nor the faintest sign of dread of the
coming journey over the snow again came into his face. He left me with
the same words with which he always comforted me: “Be sure, Libbie,
it’s all for the best; you know we always find it so in the end.” With
these farewell words he stepped into the sleigh--which he knew well
might be his tomb.

It is not possible for me to speak in detail of the days that followed.
Life seemed insupportable until I received a despatch saying that my
husband had again passed safely over that two hundred and fifty miles
of country where every hour life is in jeopardy.



CHAPTER XXIX.

OUR LIFE’S LAST CHAPTER.


Our women’s hearts fell when the fiat went forth that there was to be a
summer campaign, with probably actual fighting with Indians.

Sitting Bull refused to make a treaty with the Government, and would
not come in to live on a reservation. Besides his constant attacks
on the white settlers, driving back even the most adventurous, he
was incessantly invading and stealing from the land assigned to the
peaceable Crows. They appealed for help to the Government that had
promised to shield them.

The preparations for the expedition were completed before my husband
returned from the East, whither he had been ordered. The troops had
been sent out of barracks into a camp that was established a short
distance down the valley. As soon as the general returned we left home
and went into camp.

The morning for the start came only too soon. My husband was to take
Sister Margaret and me out for the first day’s march, so I rode
beside him out of camp. The column that followed seemed unending. The
grass was not then suitable for grazing, and as the route of travel
was through a barren country, immense quantities of forage had to be
transported. The wagons themselves seemed to stretch out interminably.
There were pack-mules, the ponies already laden, and cavalry,
artillery, and infantry followed, the cavalry being in advance of all.
The number of men, citizens, employés, Indian scouts, and soldiers was
about twelve hundred. There were nearly seventeen hundred animals in
all.

As we rode at the head of the column, we were the first to enter the
confines of the garrison. About the Indian quarters, which we were
obliged to pass, stood the squaws, the old men, and the children
singing, or rather moaning, a minor tune that has been uttered on the
going out of Indian warriors since time immemorial. Some of the squaws
crouched on the ground, too burdened with their trouble to hold up
their heads; others restrained the restless children who, discerning
their fathers, sought to follow them.

The Indian scouts themselves beat their drums and kept up their
peculiar monotonous tune, which is weird and melancholy beyond
description. Their war-song is misnamed when called music. It is more
of a lament or a dirge than an inspiration to activity. This intoning
they kept up for miles along the road. After we had passed the Indian
quarters we came near Laundress Row, and there my heart entirely failed
me. The wives and children of the soldiers lined the road. Mothers,
with streaming eyes, held their little ones out at arm’s-length for one
last look at the departing father. The toddlers among the children,
unnoticed by their elders, had made a mimic column of their own. With
their handkerchiefs tied to sticks in lieu of flags, and beating old
tin pans for drums, they strode lustily back and forth in imitation of
the advancing soldiers. They were fortunately too young to realize why
the mothers wailed out their farewells.

Unfettered by conventional restrictions, and indifferent to the opinion
of others, the grief of these women was audible, and was accompanied by
desponding gestures, dictated by their bursting hearts and expressions
of their abandoned grief.

It was a relief to escape from them and enter the garrison, and
yet, when our band struck up “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” the most
despairing hour seemed to have come. All the sad-faced wives of the
officers who had forced themselves to their doors to try and wave a
courageous farewell, and smile bravely to keep the ones they loved from
knowing the anguish of their breaking hearts, gave up the struggle at
the sound of the music. The first notes made them disappear to fight
out alone their trouble, and seek to place their hands in that of their
Heavenly Father, who, at such supreme hours, was their never-failing
solace.

From the hour of breaking camp, before the sun was up, a mist had
enveloped everything. Soon the bright sun began to penetrate this veil
and dispel the haze, and a scene of wonder and beauty appeared. The
cavalry and infantry in the order named, the scouts, pack-mules, and
artillery, and behind all the long line of white-covered wagons, made
a column altogether some two miles in length. As the sun broke through
the mist a mirage appeared, which took up about half of the line of
cavalry, and thenceforth for a little distance it marched, equally
plain to the sight on the earth and in the sky.

The future of the heroic band, whose days were even then numbered,
seemed to be revealed, and already there seemed a premonition in the
supernatural translation as their forms were reflected from the opaque
mist of the early dawn.

The sun, mounting higher and higher as we advanced, took every little
bit of burnished steel on the arms and equipments along the line
of horsemen, and turned them into glittering flashes of radiating
light. The yellow, indicative of cavalry, outlined the accoutrements,
the trappings of the saddle, and sometimes a narrow thread of that
effective tint followed the outlines even up to the head-stall of the
bridle. At every bend of the road, as the column wound its way round
and round the low hills, my husband glanced back to admire his men, and
could not refrain from constantly calling my attention to their grand
appearance.

The soldiers, inured to many years of hardship, were the perfection of
physical manhood. Their brawny limbs and lithe, well-poised bodies gave
proof of the training their out-door life had given. Their resolute
faces, brave and confident, inspired one with a feeling that they were
going out aware of the momentous hours awaiting them, but inwardly
assured of their capability to meet them.

The general could scarcely restrain his recurring joy at being again
with his regiment, from which he had feared he might be separated by
being detained on other duty. His buoyant spirits at the prospect of
the activity and field-life that he so loved made him like a boy. He
had made every plan to have me join him later on, when they should have
reached the Yellowstone.

The steamers with supplies would be obliged to leave our post and
follow the Missouri up to the mouth of the Yellowstone, and from thence
on to the point on that river where the regiment was to make its first
halt to renew the rations and forage. He was sanguine that but a few
weeks would elapse before we would be reunited, and used this argument
to animate me with courage to meet our separation.

As usual we rode a little in advance and selected camp, and watched the
approach of the regiment with real pride. They were so accustomed to
the march the line hardly diverged from the trail. There was a unity
of movement about them that made the column at a distance seem like a
broad dark ribbon stretched smoothly over the plains.

We made our camp the first night on a small river a few miles beyond
the post. There the paymaster made his disbursements, in order that the
debts of the soldiers might be liquidated with the sutler.

In the morning the farewell was said, and the paymaster took sister and
me back to the post.

With my husband’s departure my last happy days in garrison were ended,
as a premonition of disaster that I had never known before weighed
me down. I could not shake off the baleful influence of depressing
thoughts. This presentiment and suspense, such as I had never known,
made me selfish, and I shut into my heart the most uncontrollable
anxiety, and could lighten no one else’s burden. The occupations of
other summers could not even give temporary interest.

We heard constantly at the Fort of the disaffection of the young
Indians of the reservation, and of their joining the hostiles. We
knew, for we had seen for ourselves, how admirably they were equipped.
We even saw on a steamer touching at our landing its freight of
Springfield rifles piled up on the decks _en route_ for the Indians
up the river. There was unquestionable proof that they came into the
trading-posts far above us and bought them, while our own brave 7th
Cavalry troopers were sent out with only the short-range carbines that
grew foul after the second firing.

While we waited in untold suspense for some hopeful news, the garrison
was suddenly thrown into a state of excitement by important despatches
that were sent from Division Head-quarters in the East. We women knew
that eventful news had come, and could hardly restrain our curiosity,
for it was of vital import to us. Indian scouts were fitted out at the
Fort with the greatest despatch, and given instructions to make the
utmost speed they could in reaching the expedition on the Yellowstone.
After their departure, when there was no longer any need for secrecy,
we were told that the expedition which had started from the Department
of the Platte, and encountered the hostile Indians on the head-waters
of the Rosebud, had been compelled to retreat.

All those victorious Indians had gone to join Sitting Bull, and it
was to warn our regiment that this news was sent to our post, which
was the extreme telegraphic communication in the North-west, and the
orders given to transmit the information, that precautions might be
taken against encountering so large a number of the enemy. The news of
the failure of the campaign in the other department was a death-knell
to our hopes. We felt that we had nothing to expect but that our
troops would be overwhelmed with numbers, for it seemed to us an
impossibility, as it really proved to be, that our Indian scouts should
cross that vast extent of country in time to make the warning of use.

The first steamer that returned from the Yellowstone brought letters
from my husband, with the permission, for which I had longed
unutterably, to join him by the next boat. The Indians had fired into
the steamer when it had passed under the high bluffs in the gorges of
the river. I counted the hours until the second steamer was ready.
They were obliged, after loading, to cover the pilot-house and other
vulnerable portions of the upper deck with sheet-iron to repel attacks.
Then sand-bags were placed around the guards as protection, and other
precautions taken for the safety of those on board. All these delays
and preparations made me inexpressibly impatient, and it seemed as if
the time would never come for the steamer to depart.

Meanwhile our own post was constantly surrounded by hostiles, and the
outer pickets were continually subjected to attacks. It was no unusual
sound to hear the long-roll calling out the infantry before dawn to
defend the garrison. We saw the faces of the officers blanch, brave as
they were, when the savages grew so bold as to make a daytime sortie
upon our outer guards.

A picture of one day of our life in those disconsolate times is fixed
indelibly in my memory.

On Sunday afternoon, the 25th of June, our little group of saddened
women, borne down with one common weight of anxiety, sought solace
in gathering together in our house. We tried to find some slight
surcease from trouble in the old hymns: some of them dated back to our
childhood’s days, when our mothers rocked us to sleep to their soothing
strains. I remember the grief with which one fair young wife threw
herself on the carpet and pillowed her head in the lap of a tender
friend. Another sat dejected at the piano, and struck soft chords
that melted into the notes of the voices. All were absorbed in the
same thoughts, and their eyes were filled with far-away visions and
longings. Indescribable yearning for the absent, and untold terror for
their safety, engrossed each heart. The words of the hymn,

    “E’en though a cross it be,
     Nearer, my God, to Thee,”

came forth with almost a sob from every throat.

At that very hour the fears that our tortured minds had portrayed in
imagination were realities, and the souls of those we thought upon were
ascending to meet their Maker.

On the 5th of July--for it took that time for the news to come--the
sun rose on a beautiful world, but with its earliest beams came the
first knell of disaster. A steamer came down the river bearing the
wounded from the battle of the Little Big Horn, of Sunday, June 25th.
This battle wrecked the lives of twenty-six women at Fort Lincoln, and
orphaned children of officers and soldiers joined their cry to that of
their bereaved mothers. From that time the life went out of the hearts
of the “women who weep,” and God asked them to walk on alone and in the
shadow.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Custer very naturally ends her work with the coming of the news
that put so many women’s lives in shadow. She has attempted no account
of the Little Big Horn expedition, and none seems necessary here; but
it is deemed best to add the following very brief outline by way of
explanation to any reader whose memory may need refreshing:

  The expedition during the summer of 1876, which ended so fatally
  with the battle of the Little Big Horn, was under General Terry,
  the ranking officer. General Custer commanded under him the 7th
  Cavalry. As it marched, the force struck a fresh Indian trail,
  and scouts were sent to follow it up and ascertain the number of
  warriors in the band. This can be done with great accuracy. The
  number of Indians can be estimated by following the trail far
  enough to get its average width and the size of the circle grazed
  over at night by the ponies on which the warriors ride. In this
  case the scouts followed the trail far enough to ascertain that
  twelve hundred Indians were in the band, but did not learn the
  location of the village where they were encamped. Upon their return
  General Terry and General Custer consulted together. It was well
  known to them that the vigilance of the Indian keeps outposts and
  signal-fires on every hill-top, thus making it an impossibility to
  approach one of their villages unobserved. Neither could it be kept
  from their quick eyes what the strength of the approaching force
  was. To await an attack or to advance with superior numbers was to
  give the Indians a chance to escape, and their wariness was known
  to all. Accordingly it was determined that General Custer should
  take such force as he thought the Indians, seeing him approach,
  would stand against awaiting its attack. He was convinced that the
  7th Cavalry was as large a body as could be taken with safety, and
  was a match for twelve hundred Indians. He knew his men, and knew
  what he was doing. It was suggested that he should take a piece of
  artillery, but the scouts had described the bad lands over which
  they must march, and General Custer knew that artillery would
  hamper his movements besides increasing the apparent size of the
  command. He started with only his regiment, and the rest of the
  expedition halted to await the result. The officers and men went
  out feeling certain that a fight awaited them. If there had been
  but twelve hundred warriors, as there was every reason to suppose,
  the affair would have ended well; but Indian reinforcements,
  covering a trail half a mile wide (as was learned after the
  battle), had come from the North, and in an opposite direction to
  that in which the Indians were going. Instead, therefore, of a
  thousand, the gallant 7th Cavalry encountered about five thousand
  Indians, who were emboldened by success in their battle in another
  department, and made even more venturesome by their increase of
  numbers.

