October 1, 1863 - Hunting Prairie-Chickens - A Row in Camp - The Texture of the Company - The O. K. Store - Antelope - A Crowded Stage - Wood River - The Center - Lazy Indians - Greyhounds - Buffalo - Center - Arrive Fort Kearney
On the evening of October 1, 1863, as stated, we went into camp early at Warm Slough, and there were a good number of travelers on the road. We passed train after train going west, and several trains passed going east. While we were in camp I took