  General Custer called a halt as he approached the village, and
  summoning his officers, explained to them his plan of attack, which
  was the same that had proved so successful in the battle of the
  Washita, in the previous history of the regiment. He offered the
  lead to that officer who should first report his company ready for
  battle. In a few seconds one of the highest in rank received this
  desired honor. Dividing the command into three detachments, General
  Custer led the body of his regiment in that final charge, in which
  afterwards the line of battle of a portion could be traced by the
  dead men and horses as they fell at the post of duty, and from
  which no man escaped.



APPENDIX.


THE YELLOWSTONE EXPEDITION OF 1873.

_Extracts from Letters written by General Custer to his Wife during the
Expedition to the Yellowstone in 1873._

  [Many of the letters from which the following extracts are taken
  are very long, but so much of them is of a personal nature that I
  have sought here to give only those portions that convey an idea of
  the camp-life and daily experiences of a campaign on the frontier.

  I regret that I have not the letters giving an account of the
  Indian fights. I have substituted a copy of General Custer’s
  official report to complete the story of the summer of
  1873.--E. B. C.]


                            Camp on Heart River, D. T., June 26, 1873.

When I may have an opportunity to send this, or when it may reach you,
I cannot tell; but I will have it ready, and when the first courier
leaves he shall carry these tidings to you.

This is our sixth day out from Fort Rice. We reached this river
yesterday about noon, and are remaining in camp to-day as it is
somewhere in this locality that we expect to find the railroad
engineers, and Lieut. D---- and four companies of infantry that left
Fort Rice before you did.

Our march has been perfectly delightful thus far. We have encountered
no Indians, although yesterday we saw the fresh tracks of about fifteen
ponies, showing that they are in our vicinity.

I never saw such fine hunting as we have constantly had since we left
Fort Rice. I have done some of the best shooting I ever did, and as
you are always so interested I want to tell you about it. I take
twenty-five picked men with me, and generally have several officers
in the party besides. It is not necessary to go out of sight of the
column, as the game is so abundant we can even eclipse your story
about antelope running into the men’s arms! They actually ran through
our wagon-train, and one was run over by a wagon and caught! Tom[B]
immediately remarked, “Well, by George, we can beat Libbie’s story now!”

    [B] The general’s brother.

The first day out the dogs caught an antelope and I shot one, since
when I have brought in from two to four daily. Day before yesterday the
members of our mess killed eight antelope. But I must tell you of some
of my recent shots with my new Springfield rifle.

Three days ago F---- and I with a party were out in sight of the
column, when an antelope started up fully two hundred yards distant,
and ran rapidly parallel to us. I fired five times at it while running,
at this distance. It then stopped, and I got about twenty-five paces
nearer when I fired off-hand, aiming directly at the head. It fell, and
I measured the distance, which proved to be one hundred and seventy
yards, and the antelope was found to be shot through the head. Of the
five shots which I had fired at it while running at a distance of two
hundred yards, four had struck the antelope, one breaking its thigh and
two going through its body.

Yesterday a fine large buck came bounding over the hill across our
path. He was so far that no one seemed to think it worth while to aim
at him, but I thought I would try. Jumping off my thorough-bred, Vic,
in an instant I had my rifle at my shoulder and levelled at the buck,
which was running at full speed. I pressed the trigger, and waiting an
instant to give the bullet time to reach its mark, the buck was seen to
fall lifeless in the grass. To be accurate in the distance I requested
F---- to measure it. He did so, and found it to be two hundred and
eighty yards. Galloping to where the antelope had fallen, I found him
shot directly through the centre of the neck, about one foot from
the head, the neck being broken by the shot. I put him entire on the
orderly trumpeter’s horse and sent him to the wagons to be carried to
camp, where I butchered him. He was the fattest antelope I ever saw.

I sent H---- and M----’s messes each a quarter. I have not only
been fortunate enough to keep our own mess supplied with game every
meal since we left Fort Rice, but have had quantities to send to the
infantry officers, to the band, and to many of our own officers.

Poor Fred and Tom! They have accompanied me frequently--Fred always
along--and yet neither of them has been able thus far to kill a single
antelope. I tease them a great deal, for they use the Winchester rifle.
It is remarkably accurate up to one hundred yards, and not so beyond
that distance.

You know when Tom takes a notion to get anything of mine how very
persistent he is. Well, his latest dodge is to obtain possession of my
Springfield rifle, which I allow my orderly, Tuttle, to carry. Night
before last he carried it off to his tent without saying anything about
it; but Tuttle slipped down while Tom was at breakfast and recaptured
the rifle!

I wish you could have seen one of our hunting-parties coming into camp
a few days ago, after a hunt of not more than four hours, in sight of
the column all the time. My orderlies and I had four antelope strapped
to our saddles; then came Captain F----, with a fine, large buck
strapped behind him and a saddle in his front, while his orderly was
similarly loaded; then McD---- and his orderly, each with a splendid
antelope on his saddle, while others of the men who had accompanied me
were well provided with game--except poor H----. He and the four men
of his company who went with us had equal chances with the rest, but
they had nothing. The officers give H---- no rest now on the subject
of antelope; the last advice given him was that his only chance now is
to spread his fish-net (which the officers ridicule him for bringing
into such a country as this) and catch the antelope in that way! Tuttle
killed two antelope at one shot with my Springfield at pretty long
range.

Yesterday Fred and I had an exciting time with an elk that swam the
river twice near us, but we only succeeded in wounding him before he
got away to the bluffs beyond sight of the command, where we did not
deem it prudent to follow him.

I am glad that I posted myself with regard to taxidermy; for yesterday,
after reaching camp, I devoted all the afternoon to preparing the head
of the antelope I killed for preservation. The antlers the officers
think the finest they ever saw. I have prepared the entire head, and
the skin of about one foot of the neck. I also have a beautiful set of
elk antlers that I hope to get through safely. I carry them strapped on
top of the ambulance of Mary, our cook.

I do not think we are going to have any serious difficulty with the
Indians--at least this is General Rosser’s opinion. He thinks this
expedition is too large and unwieldy to perform the desired work
promptly, and I agree with him.

There is an officer temporarily detailed with the command who inspires
my respect because he regards the wishes of his mother so highly. He
has some fine rifles at home, but did not bring any with him, merely
to please his mother, who feared that if he brought his guns along he
would be tempted to wander off alone hunting.

It is four days since I began this letter, but we have been moving in
the mean while, so that but little opportunity for writing has been
allowed.

With the ten companies of the 7th I started to join the engineers,
leaving the infantry and train to follow us. I marched thirty miles
over a bad country, besides building a bridge over a stream thirty feet
wide and ten feet deep. I superintended and planned it, and about one
hundred and eighty men worked to complete it. About twenty men had to
cross the stream before the bridge could be begun. An officer must go
with them, so I detailed McD---- and twenty of his men. They had to
strip off and swim across. You ought to have heard the young officers
on the bank hooting at McD---- when he was preparing to lead the “light
brigade” across the water! I built a bridge in about two hours, over
which the whole command and wagon-train passed.

The officers have a good joke on Lieut. H----. Nearly all of them have
killed antelope, so Mr. H---- concluded he must kill his. He went out
yesterday near the column and soon espied an antelope quietly lying in
the grass about one hundred yards distant. Quickly dismounting from
his horse, he crawled on the ground until near enough, as he thought,
to kill it. Taking deliberate aim he fired, but the ball fell short
a few feet; yet the antelope was not disturbed. This is not unusual.
Again he took aim this time with great care, fired, and to his joy he
saw the fur fly from the antelope. Never doubting but that he had given
him a mortal wound, Mr. H---- leaped into his saddle and galloped up
to the antelope to cut its throat. Imagine his disgust to find that
the antelope had been dead several days, and had already been taken
possession of by the flies! The officers will never let him hear the
last of it.

Well, I have joined the engineers, and am having such pleasant visits
with General Rosser. We talk over our West Point times and discuss
the battles of the war. I stretch the buffalo-robe under the fly of
the tent, and there in the moonlight he and I, lying at full length,
listen to each other’s accounts of battles in which both had borne a
part. It seemed like the time when we were cadets together, huddled
on one blanket and discussing dreams of the future. Rosser said the
worst whipping he had during the war was the one I gave him the 9th
of October, when I captured everything he had, including the uniform
now at home in Monroe. He said that on the morning of that fight, just
as the battle was commencing he was on a hill on our front, which I
well remember, watching us advance. He was looking at us through his
field-glass, and saw and recognized me as plainly as if I had been by
his side. I was at the head of my troops--all of which I remember--and
advancing to the attack.

Rosser said as soon as he recognized me he sent for his brigade
commanders and pointed me out to them, saying, “Do you see that man
in front with long hair? Well, that’s Custer, and we must bust him up
to-day.”

“And so,” General Rosser continued, “we would have done had you
attacked us as we thought you intended to; but instead of that you
slipped another column away around us, and my men soon began calling
out, ‘We’re flanked! we’re flanked!’ then broke and ran, and nothing
could stop them.”

Rosser wanted to meet you at the crossing, but failed, and wrote to his
wife to try and see you in St. Paul, but you had already gone through.

He too asked if you did not accompany me almost everywhere; so you see
what an extended reputation for campaigning you have. And, do you know,
he tells me he thinks I am anxious to get back to you. But I did not
tell him that I was already counting the days.

I killed another antelope yesterday, two the day before, and two the
day before that. Mary made us a delicious pot-pie out of two curlew I
shot. Whenever the subject of pot-pies comes up, Mr. Calhoun, Tom, and
I at once begin talking of the place where we got the best pot-pies we
ever tasted. One will say, “I’ll tell you where you can get the very
nicest pot-pie you ever put in your mouth,” and before he can go any
further the other two will call out, “At mother’s.”

I saw the most beautiful red-deer yesterday I ever have seen. It was a
new species to me; of the deepest red, as red as the reddest cow you
ever saw. I was too far away to get a shot.

All the officers were up at my tent last night at twilight, sitting
under the awning in front, all jolly, all good-humored, full of their
jokes, and prouder than ever of the 7th, as they _modestly_ compared
the regiment with the infantry.

This letter of forty-four closely-written pages would make a _Galaxy_
article so far as its length goes; suppose you send me a check for it
as the _Galaxy_ people do for theirs?

You must read a good deal of it to mother, or tell her of its contents,
and say that this time this letter must do for the family. I hope your
going home will be a comfort to her and improve her health.

Tell D---- if she is going to come into the Custer family she must
be prepared to receive little billet-doux something the size of this
volume!

Tom says, “Tell Libbie I intended writing, but when I saw the length of
this letter I knew that there was nothing left to tell her!”


                                     Yellowstone River, July 19, 1873.

Well, here we are, encamped on the banks of the far-famed and to you
far distant Yellowstone! How I have longed to have you see, during our
progress, what seems to me almost like another world. Truly can this
interesting region be termed the “Wonder-land!”

When the command arrived at what was supposed to be a distance of
about fifteen miles from the river, it became necessary and important
to ascertain where the steamboat with supplies that had come by river
was located. I volunteered to go on a steamboat hunt, as I had hunted
almost every other species of game; so taking two troops and leaving
our tents and wagons, I started on a search for the _Key West_. Several
of the officers applied to go, and General Rosser, who is always ready
for a trip of this kind, accepted my invitation to accompany us.

No artist--not even a Church or a Bierstadt--could fairly represent
the wonderful country we passed over, while each step of our progress
was like each successive shifting of the kaleidoscope, presenting to
our wondering gaze views which almost appalled us by their sublimity.

We passed over a region so full of cañons and precipices. Much of
our journey was necessarily made on foot, our horses being led in
single file, except my own noble “Dandy.” He seemed to realize the
difficulties of the route, and although permitted to run untethered, he
followed me as closely and carefully as a well-trained dog.

Sometimes we found ourselves on the summit of a high peak, to ascend
which we had to risk both life and limb, and particularly imperil the
safety of our horses. Once we came to a steep declivity which neither
man nor horse could descend. It was impossible to retrace our steps,
as the sides of the peak were so steep our horses could not turn about
without great danger of tumbling hundreds of feet. Asking the rest to
wait a moment, I looked about and discovered a possible way out to our
left, provided a huge rock which lay in the path could be removed.
Bidding Tuttle “Look out,” and uttering a few words of caution to
Dandy, who seemed to comprehend our situation and say, “All right,
don’t mind me,” I left him clinging to the soft and yielding soil of
the mountain. I succeeded in dislodging the rock after some work, and
sent it leaping down the rocky side leading to the valley, sometimes
taking hundreds of feet at one plunge. The way being clear, a simple
“Come on, Dandy,” and we took the advance, followed by the rest. We
were well repaid for our risk and trouble by the grandeur of the
scenery that lay spread out beneath us.

I am making a rare collection of the fossils that the country is rich
in--vegetable and mineral specimens. I hope you will approve of my plan
of disposal of them: I intend to give them to the college at Ann Arbor.
What would you think to pass through thousands of acres of petrified
trees, some of which are twelve feet in diameter, with trunks and
branches perfect! The fallen trunks of some as they lie on the ground
are so natural in grain and color, the officers are sometimes deceived
and sit down, thinking them but lately felled.

To return to my search for the steamboat. After struggling through the
beds of deep cañons and climbing almost inaccessible peaks, we finally
emerged into the valley of the Yellowstone. We were still obliged
in crossing swales to struggle on by walking, leading, climbing, and
stumbling, and after a ride of ten miles we came to where the boat was
moored.

Every one is congratulating F---- on getting the place I applied to
Rosser for, as a member of the party of engineers. He will get $60 a
month, and a prospect later of advancement and higher salary. It is
such a pleasure when I can help young men who evince a disposition
to help themselves. I never forget those who gave me my first
encouragement in life. How I have wished that some of our home boys,
who possess talent and education, but lack means and opportunity, would
cast themselves loose from home and try their fortunes in this great
enterprising western country, where the virtues of real manhood come
quickly to the surface, and their possessor finds himself transformed
from a mere boy to a full-fledged man almost before he realizes his
quick advancement. It is such a comfort to me to feel independent. Much
as I dote on my profession, and earnestly as I am devoted to it, yet
should accident cast me adrift and I be thrown upon my own resources, I
have not a fear but that energy and a willingness to put my shoulder to
the wheel would carry me through and with reasonable success.

In this country, no man, particularly if moderately educated, need fail
in life if determined to succeed, so many and varied are the avenues to
honorable employment which open on all hands before him.

The climate is perfect out here; not five men are sick out of the whole
ten troops, and one poor fellow who was about to be discharged before
we left for disability, as he was thought to be in consumption, is now
well and does not desire his discharge. Though it is July we sleep
under blankets constantly.

Regarding the dogs, I find myself more warmly attached to Tuck than
to any other I have ever owned. Did I tell you of her catching a
full-grown antelope-buck, and pulling him down after a run of over
a mile, in which she left the other dogs far behind? She comes to
me almost every evening when I am sitting in my large camp-chair,
listening to the band or joining with the officers in conversation.
First she lays her head on my knee, as if to ask if I am too much
engaged to notice her. A pat of encouragement and her fore-feet are
thrown lightly across my lap; a few moments in this posture and she
lifts her hind-feet from the ground, and, great, over-grown dog that
she is, quietly and gently disposes of herself on my lap, and at times
will cuddle down and sleep there for an hour at a time, until I become
so tired of my charge that I am compelled to transfer her to mother
earth; and even then she resembles a well-cared for and half-spoiled
child, who can never be induced to retire until it has been fondled to
sleep in its mother’s arms.

Tuck will sleep so soundly in my lap that I can transfer her gently
to the ground and she will continue her slumber, like a little baby
carefully deposited in its crib. As I write she is lying at my feet.
She makes up with no other person.

I have just told Tom if he expects letters from you, he must write
first. He answers that he would like to know what he can find to write
“after she receives that _book_ from you.” And one might think that the
eighty pages of this letter had exhausted every subject, but there is
much I must leave untold.

I am prouder and prouder of the 7th, Libbie; not an officer or man of
my command has been seen intoxicated since the expedition left Fort
Rice. H---- and I have our periodical official tussles, as usual, but I
see a great deal of him and like him better than ever.

We have just parted with a member of the expedition who is not a loss
to us, for he is a gossip but not viciously inclined--rather the
contrary. He peddles tiresome tales without meaning harm. Everybody in
the 7th Cavalry camp is content to attend to his own business and not
meddle with other people’s affairs.

You will scarcely credit what I am about to tell you, but it is an
undeniable fact: here we have been encamped for several days with
pickets and guards surrounding our camp for its protection.

Our march here was over a stretch of wild, almost unknown country,
supposed to be infested with hostile Indians. Small parties were not
deemed safe beyond sight of our column, and yet to-day imagine our
surprise to see a plain white covered spring-wagon, drawn by two
mules and accompanied by a single individual, approach our camp from
the direction we came more than one week ago. It proved to be the
travelling-conveyance of an humble priest, who, leaving Fort Rice seven
days ago, traversed alone and unguided, except by our trail, through
more than two hundred miles of hostile and dangerous country, fording
rivers winding through deep and almost impassable cañons, toiling over
mountains, at each step liable to be massacred by hostile Indians. The
country was entirely new to him, he never having been west of Fort Rice
before. He came believing he could be of spiritual benefit to many
who would otherwise be wholly deprived of such comfort. He carried
no arms, adopted no special precautions for his safety, but with a
simple and unpretentious cross reverently erected and borne above his
travelling-wagon, he took his life in his hand and boldly plunged into
the wilds of this almost unknown region, evidently relying upon Him
who ruleth over all, to guide and protect him in his perilous journey.
This to me is an act of Christian heroism and physical courage which
entitles this humble priest to immeasurable honor and praise.


                 Yellowstone River, above Powder River, July 31, 1873.

... The _Josephine_ is unloading her cargo about one mile below
here, and leaves for Bismarck within an hour. We expected to have an
opportunity to write letters to-day, but as the boat receives five
hundred dollars a day it is important to discharge her as soon as
practicable.

The command is not in camp yet. I took a squadron and started ahead to
find a road. You have no idea what difficulty we have, looking out a
route through this country over which it is possible to move a train.
Yesterday I took two companies and travelled about forty miles. To-day
we reached the Yellowstone at 9.30.

We have been sleeping since (and it is now 4 P.M.) under the large
trees standing on the river bank. I have just received one letter from
you, and I think it is the first instalment only, for I hear there are
seven sacks of mail on board the boat. I am sorry I am compelled to
write under such hurried circumstances. I am lying on the ground, using
my horse-blanket for a desk.


_Official Report of the Engagements with Indians on the 4th and 11th
ultimo._

_Copy._

                        Head-quarters Battalion 7th Cavalry,
           Pompey’s Pillar, Yellowstone River, Montana, Aug. 15, 1873.

_Acting Assistant Adjutant-general Yellowstone Expedition_:

SIR,--Acting under the instructions of the Brevet-major-general
commanding, I proceeded at five o’clock, on the morning of the 4th
instant, with one squadron of my command, numbering about ninety men,
to explore a route over which the main column could move. Having
reached a point on the Yellowstone River, near the mouth of Tongue
River, and several miles in advance, and while waiting the arrival of
the forces of the expedition, six mounted Sioux dashed boldly into
the skirt of timber within which my command had halted and unsaddled,
and attempted to stampede our horses. Fortunately our vedettes
discovered the approach of the Indians in time to give the alarm. A few
well-directed shots soon drove the Indians to a safe distance, where
they kept up a series of yells, occasionally firing a few shots. As
soon as the squadron could mount, I directed Captain Moylan to move
out in pursuit, at the same time I moved with the troops in advance,
commanded by First Lieutenant T. W. Custer. Following the Indians at
a brisk gait, my suspicions became excited by the confident bearing
exhibited by the six Sioux in our front, whose course seemed to lead us
near a heavy growth of timber which stood along the river bank above
us. When almost within rifle range of this timber, I directed the
squadron to halt, while I with two orderlies, all being well mounted,
continued after the Sioux in order to develop their intentions.
Proceeding a few hundred yards in advance of the squadron, and keeping
a watchful eye on the timber to my left, I halted. The six Indians
in my front also halted, as if to tempt farther pursuit. Finding all
efforts in this direction unavailing, their plans and intentions were
quickly made evident, as no sooner was it seen that we intended to
advance no farther, than with their characteristic howls and yells over
three hundred well-mounted warriors dashed in perfect line from the
edge of the timber, and charged down upon Captain Moylan’s squadron,
at the same time endeavoring to intercept the small party with me. As
soon as the speed of the thorough-bred on which I was mounted brought
me within hailing distance of Lieutenant Custer’s troop, I directed
that officer to quickly throw forward a dismounted line of troopers,
and endeavor to empty a few Indian saddles. The order was obeyed
with the greatest alacrity, and as the Sioux came dashing forward,
expecting to ride down the squadron, a line of dismounted cavalrymen
rose from the grass and delivered almost in the faces of the warriors a
volley of carbine bullets which broke and scattered their ranks in all
directions, and sent more than one Sioux reeling from his saddle. This
check gave us time to make our dispositions to resist the succeeding
attacks, which we knew our enemies would soon make upon us. The great
superiority of our enemies in numbers, the long distance separating us
from the main command, and the belief, afterwards verified, that the
woods above us still concealed a portion of the savage forces, induced
me to confine my movements, at first, strictly to the defensive. The
entire squadron (except the horse-holders) was dismounted and ordered
to fight on foot. The Indians outnumbering us almost five to one were
enabled to envelop us completely between their lines, formed in a
semicircle, and the river which flowed at our backs. The little belt of
timber in which we had been first attacked formed a very good cover for
our led-horses, while the crest of a second table-land, conveniently
located from the timber, gave us an excellent line of defence. The
length of our line and the numbers of the enemy prevented us from
having any force in reserve; every available officer and man was on the
skirmish-line, which was in reality our line of battle, even the number
of men holding horses had to be reduced, so that each horse-holder held
eight horses. Until the Indians were made to taste quite freely of our
lead they displayed unusual boldness, frequently charging up to our
line and firing with great deliberation and accuracy. Captain Moylan
exercised command along the entire line; Lieutenant Custer commanded
the centre; my adjutant, Lieutenant James Calhoun, commanded the right;
and Lieutenant Charles A. Varnum, the left. The first Indian killed
was shot from his pony by “Bloody Knife,” the Crow who acted as my
guide and scout. Soon after Private Charles P. Miller, of “A” troop 7th
Cavalry, succeeded in sending a carbine bullet directly through the
body of a chief who had been conspicuous throughout the engagement. At
the same time it was known that our firing had disabled many of their
ponies, while owing to our sheltered position the only damage thus far
inflicted upon us was one man and two horses wounded, one of the latter
shot in three places.

Finding their efforts to force back our line unavailing, the Indians
now resorted to another expedient. By an evidently preconcerted plan
they set fire in several places to the tall grass which covered the
ground in our front, hoping by this means to force us back to the
rear, and thus finish us at their pleasure. Fortunately for us there
was no wind prevailing at the time, while the grass was scarcely dry
enough to burn rapidly. Taking advantage of the dense curtain of
smoke which rose from the burning grass, the Indians, by following
the course of the flame, could often contrive to obtain a shot at us
at comparatively close range; but my men, observing that there was
no danger to be apprehended from the slowly advancing flames, could
frequently catch an opportunity to send a shot through a break in the
curtain of smoke, and in this way surprised the Indian by the adoption
of his own device.

The fight began at 11.30 A.M., and was waged without cessation until
near three o’clock, all efforts of the Indians to dislodge us proving
unsuccessful. The Indians had become extremely weary, and had almost
discontinued their offensive movements, when my ammunition ran low.
I decided to mount the squadron and charge the Indians, with the
intention of driving them from the field.

Captain Moylan promptly had his men in the saddle, and throwing forward
twenty mounted skirmishers, under Lieutenant Varnum, the entire
squadron moved forward at a trot. No sooner did the Indians discern our
intentions than, despite their superiority in numbers, they cowardly
prepared for flight, in which preparation they were greatly hastened
when Captain Moylan’s squadron charged them and drove them “pell-mell”
for three miles.

Five ponies killed or badly wounded were left on the battle-ground
or along the line of their flight. So rapidly were they forced to
flee that they abandoned and threw away breech-loading arms, saddle
equipments, clothing, robes, lariats, and other articles comprised in
an Indian outfit.

Among the Indians who fought us on this occasion were some of the
identical warriors who committed the massacre at Fort Phil. Kearney,
and they no doubt intended a similar programme when they sent the six
warriors to dash up and attempt to decoy us into a pursuit past the
timber in which the savages hoped to ambush us. Had we pursued the six
warriors half a mile farther, instead of halting, the entire band of
warriors would have been in our rear, and all the advantage of position
and numbers would have been with them.

So far as the troops attacked were concerned, the Indians, to offset
their own heavy losses, had been able to do us no damage except to
wound one man and two horses; but unfortunately two non-combatants,
Veterinary Surgeon John Honsinger, 7th Cavalry, and Mr. Baliran, of
Memphis, Tenn., in endeavoring to come from the main column to join the
squadron in advance, were discovered by the Indians during the attack,
and being unarmed were overtaken and killed almost within view of the
battle-ground. Fortunately the Indians were so pressed as not to be
able to scalp or otherwise mutilate the remains.

On the 8th instant we discovered the trail of a large village,
evidently that to which the party that attacked us on the 4th belonged.
The course of the trail led up the Yellowstone, and apparently
was not more than two days old. Acting under the authority of the
Brevet-major-general commanding, I ordered my command, consisting of
four squadrons of the 7th Cavalry, in readiness to begin the pursuit
that night. The Brevet-major-general also directed the detachment
of guides and Indian scouts under Lieutenant Daniel H. Brush, 17th
Infantry, to report to me for temporary service. Leaving all tents and
wagons behind, and taking with us rations for seven days, we started in
pursuit at ten o’clock on the night of the 8th instant, having waited
until that hour until the moon should enable us to follow the trail.
Following the trail as rapidly as the rough character of the country
would permit, daylight next morning found us nearly thirty miles from
our starting-point. Concealing horses and men in a ravine, a halt of
three hours was ordered to enable the horses to graze and the men to
obtain refreshments. Renewing the march at eight o’clock, the pursuit
was continued without halting until noon, when, to avoid discovery,
as well as to obtain needed rest for men and animals, it was decided
to conceal ourselves in the timber, and await the cover of night to
continue the pursuit.

Starting out at 6.30 P.M., the trail was followed rapidly for six
miles, when, to our disappointment, we discovered that the Indians had
taken to the river, and crossed to the east side. In following their
trail to this point it was evident that the movement of the Indians was
one of precipitate flight, the result of the engagement on the 4th.
All along their trail and in their camping-places were to be found
large quantities of what constitutes an Indian’s equipments, such as
lodge-poles, robes, saddle equipments, arms, and cooking utensils.
In a hastily abandoned camp-ground nearly two hundred axes, besides a
great many camp-kettles and cups, were found.

My entire command was disappointed when the trail showed that the
Indians had crossed to the other side, particularly as our rapid
marching had carried us to the point of crossing, the evening of the
day on which the last of the Indians had crossed over, so that one
more march would have enabled us to overhaul them. Bivouacking in a
belt of timber on the river bank, we waited until daylight to begin an
attempt to cross the command over the river, which at this point is
about six hundred yards wide. At early dawn the entire command forded
the river to an island located about the middle of the channel; but
our difficulties in the way of crossing here began, as the volume
of water and the entire force of the current were to be encountered
between the island and the opposite bank--the current here rushes by
at a velocity of about seven miles an hour, while the depth of the
water was such that a horse attempting to cross would be forced to
swim several hundred yards. Still, as we knew the Indians had not
discovered our pursuit, and were probably located within easy striking
distance of the river, it was most desirable that a crossing should
be effected. To accomplish this, Lieutenant Weston, 7th Cavalry, with
three accomplished swimmers from the command, attempted to cross on
a log-raft, carrying with them a cable made of lariats. The current
was so strong that Lieutenant Weston’s party were unable to effect
a landing, but were swept down the river nearly two miles, and then
forced to abandon the raft and swim to shore.

Lieutenant Weston, with characteristic perseverance and energy, made
repeated attempts afterwards to carry the cable over, but although
succeeding in reaching the opposite bank in person was unable to
connect the cable with the shore. Almost the entire day was spent in
these unsuccessful efforts, until finally a crossing in this manner
had to be abandoned. I then caused some cattle to be killed, and by
stretching the hides over a kind of basket-frame prepared by the Crow
guide, made what are known among the Indians as bull-boats; with
these I hoped to be able to connect a cable with the opposite bank at
daylight next morning, but just at sunset a small party of Indians were
seen to ride down to the bank opposite us and water their ponies. They
discovered our presence, and at once hastened away. Of course it was
useless now to attempt a surprise, and the intention to cross the river
the following morning was abandoned.

At early dawn the next day (the 11th instant), the Indians appeared
in strong force on the river bank opposite us, and opened a brisk
fire upon us from their rifles. No attention was paid to them until
encouraged by this they had collected at several points in full view,
and within range of our rifles, when about thirty of our best marksmen,
having posted themselves along the bank, opened a well-directed fire
upon the Indians and drove them back to cover.

In the mean time strong parties of Indians were reported by our
pickets to be crossing the river below and above us, their ponies and
themselves being so accustomed to the river as to render this operation
quite practicable for them. Captain French, commanding the right wing,
was directed to watch the parties crossing below, while Colonel Hart,
commanding the left wing, posted a force to discharge this duty with
regard to parties crossing above. It would have been possible, perhaps,
for us to have prevented the Indians from effecting a crossing, at
least when they did, but I was not only willing but anxious that as
many of them should come over as were so disposed. They were soon
reported as moving to the bluffs immediately in rear of us from the
river. Lieutenant Brush was directed to employ his scouts in watching
and reporting their movements--a duty which they discharged in a
thorough manner.

While this was transpiring I had mounted my command and formed it in
line close under the bluffs facing from the river, where we quietly
waited the attack of the Indians in our front. The sharp-shooting
across the river still continued, the Indians having collected some
of their best shots--apparently armed with long-range rifles--and
were attempting to drive our men back from the water’s edge. It was
at this time that my standing orderly, Private Tuttle, of “E” troop,
7th Cavalry, one of the best marksmen in my command, took a sporting
Springfield rifle and posted himself, with two other men, behind cover
on the river bank, and began picking off the Indians as they exposed
themselves on the opposite bank. He had obtained the range of the
enemy’s position early in the morning, and was able to place his shots
wherever desired. It was while so engaged that he observed an Indian
in full view near the river. Calling the attention of his comrade to
the fact, he asked him “to watch him drop that Indian,” a feat which he
succeeded in performing. Several other Indians rushed to the assistance
of their fallen comrade, when Private Tuttle, by a skilful and rapid
use of his breech-loading Springfield, succeeded in killing two other
warriors. The Indians, enraged no doubt at this rough handling,
directed their aim at Private Tuttle, who fell pierced through the head
by a rifle-bullet. He was one of the most useful and daring soldiers
who ever served under my command.

About this time Captain French, who was engaged with the Indians who
were attacking us from below, succeeded in shooting a warrior from his
saddle, while several ponies were known to be wounded or disabled. The
Indians now began to display a strong force in our front on the bluffs.
Colonel Hart was ordered to push a line of dismounted men to the crest,
and prevent the further advance of the enemy towards the river. This
duty was handsomely performed by a portion of Captain Yates’s squadron.
Colonel Hart had posted Lieutenant Charles Braden and twenty men on a
small knoll which commanded our left. Against this party the Indians
made their first onslaught. A mounted party of warriors, numbering
nearly two hundred, rode boldly to within thirty yards of Lieutenant
Braden’s position, when the latter and his command delivered such a
well-directed fire that the Indians were driven rapidly from that part
of the field, after having evidently suffered considerable loss.

Unfortunately Lieutenant Braden received a rifle-ball through the
upper part of the thigh, passing directly through the bone, but he
maintained his position with great gallantry and coolness until he had
repulsed the enemy. Hundreds of Indians were now to be seen galloping
up and down along our front, each moment becoming bolder, owing to the
smallness of our force which was then visible.

Believing the proper time had arrived to assume the offensive, orders
to this effect were accordingly sent to Colonel Hart and Captain
French, the two wing commanders. Lieutenant Weston was directed to move
his troop “L” up a deep ravine on our left, which would convey him to
the enemy’s position, and as soon as an opportunity occurred he was to
charge them, and pursue the Indians with all the vigor practicable.
Immediately after, Captain Owen Hale was directed to move his squadron,
consisting of “E” and “K” troops, in conjunction with “L” troop, and
the three to charge simultaneously. Similar dispositions were ordered
in the centre and right. Lieutenant Custer, commanding “B” troop, was
ordered to advance and charge the Indians in front of our centre, while
Captains Yates and Moylan moved rapidly forward in the same direction.
Before this movement began, it became necessary to dislodge a large
party of Indians posted in a ravine and behind rocks in our front,
who were engaged in keeping up a heavy fire upon our troops while the
latter were forming. It was at this point that the horse of Lieutenant
Hiram H. Ketchum, Acting-assistant-adjutant-general of the expedition,
was shot under him. My own horse was also shot under me within a few
paces of the latter.

The duty of driving the Indians engaged in sharp-shooting was intrusted
to Lieutenant Charles A. Varnum, 7th Cavalry, with a detachment of “A”
troop, 7th Cavalry, who soon forced the Indians back from their cover.

Everything being in readiness for a general advance, the charge was
ordered, and the squadrons took the gallop to the tune of “Garryowen,”
the band being posted immediately in rear of the skirmish line. The
Indians had evidently come out prepared to do their best, and with no
misgivings as to their success, as the mounds and high bluffs beyond
the river were covered with groups of old men, squaws, and children,
who had collected there to witness our destruction. In this instance
the proverbial power of music to soothe the savage breast utterly
failed, for no sooner did the band strike up the cheery notes of
“Garryowen,” and the squadrons advance to the charge, than the Indians
exhibited unmistakable signs of commotion, and their resistance became
more feeble, until finally satisfied of the earnestness of our attack
they turned their ponies’ heads and began a disorderly flight. The
cavalry put spurs to their horses and dashed forward in pursuit, the
various troop and squadron commanders vying with one another as to
who should head the advance. The appearance of the main command in
sight, down the valley at this moment, enabled me to relieve Captain
French’s command below us, and he was ordered to join in the pursuit.
Lieutenant McIntosh, commanding “G” troop, moved his command up the
valley at a gallop, and prevented many of the Indians from crossing.
The chase was continued with the utmost vigor until the Indians were
completely dispersed, and driven a distance of nine miles from where
the engagement took place, and they were here forced back across the
Yellowstone, the last pony killed in the fight being shot fully eight
miles from the point of attack.

The number of Indians opposed to us has been estimated by the various
officers engaged as from eight hundred to a thousand. My command
numbered four hundred and fifty, including officers and men. The
Indians were made up of different bands of Sioux, principally Unepapas,
the whole under command of “Sitting Bull,” who participated in the
second day’s fight, and who for once has been taught a lesson he will
not soon forget.

A large number of Indians who fought us were fresh from their
reservations on the Missouri River. Many of the warriors engaged in
the fight on both days were dressed in complete suits of the clothes
issued at the agencies to Indians. The arms with which they fought
us (several of which were captured in the fight) were of the latest
improved patterns of breech-loading repeating rifles, and their
supply of metallic rifle-cartridges seemed unlimited, as they were
anything but sparing in their use. So amply have they been supplied
with breech-loading rifles and ammunition that neither bows nor arrows
were employed against us. As an evidence that these Indians, at least
many of them, were recently from the Missouri River agencies, we found
provisions, such as coffee, in their abandoned camps, and cooking
and other domestic utensils, such as only reservation Indians are
supplied with. Besides, our scouts conversed with them across the river
for nearly an hour before the fight became general, and satisfied
themselves as to the identity of their foes. I only regret that it was
impossible for my command to effect a crossing of the river before our
presence was discovered, and while the hostile village was located
near at hand, as I am confident that we could have largely reduced the
necessity for appropriation for Indian supplies the coming winter....

The losses of the Indians in ponies were particularly heavy, while we
know their losses in killed and wounded were beyond all proportion to
that which they were enabled to inflict upon us, our losses being one
officer badly wounded, four men killed, and three wounded; four horses
killed and four wounded.

Careful investigation justifies the statement that including both
days’ battles, the Indians’ losses will number forty warriors, while
their wounded on the opposite bank of the river may increase this
number.

                        Respectfully submitted.
                            (Signed)    G. A. CUSTER,
                                Lieutenant-colonel 7th Cavalry,
                        Brevet-major-general, U. S. A., commanding.


                     “Stockade” on the Yellowstone, September 6, 1873.

... I know you will rejoice when your eyes fall upon the date and
heading of this letter, and you learn that we are thus far on our
homeward journey, all safe and well. This letter is to be a SHORT one
(after having finished the letter I underscore the word), as it has
only been decided a few hours ago to despatch three of our Indian
scouts from here to Fort Buford--one hundred and twenty miles distant
by river, only eighty by land--with mail, and to bring back what awaits
us in return. As there are many official matters for me to attend to
between now and to-morrow morning--the time of the departure of the
scouts--I do not hope to give you but the main points of a letter, the
details to be filled up by word of mouth.

I am here with six companies of cavalry, having separated from the main
expedition several days ago on the Mussel Shell River, and marched to
this point direct, a distance of about one hundred and fifty miles.
The mules of the large trains began giving out; forage was almost
exhausted, the horses being allowed only about three pounds per day,
fourteen pounds being regular allowance. The country was entirely
unknown; no guides knew anything of the route before us. General ----
did not think it wise to venture into the unknown and uninviting region
with his command. But I did not feel inclined to yield to obstacles,
and made an application to take the main portion of the cavalry and
strike through for the stockade direct instead of turning back. I asked
that the railroad engineers be allowed to continue with me. Consent was
given and we started.

At head-quarters it was not believed that I would get through. So
strong was this impression, that in the official order issued for my
movement there was a clause authorizing me to burn or abandon all my
wagons or other public property, if, in my opinion, such steps were
necessary to preserve life. I could not help but smile to myself as I
read that portion of the order. I had no idea of burning or abandoning
a wagon. After we had separated from the main column, the chief of
the engineers remarked to the officers, “How positively sanguine the
general is that he will make this trip successfully.” And so I was. I
assured him from the first, and from day to day, that the 7th Cavalry
would bring them through all right. We had the good-luck to strike
across and encounter, instead of serious obstacles, the most favorable
country yet met by us for marching. Hitherto we had made about fifteen
miles per day; when we started on this trip we marched twenty-two miles
one day and thirty-five the next, and so on, and brought in every wagon
with which we started, reaching here about seven o’clock the morning of
the sixth day from our separation.

The main command headed back towards the Yellowstone, and expects to
be twelve or thirteen days in making the trip. I am going to send an
officer with his squadron in charge of fourteen wagons loaded with
forage to the relief of the rest of the command.

Our location for next winter is settled. We shall be at Fort Lincoln,
and the decision is satisfactory to me. I presume you wish you were
here to give the lieutenant-colonel of the battalion[C] a little advice
as to what companies shall be designated for each station. So far as
this reason alone is concerned, I am glad that you are not here, as I
not only would not wish you to attempt to influence such a decision,
but that no person or persons might have just ground for imagining that
you had done so. The officers are hinting strongly in the endeavor to
ascertain “Who goes where?” but thus far none are any the wiser, for
the simple reason that I have not decided the matter yet in the case of
a single troop.

    [C] This reference is to himself.

It is a delicate, and in some respects an undesirable task, as all, so
far as I know, desire to go to Fort Lincoln. If no accident occurs, we
shall reach there before October 1st--less than a month from this date,
and probably less than ten days from the time you receive this, so that
all your anxiety about me will be at an end. I do not intend to relax
my caution on the march between here and Lincoln, as I do not forget
that the two officers killed last year met their deaths near the close
of the expedition.

I think I told you in my letter of eighty pages about my chasing elk
four miles and killing three. Since then I have had the good-fortune to
kill a fine large buck-elk taller than “Dandy,”[D] weighing, cleaned,
eight hundred pounds, and with the handsomest pair of antlers I ever
saw, and such a beautiful coat. I killed him only a mile and a half
from camp, sent for a wagon, and carried him entire back with us, when
the officers and men, and even those belonging to the scientific party,
flocked to the grassy plot in front of my tent to see him.

    [D] His favorite hunting-horse.

The photographer who accompanied the scientists hitched up his
photograph-wagon and drove over to take a picture of what they called
the “King of the Forest.” All the officers and the photographer
insisted that not only the game but the hunter should appear in the
picture. So I sat down, dressed as I was in my buckskins, resting one
hand on an antler, and you may judge of the immense size of the elk
when I tell you that as I sat there my head only reached to about half
the height of the antlers. The picture is to form one of the series now
being collected on the expedition under the auspices of the Smithsonian
Institute.

Since the expedition started I have become acquainted with the
gentlemen of the scientific corps, particularly with the zoologist and
the taxidermist. The latter has been kind enough to make me a pupil of
his, and I can now preserve animals for all practical purposes. I have
been able to supply the gentlemen referred to with many specimens of
animals, and, in return, they have not only taught me but supplied me
with all the means necessary to preserve prepared animals.

You should see how very devoted I am to this, to me, very pleasant and
interesting pastime. Often, after marching all day, a light may be seen
in my tent long after the entire camp is asleep, and a looker-on might
see me, with sleeves rolled above the elbow, busily engaged preparing
the head of some animal killed in the chase. Assisting me might be seen
the orderly and Hughes, both, from their sleepy looks, seeming to say,
“How much longer are we to be kept out of our beds?”

I have succeeded so well in taxidermy that I can take the head and neck
of an antelope, fresh from the body, and in two hours have it fully
ready for preservation. I have prepared a most beautiful buck-antelope
head and neck for Tom. He intends it for his sweetheart, and will send
it by express from Bismarck.

I have just finished heads for two officers, which they intend as
presents for their wives, and one I shall give to the Audubon Club.
Then I have the heads of two black-tailed deer, of a buck and doe
antelope for _us_, and the head and skin with claws of a grisly-bear.
The latter is not thoroughly cured, owing to our constant marching
and the immense amount of fat contained in the neck and hide. The _ne
plus ultra_ of all is the “King of the Forest.” I have succeeded in
preserving him entire--antlers, head, neck, body, legs, and hoofs--in
fine condition, so that he can be mounted and look _exactly as in
life_. To prevent the hair being rubbed, I have caused the head to be
well covered with grain-sacks, and this, with the entire skin, to be
sewed up securely in canvas.

The scientists informed me that there were but few specimens on this
continent of elk preserved entire, and none so fine as mine. When I
first began work on it I only intended to save the head, neck, and
antlers, but finding that I was able to save the whole, I decided upon
the latter course. Had I kept the head and neck only, it was intended
for you; but having it complete alters my intention, as it would
require a room to contain it. So I have concluded, with your approval,
to present it to the Audubon Club in Detroit.[E]

    [E] It is now in Detroit.

I have a fine buffalo head for you, beautifully haired and with
symmetrical horns. A pair of sage-chickens, a pair of curlew, and a
jack-rabbit complete my present collection....

One day I shot three antelope without changing my position, the nearest
of the three being three hundred and twenty yards from me.

Our mess continues to be successful. Nearly every day we have something
nice to send to Lieutenant Braden.[F] Only think of him, with his
shattered thigh, having to trail over a rough country for three hundred
miles! He is not transported in an ambulance, but a long stretcher
arranged on wheels about thirty feet apart, pulled and pushed by men on
foot. They carry him much more steadily than would horses or mules. It
requires a full company of men each day to transport Mr. Braden in this
way. He is with the main command, but was doing well when we left. The
day the command divided I had the band take a position near the route
where the rest of the expedition would pass, and when he and his escort
approached they struck up “Garryowen.” He acknowledged the attention as
well as he could.

    [F] Lieutenant Braden was wounded in the battle described in
        the official report which accompanies this letter.

Upon our arrival here what was our joy to find quite a large mail
awaiting us! It had been forwarded from Rice and Lincoln to Fort
Buford, and from there came here by scouts. I received four letters
from you.... Do you know, on the 4th of August--the very day you were
writing me one of the letters I received--I was fighting, probably at
the same time.... After I received my four letters I threw myself down
on the bed to read them. When any one poked his head inside my large
and comfortable tent, and ventured a question, you can probably imagine
the brevity and abruptness of a certain man’s replies. My communication
was strictly Biblical, being either “Yea, yea, or Nay, nay.”


                         East Bank of the Yellowstone, September 10th.

... When I began my letter, a few days ago, announcing our safe return
to the stockade, I said you must only expect a few lines; but those few
lines stretched out until they covered five sheets of letter-paper. I
could now cover five times five and then only have begun my letter, but
where the time is to be found I cannot tell.

We are just taking the men across the river on the _Josephine_, which
arrived yesterday. My head-quarters and about half the troops are over,
the rest will have followed by night. As Sheldon & Co., publishers of
the _Galaxy_, say, I am going to “boil down” this letter to as many
brief allusions as possible.

Instead of waiting here for the rest of the command to move, to-morrow
will find us on our way to Lincoln. I take six troops of the 7th, two
companies of infantry, and with the engineers set out on our return. We
rely confidently on reaching Lincoln before October 1st. The reports
brought by those who came on the boat place everything in a bright
light regarding our new quarters at Lincoln.

I think we will have a charming garrison this winter. I wish we had
some one competent to give us lessons in private theatricals. I learn
by the boat that Department Head-quarters have telegraphed to Lincoln
that it is possible I may wish to take a long leave. They almost take
it for granted I will go, but I shall not. Do you remember, on my
return from the Washita campaign, I was offered a leave in a similar
manner? I have no desire to be absent from my post now....

I have enjoyed a few very great luxuries to-day. At dinner, on the
_Josephine_, for the first time this season (September 10th) I tasted
new potatoes and cucumbers; but these were not the greatest. What do
you imagine was a greater luxury? RAW ONIONS!!!![G] Even at this great
distance I almost tremble when I inform you that I not only had onions
for dinner, but the captain of the boat gave me a whole bushel of fine
large ones. I supped on RAW ONIONS; I will probably breakfast, lunch,
and dine on them to-morrow, and the next day, and the day after _ad
libitum ad infinitum_, until--not time, but onions--shall be no more.
As one by one I dispose of each goodly-sized fragment of a huge onion,
I remark, _sotto voce_, “Go it, old fellow! Make the most of your
liberties! You are on the home-stretch now, and school soon commences;”
in other words, “If you intend to eat raw onions, now is your only
time, for ‘missus is comin’.’”

    [G] I have copied the words as he printed them.

I would be glad to have every one of the officers now with me stationed
at my post. My relations with them, personal and official, are
extremely agreeable. They are all counting on going to Lincoln, but I
know some of them will have to be disappointed....

The steamer _Josephine_ will probably leave for Lincoln to-morrow or
next day, and should reach there in four or five days, so that you
should receive this letter in about one week.... The steamer brought
me two splendid letters from you, one dated the 18th, another the
25th of August. I received them on the 9th, which is pretty quick,
considering....

My collection of geological specimens for the Michigan University
is growing satisfactorily. The Indian battles hindered the work of
collecting, while in that immediate region it was unsafe to go far from
the command....

       *       *       *       *       *

P.S.--Good-morning!... I am sitting in my large, comfortable tent,
writing before breakfast. And now I must refer to a matter which
thrusts itself upon my attention almost daily, yes, hourly, and that
is the great degree of comfort which I have enjoyed throughout this
long and ever-changing march; and it is all due to your thoughtfulness
and foresight, and the manner in which you fitted me up surpasses all
my comrades. No mess has compared with mine in its appointments and
outfit. I have the best cook, and certainly no bed can equal mine.
Whenever I look around me I see the evidences of your handiwork and
care for my welfare....

You never knew people more enthusiastic over the 7th than the engineers
connected with the railroad party.... Well, I must terminate this
letter, as I see no likelihood of my being able to tell you one-tenth
of what I have to say. However, we will have all winter in our “brand,
spankin’” new house to talk it over and over....

Here I have reached my thirty-second page of this large paper. I only
thought of writing three or four, and have “boiled down” as hard as I
could....


                                     Fort Lincoln, September 23, 1873.

... Where are the numerous bridges now which you have been crossing and
recrossing in regard to our return being delayed until late in October,
perhaps until the first of November? Well, here we are, not only “as
good as new,” but, if anything, heartier, healthier, and more robust
than ever.

I have not drawn a single unhealthy breath since we started on the
expedition, and if ever a lot of hardy, strong, and athletic young
fellows were assembled in one party, it is to be seen in a group of the
officers of the 7th. What a history and reputation this 7th Cavalry has
achieved for itself! Although a new and young regiment, it has left all
the older fellows in the lurch, until to-day it is the best and most
widely known of any in the service.

I am provoked to think I wrote you a long letter on the Yellowstone,
also a telegram, and intrusted them to an officer who was to take
passage in the steamer _Josephine_, and leave about the time we did. It
should have reached here several days before we arrived, but I took six
troops of cavalry and the engineers, crossed the Yellowstone to this
side, and reached Fort Lincoln in eight days.

We took everybody by surprise, and beat the steamer here, so that your
letter and telegram are still on the boat somewhere between this point
and the stockade. You may rely upon it that no grass grew under our
feet on our return march. I knew that my family--consisting of one--was
in advance somewhere, and, as the saying is, I just “lit out.”[H] I
am so comfortably fixed in my large, heavy canvas railroad tent that
was given me on the expedition, I am sure that you and I could live
comfortably in it all winter.

    [H] Here follows a description of Fort Lincoln. His sanguine
        temperament made it seem little short of an earthly
        paradise. He did not seem to realize that the prosaic and
        plain Government buildings were placed on a treeless and
        barren plain. In a carefully prepared plan of our house
        which he had drawn, he gave the dimensions and description
        of each room, and over the door of his library a triple
        underlining of his words, “MY ROOM,” and the motto, “Who
        enters here leaves hope behind.” He thus began, before we
        had even occupied the house, playfully to threaten any one
        who disturbed his writing or studies.

I am much pleased with the appearance of the citizens who have come
across the river from Bismarck to pay their respects and offer
congratulations on the summer’s campaign. Some of the Yankton gentlemen
are here attending court, and they also came over to see me.

I have just had a telegram from General Sheridan: “Welcome home.”


                                     Fort Lincoln, September 28, 1873.

... When you find that I have just sent the 7th Cavalry band to
serenade ---- on his departure, you will say to yourself, “He has
been too forgiving again.” Well, perhaps I have. I often think of the
beautiful expression uttered by President Lincoln at the consecration
of the Gettysburg monument, and feel how nearly it expresses my belief,
“With malice toward none, with charity for all!” and I hope this will
ever be mine to say.[I]

    [I] The officer to whom reference is made had been a persistent
        and exasperating enemy of my husband during the summer,
        and I could not forget or forgive, even after apologies
        were offered, especially as they were not offered in the
        presence of others.

Adopting your wise and deserved suggestion, I have at last written my
long delayed letter to Mr. Ford, and among other things told him I
would send him per express the skins of two young elk that I killed, to
have them tanned, and a pair of shoes made for each of us. So, you see,
I did as I generally do, obeyed my “other half,” who nine times out of
ten is right, and generally the _tenth time, too_.

During a halt of two days, just before we started for home, I wrote
a long _Galaxy_ article, and shall mail it with this. Not only did I
do that instead of resting, because of the appeals of the magazine
editors, but it behooved me to get off my contributions with some
regularity; for if I stop now, those who attribute them to you would
say all the more it was because you were not along to do the work for
me. If people only knew the amusement they have afforded us by laying
the responsibility of these articles on your shoulders.

I must not forget to tell you that during the expedition I killed with
my rifle and brought into camp forty-one antelope, four buffalo, four
elk, seven deer (four of them black-tails), two white wolves, and one
red fox.

Geese, ducks, prairie-chickens, and sage-hens without number completed
my summer’s record.

No one assisted me in killing the antelope, deer, or elk, except one of
the latter.

One porcupine and a wildcat I brought in alive. Both of these amiable
creatures I intend to send to Central Park....


LETTERS FROM THE BLACK HILLS, 1874.

_The following Extracts are taken from Letters sent from the Expedition
to the Black Hills, referred to in Chapter XX._

                       Thirteen Miles from Fort Lincoln, July 3, 1874.

... Yesterday was a hard day on the trains. The recent rains had so
softened the ground that the heavily-loaded wagons sunk to the hubs,
and instead of getting in camp by noon as we expected, one battalion
did not get in until after dark. But we had a good dinner, and every
one is feeling well this morning. I am making a late start in order to
give the mules a chance to graze.

I send you by bearer a young curlew, as a playmate to the wild-goose.
Should it live, its wings had better be clipped. Grasshoppers are its
principal diet.

Our mess is a great success. Last night, notwithstanding the late
hour at which we reached camp, Johnson, our new colored cook, had
hot biscuit, and this morning hot cakes and biscuit. We will not be
over twenty or twenty-five miles from the post to-night. The men are
standing around waiting to take down the tents, so I must say good-bye.


                                  Prospect Valley, Dakota,
                        Twelve miles from the Montana line, July 15th.

... We are making a halt of one day at this charming spot, in order
to rest the animals and give the men an opportunity to wash their
clothes. I will begin by saying everything is and has been perfectly
satisfactory. Every one--officers, men, and citizens--are in the best
of health and spirits.

We have marched through an exceedingly interesting country. We are now
in the most beautiful valley we have seen thus far, and encamped on a
small tributary of the Little Missouri, and about five miles from the
latter. So beautiful did this place seem to us when we first came in
sight of it, I directed the engineer-officer, who is making a map of
the country, to call it Prospect Valley.

Three days ago we reached the cave referred to, before we started,
by the Indian called “Goose.” It was found to be about four hundred
feet long, and just as he described, the walls and top covered with
inscriptions and drawings. The prints of hands and feet are also in
the rocks. I think this was all the work of Indians at an early day,
although I cannot satisfactorily account for the drawings of ships
found there.

“Bos,”[J] though this is his first expedition, takes to life on the
plains as naturally as if bred to it. One of the officers says he
thinks it must “run in the blood.” He has to go through the usual
experience that falls to all “plebs.” Every one practises jokes on him,
but he has such a good disposition it does not even _ruffle him_. I
know that you would espouse his cause against us if you had seen him
take some bits of rocks out of his pocket every night after we had
reached camp, and put them to soak in his wash-basin. They were given
to him by Tom, who assured him that they were sponge stone--a variety
that softened by keeping them in water for a certain length of time.
After a few nights of faithful practice it dawned upon him that he was
again the victim of a practical joke, and he quietly dropped them by
the way without saying a word. You need not trouble yourself to take up
arms in his defence, for he gets even with us in the long-run.

    [J] Our younger brother.

He has been so pleased with his mule from the first, and has praised
him to me repeatedly. He _is_ a good animal, for a _mule_, but
endurance, in his constitution, rather triumphs over speed. I could not
resist taking advantage of the country to play a trick on “Bos” one day.

The land was undulating, and you know how it always seems as if one
could surely see for miles beyond when the top of each divide is
reached, and how one can go on all day over the constant rise and fall
of the earth, thinking the next divide will reveal a vast stretch
of country. “Bos” rode beside me, and I invented an excuse to go in
advance; I made “Vic” gallop slowly over the divide, and when out of
sight on the other side I put spurs to him and dashed through the low
ground. When “Bos” came in sight I was slowly ambling up the next
divide and calling to him to come on. He spurred his mule, shouted to
him, and waved his arms and legs to incite him to a faster gait. When
he neared me I disappeared over another divide, and giving “Vic” the
rein only slackened speed when it became time for “Bos” to appear.
Then, when I had brought my horse down to a walk I called out, “Why on
earth don’t you come on?” Believing that the gait he saw me take had
been unvarying, he could not understand why I lengthened the distance
between us so rapidly. I kept this up until he discovered my joke, and
I was obliged to ride back to join him and suit “Vic’s” steps to those
of his exhausted mule....

No Indians or signs of Indians were seen from the time we left Lincoln
until the day before yesterday, when about twenty were discovered
near the column. They scampered off as soon as observed. Yesterday we
came where they had slept. The officer on rear-guard duty saw about
twenty-five following our trail.

Signal smokes were sent up all around us yesterday afternoon by the
Indians, and some were seen watching us after we reached camp, but
no hostile demonstrations have been made. Our Indian guides say the
signals may be intended to let the village know where we are, so that
they may keep out of our way....

We expect to reach the base of the Black Hills in about three days.
Professor Winchell and Mr. Grinnell discovered yesterday the fossil
remains of an animal belonging to some extinct race which in life
exceeded in size the largest elephant....

I am gradually forming my annual menagerie. I have one live
rattlesnake--for Agnes[K]--two jack-rabbits, half grown, one eagle,
and four owls. I had also two fine badgers, full grown, but they were
accidentally smothered....

    [K] This was our young visitor, whose horror of snakes General
        Custer well knew.

These are the first lines I have written since my last letter to you,
nearly a fortnight since, and you cannot imagine how tired my hand and
arm have become already. I have made no attempt to write on the march;
the short time I have after reaching camp every day is devoted to rest
and sleep....

General “Sandy” is delighted with the 7th Cavalry; he says no regiment
compares with it except perhaps the 4th. There has not been a single
card-party nor a drunken officer since we left Lincoln....

Our mess is a decided and gratifying success. Johnson is not only an
excellent cook but very prompt. We breakfast at four o’clock every
morning. Every day I invite some officer to dine with us.

I remember your wishes and ride at the head of the column, keeping
inside our lines all the time, although it is a great deprivation to
me not to go outside and hunt. I feel exactly like some young lady
extremely fond of dancing, who, having a cold, has been forbidden by
her anxious mamma to do more than look on at some elegant party. I
received my orders from my commanding officer before starting, and I am
going to try and render strict obedience.[L]

    [L] This reference to commanding officer meant his wife, whose
        authority only extended to precautionary instructions as to
        his safety and health. The reiterated petition was that he
        should never leave the column alone.

... In looking for a road I sometimes get a mile or perhaps two ahead
of the command, but I always have seventy or eighty men with me, and
after to-day I mean to take in addition two more companies. I have no
intention of getting beyond sight and hearing of the main column. There
is an advance-guard always, and the Indian scouts at the front and on
the flanks....

I have killed six antelope at the head of the command.... Only think!
one-fifth of the time expired day before yesterday, and by the time
this reaches you one-third of our time of separation will have passed.

We will not be delayed in our return later than I expected when we left
Fort Lincoln....

As I write, the dogs surround me: “Cardigan” is sleeping on the edge of
my bed, “Tuck” at the head, and “Blücher” near by.... I am not certain
whether I will be able to send back more scouts or not. This mail is
to be carried by two Rees, Bull Bear and Skunk’s Head. Bloody Knife is
doing splendidly on this trip.

There is not a single man on the sick-report in this entire command--a
fact which the medical officer regards as unprecedented.... We will
move into the valley of the Little Missouri to-morrow, and probably
follow that stream to the Black Hills. You may judge of the fine
country we have passed over by the fact that our mules and beef-herd
have actually improved since we left Lincoln. We have travelled two
hundred and twenty-seven and a half miles, and in a straight line we
are one hundred and seventy miles from Lincoln. I must stop now, and
write my official report.


                              Camp near Harney’s Peak, August 2, 1874.

I wish you could see me at this moment as I am prepared to write to
you. First I must tell you that I cannot send a very long letter--not
that I have not volumes to say to you, but for reasons which I will
briefly explain. In the evening, after reaching camp, I am too much
occupied and have too much hard work to find time to write. After
dinner I usually take an escort and search out a few miles of road for
the following day. When I return I am ready to hasten to my comfortable
bed.[M]

    [M] Nothing but excessive fatigue and a determination to
        make the best of everything could have prompted him to
        describe it as comfortable. On the first day’s march out
        from garrison a careless soldier forgot the three boards
        that were intended to keep the bedding from absorbing the
        dampness in case of rain. During the entire summer, owing
        to this piece of forgetfulness, the mattress was laid down
        every night on ground that was always uneven and sometimes
        wet.

We have _reveille_ regularly at a quarter before three, so that it
behooves one to get to bed as early as possible.... To-day has been
letter-day. Charlie Reynolds leaves in the morning with the mail for
Fort Laramie. I am going to explore some twenty-five or thirty miles in
that direction, and Reynolds will go with me. I take five companies.
Two others started off in another direction this morning to be absent
three days; so you see they are kept moving. I will be gone three days;
the next day after that we turn our faces northward and begin our
homeward march. I must not forget to explain the other reason why I
cannot send you a letter of thirty pages or so this time--one of those
that Tom calls my “little notes” to you. I was busy with the office
duties until ten to-day, and then I began my official report. I had so
many interruptions I was at last driven to print “Engaged” on a placard
and pin it on the front of my tent; I tied up the flaps, shutting
myself in until the twenty-two pages of my report were written.

It is now a quarter to one. Breakfast is at four, and “Boots and
Saddles” will sound at five. I wish I could go more into detail in
describing the expedition, which has exceeded all previous ones, and in
success has surpassed my most sanguine expectations.

I did not hope to have my wagon-train with me, and here it has followed
me everywhere. We have discovered a rich and beautiful country. We
have had no Indian fights and will have none. We have discovered gold
without a doubt, and probably other valuable metals. All are well, and
have been the entire trip.

My report, which you will see, will contain much that I would have sent
you in a letter....

                                                            August 3d.

P.S.--... We have marched forty-five miles to-day, in a southerly
direction from Harney’s Peak, and are now encamped on the south fork of
the Cheyenne River, about ninety miles from Fort Laramie. Reynolds[N]
leaves us here. We are now all seated or lying around a camp-fire,
writing the closing words to our letters....

    [N] The scout mentioned in Chapter XXVI. It was on this trip
        to Fort Laramie, carrying the despatches and mail, that he
        suffered such hardships and peril.

I must say good-bye. A few days more and we shall be at home, for we
start north at five o’clock in the morning....


                                      Bear Butte, Dakota, August 15th.

Though we shall so soon be at home, I must send a few lines by the
scout who takes the official despatches. I cannot tell you how busy I
have been, and how hard and constantly I have worked to try and make
the expedition successful. I have attempted to be several other things
besides commanding officer--particularly guide--since the expedition
started.

Now that we have been in and through the Black Hills, I have the
satisfaction of knowing that the whole undertaking has proved a
success, exceeding the expectations of the most sanguine. I think that
my superior officers will be surprised and gratified at the extent and
thoroughness of our explorations....

The photographer who accompanied us has obtained a complete set of
magnificent stereoscopic views of Black Hills scenery, so I will not
attempt to allude to this lovely country until I can review it with you
by aid of the photographs. I send you one that will show you that at
last I have killed a grisly after a most exciting hunt and contest....
Colonel Ludlow, Bloody Knife, and Private Noonan are with me in the
group, as we constituted the hunting-party. The bear measured eight
feet. I have his claws.

The scouts are on their ponies waiting for the mail, and I must
hasten....

It would have been such a treat to have had you see all that we have
seen this summer, and shared the enjoyment of this beautiful land.
But, never mind, you shall come next summer, for we all hope to return
again....

No Indians have been seen lately, but I intend to be careful until the
end of the trip....


LETTERS FROM THE YELLOWSTONE, 1876.

_Extracts from Letters written on the Second Expedition to the
Yellowstone, during the Summer of 1876._

                                    Forty-six Miles from Fort Lincoln,
                                        May 20th, 1876--9.15 P.M.

... It has just been decided to send scouts back to Lincoln. They leave
here at daylight, and will remain there thirty-six hours, returning to
us with despatches and mail. We are having the “parrot’s time” with the
expedition.

It is raining now, and has been since we started. The roads are
fearfully bad. Here we are on the Little Muddy, after marching four
days, and only forty-six miles from home. Everybody is more or less
disgusted except me, and I feel the relief of not having to bear the
responsibility of the delays.

The elements seem against us, but a wet season and bad roads can be
looked for always in this region in the months of May and June.

We have not seen any signs of Indians thus far, and hardly look for any
for a few days yet. I have been extremely prudent--sufficiently so to
satisfy you. I go nowhere without taking an escort with me. I act as
if Indians were near all the time. The mess prospers well. Tom and I
have fried onions at breakfast and dinner, and raw onions for lunch![O]
The scouts that were left at Lincoln joined us yesterday about 10 A.M.
with the mail. I wish that you knew how good it was to get the letters.
You must send me more by the scouts we send out to-morrow.... Since
beginning this letter it is decided that they go at once, for I know it
is best to get them out of camp at night; so they have been directed to
saddle-up immediately, and I must therefore cut this letter short.

    [O] They both took advantage of their first absence from
        home to partake of their favorite vegetable. Onions were
        permitted at our table, but after indulging in them they
        found themselves severely let alone, and that they did not
        enjoy.

I said this evening that if I was sure this expedition would go no
farther the next four days than it has those just past, I would be glad
to take despatches to Lincoln and return, just for the sake of getting
home again for a few hours....


                                 On Little Missouri, May 30th--10 P.M.

... I am determined to sit up, even though it is ten o’clock, and
write to you, notwithstanding I have had a tremendous day’s work. I
breakfasted at four o’clock, was in the saddle at five, and between
that hour and 6 P.M. I rode fifty miles over a rough country, unknown
to everybody, and only myself for a guide.

We had halted here for one day in order to determine the truth of the
many rumors which you and all of us have heard so long and often,
to the effect that the hostile Indians were gathered on the Little
Missouri River, with the intention of fighting us here.

I suggested to General Terry to send out a strong scouting-party up the
river to find out all that could be ascertained. He left the matter to
me, and I took four companies of cavalry and a part of the scouts, and
at five o’clock we were off. The valley of the river averages about one
mile in width, hemmed in on both sides by impassable Bad Lands. The
river is crooked beyond description.

To shorten the story, we marched the fifty miles and got back before
dark, having settled the question beyond a doubt that all stories about
large bodies of Indians being here are the merest bosh. None have been
here for six months, not even a small hunting-party.

We took pack-mules with us to carry feed for the horses. When we
lunched, all the officers got together and we had a jolly time.

Only think, we found the Little Missouri River so crooked and the Bad
Lands so impassable that in marching fifty miles to-day we forded the
river thirty-four (34) times. The bottom is quicksand. Many of the
horses went down, frequently tumbling their riders into the water; but
all were in good spirits, and every one laughed at every one else’s
mishaps.

General Terry just left my tent a few moments since, and when I asked
him not to be in a hurry he said, “Oh, I’ll leave you, for you must be
tired and want to go to bed.” I did not tell him that I was going to
write to you before I slept.

Bloody Knife looks on in wonder at me because I never get tired, and
says no other man could ride all night and never sleep. I know I
shall sleep soundly when I do lie down; but, actually, I feel no more
fatigued now than I did before mounting my horse this morning....

What I am going to tell you is for you alone. But ---- came to me the
other day, and asked me to arrange that he should be stationed at our
post next winter. He says he wants to be in a garrison where the duty
is strict, and, above all, he desires to prove that he is, and desires
to be, a man, and he believes that he could do much better than he has
if he could serve under me. He says the very atmosphere of his post
seems filled with evil for him. I have a scheme by which I think I can
accomplish his coming, and I believe that you will approve.[P]

    [P] We had been extremely anxious about the officer to whom my
        husband refers, and longed to save him from himself. Since
        he is gone, I think that I am not betraying confidence in
        quoting from this letter.

The scouts reached here in good time, and glad was I to get my
letters....


                 In Camp, about Ten Miles West of the Little Missouri,
                                      May 31st.

... We left camp about eight o’clock. After marching a few miles, Tom,
“Bos,” and I, taking some men, started on a near route across the
country, knowing that we would intercept the column later on. This is
the second time I have left the main command, and both times they have
lost their way; so you see my “bump of locality” is of some use out
here. We reached this camp about three-quarters of an hour from the
time we left the column, but the latter strayed off, and while we were
here by 9 A.M., the rest did not reach here until two o’clock. When
they found they were lost, the officers all assembled at the head of
the column to consult together and try and find the right way.

To-day, while out with Tom and “Bos,” we were riding through a part
of the country filled with small _buttes_, in which it was easy to
lose one’s self. “Bos” stopped a few moments as we were riding through
a ravine, and dismounted to take a pebble from his pony’s shoe. I
observed it, and said to Tom, “Let’s slip round the hill behind ‘Bos,’
where he can’t find us, and when he starts we’ll fire in the air near
him.” The moment we passed out of sight our entire party galloped
around the hill behind him and concealed ourselves. Tom and I crawled
to the top of the bill and peeped through the grass without being seen.
Sure enough, “Bos” thought he was lost, as we could nowhere be seen in
the direction he expected to find us.

Tom and I were watching him, and just as he seemed in a quandary as to
where we were, I fired my rifle so that the bullet whizzed over his
head. I popped out of sight for a moment, and when I looked again “Bos”
was heading his pony towards the command, miles away. I fired another
shot in his direction, and so did Tom, and away “Bos” flew across
the plains, thinking, no doubt, the Sioux were after him. Tom and I
mounted our horses and soon overhauled him. He will not hear the last
of it for some time.

Charlie Reynolds killed two big-horn sheep to-day and gave me the
finest of the two heads. I have it in my tent now and hope to preserve
it, although I came away without my preservative powders.

Nearly all my amusement is with “Bos” and Tom. We lunch together every
day.... I have about made up my mind that when I go on expeditions like
this you are to go too. You could have endured this as well as not....


                     Powder River, about Twenty Miles above its Mouth,
                                      June 9, 1876.

... We are now in a country heretofore unvisited by white men.
Reynolds, who had been guiding the command, lost his way the other day,
and General Terry did not know what to do about finding a road from
O’Fallon’s Creek across to Powder River. I told him I thought I could
guide the column. He assented; so Tom, “Bos,” and I started ahead, with
company D and the scouts as escort, and brought the command to this
point, over what seems to be the only practicable route for miles on
either side, through the worst kind of Bad Lands. The general did not
believe it possible to find a road through. When, after a hard day’s
work, we arrived at this river by a good, easy road, making thirty-two
miles in one day, he was delighted and came to congratulate me.

Yesterday I finished a _Galaxy_ article, which will go in the next
mail; so, you see, I am not entirely idle. Day before yesterday I rode
nearly fifty miles, arose yesterday morning, and went to work at my
article, determined to finish it before night, which I did, amidst
constant interruptions. It is now nearly midnight, and I must go to my
bed, for _reveille_ comes at three.

As a slight evidence that I am not very conceited regarding my personal
appearance, I have not looked in a mirror or seen the reflection of
my beautiful (?) countenance, including the fine growth of _auburn_
whiskers, since I looked in the glass at Lincoln.[Q]

    [Q] This reference to the color of his beard, which he only
        allowed to grow on campaigns, was a reminder of the fact
        upon which we had long since agreed: that though Titian
        might have found beauty in that tint, we did not.


                             On Yellowstone, at Mouth of Powder River,
                                      June 11th--10.30 P.M.

... This morning we left our camp on Powder River, I acting again as
guide. The expedition started to make its way through unknown Bad
Lands to the mouth of the river. General Terry felt great anxiety in
regard to the trip, as he feared that we could not get through with
the wagons. He had been down the river to its mouth with cavalry, and
he and those with him said that wagons could not make the march in a
month, and the Bad Lands looked still more impracticable. He came to my
tent before daylight, and asked me if I would try to find the road. He
seems to think I have a gift in that way, and he hoped that we might
get within ten miles of the river’s mouth to-day. What rendered our
condition more embarrassing was that the men had only rations for one
day left.

I started with one company and the scouts, and in we “plunged boldly.”
One company had been sent out the previous day to look for a road, and
their failure to return the same day increased the anxiety. I thought
likely they had lost their way and had slept in the Bad Lands. Sure
enough we found them about 10 A.M.

After passing through some perfectly terrible country I finally
struck a beautiful road along a high plateau, and instead of guiding
the command within ten miles of here we have all arrived and the
wagon-train beside.

If you will look on the map near my desk you will find the mouth of
Powder River and our present location on the Yellowstone, almost due
west from Lincoln. Follow up the Yellowstone a short distance, and the
first stream you come to is the Tongue River, to which point we will
move after resting three or four days. We will there be joined by the
six companies of the regiment now absent on a scout, and I shall then
select the nine companies to go with me....

The steamer _Far West_ leaves for Port Buford to-morrow.... As I was
up at three this morning, and have had a hard day’s march, and as it
is now going on to twelve, I must hie to bed to get a little rest and
slumber....


                                  Monday, June 12th--before Breakfast.

... I rose early this morning, without waiting to be called to
breakfast, in order that I might write my letter. The Yellowstone
is very high; steamers loaded to their utmost capacity can go up
some distance above the mouth of the Big Horn. I wanted to send you
a letter that I wished you to read and afterwards re-mail, had I not
thought you might have found an opportunity to come up the river in the
_Josephine_. The new supplies for our mess--of onions, potatoes, and
dried apples--have just come from the boat.

“Tuck”[R] regularly comes when I am writing, and lays her head on the
desk, rooting up my hand with her long nose until I consent to stop and
notice her. She and Swift, Lady and Kaiser sleep in my tent.

    [R] She was my husband’s favorite dog.

You need not be anxious about my leaving the column with small escorts;
I scarcely hunt any more.[S]...

    [S] This letter was scorched and defaced, but fortunately I
        could read it all, thanks to those who sat up all night to
        dry the mail.


                                     Mouth of Tongue River, June 17th.

... I fear that my last letter, written from the mouth of Powder River,
was not received in very good condition by you. The mail was sent in
a row-boat from the stockade to Buford, under charge of a sergeant
and three or four men of the 6th Infantry. Just as they were pushing
off from the _Far West_ the boat capsized, and mail and soldiers were
thrown into the rapid current; the sergeant sank and was never seen
again. The mail was recovered, after being submerged for five or ten
minutes. Captain Marsh and several others sat up all night and dried it
by the stove. I was told that my letter to you went off all right, also
my _Galaxy_ article. The latter was recognized by a young newspaper
reporter and telegraph operator who came up on the train with us from
St. Paul, and he took special pains in drying it.

With six companies of the 7th, the Gatling battery, the scouts, and the
pack-mules, I left the mouth of Powder River Thursday morning, leaving
all our wagons behind, and directing our march for this point, less
than forty miles distant. General Terry and staff followed by steamer.
We marched here in about one and a quarter days. The boat arrived
yesterday evening.... The officers were ordered to leave their tents
behind. They are now lying under tent-flies or in shelter-tents. When
we leave here I shall only take a tent-fly. We are living delightfully.
This morning we had a splendid dish of fried fish, which Tom, “Bos,”
and I caught a few steps from my tent last evening.

The other day, on our march from Powder River, I shot an antelope. That
night, while sitting round the camp-fire, and while Hughes was making
our coffee, I roasted some of the ribs Indian fashion, and I must say
they were delicious. We all slept in the open air around the fire,
Tom and I under a fly, “Bos” and Autie Reed on the opposite side. Tom
pelted “Bos” with sticks and clods of earth after we had retired. I
don’t know what we would do with out “Bos” to tease....

Yesterday Tom and I saw a wild-goose flying over-head quite high in the
air. We were in the bushes and could not see each other. Neither knew
that the other intended to fire. Both fired simultaneously, and down
came the goose, killed. Don’t you think that pretty good shooting for
rifles?

On our march here we passed through some very extensive Indian
villages--rather the remains of villages occupied by them last winter.
I was at the head of the column as we rode through one, and suddenly
came upon a human skull lying under the remains of an extinct fire.
I halted to examine it, and lying near by I found the uniform of a
soldier. Evidently it was a cavalry uniform, as the buttons on the
overcoat had “C” on them, and the dress coat had the yellow cord of
the cavalry uniform running through it. The skull was weather-beaten,
and had evidently been there several months. All the circumstances
went to show that the skull was that of some poor mortal who had been
a prisoner in the hands of the savages, and who doubtless had been
tortured to death, probably burned....

We are expecting the _Josephine_ to arrive in a day or two. I hope
that it will bring me a good long letter from you, otherwise I do not
feel particularly interested in her arrival--unless, by good-luck, you
should be on board; you might just as well be here as not.... I hope to
begin another _Galaxy_ article, if the spirit is favorable....


                                      Mouth of Rosebud, June 21, 1876.

... Look on my map and you will find our present location on the
Yellowstone, about midway between Tongue River and the Big Horn.

The scouting-party has returned. They saw the trail and deserted camp
of a village of three hundred and eighty (380) lodges. The trail was
about one week old. The scouts reported that they could have overtaken
the village in one day and a half. I am now going to take up the trail
where the scouting-party turned back. I fear their failure to follow
up the Indians has imperilled our plans by giving the village an
intimation of our presence. Think of the valuable time lost! But I feel
hopeful of accomplishing great results. I will move directly up the
valley of the Rosebud. General Gibbon’s command and General Terry, with
steamer, will proceed up the Big Horn as far as the boat can go.... I
like campaigning with pack-mules much better than with wagons, leaving
out the question of luxuries. We take no tents, and desire none.

I now have some Crow scouts with me, as they are familiar with the
country. They are magnificent-looking men, so much handsomer and more
Indian-like than any we have ever seen, and so jolly and sportive;
nothing of the gloomy, silent red-man about them. They have formally
given themselves to me, after the usual talk. In their speech they said
they had heard that I never abandoned a trail; that when my food gave
out I ate mule. That was the kind of a man they wanted to fight under;
they were willing to eat mule too.

I am going to send six Ree scouts to Powder River with the mail; from
there it will go with other scouts to Fort Buford....


                                                     June 22d--11 A.M.

... I have but a few moments to write, as we move at twelve, and I have
my hands full of preparations for the scout.... Do not be anxious about
me. You would be surprised to know how closely I obey your instructions
about keeping with the column. I hope to have a good report to send you
by the next mail.... A success will start us all towards Lincoln....

I send you an extract from General Terry’s official order, knowing how
keenly you appreciate words of commendation and confidence, such as
the following: “It is of course impossible to give you any definite
instructions in regard to this movement; and were it not impossible
to do so, the Department Commander places too much confidence in your
zeal, energy, and ability to wish to impose upon you precise orders,
which might hamper your action when nearly in contact with the enemy.”


THE END.



Transcriber’s Notes


Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not
changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; occasional unbalanced
quotation marks retained.

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained.





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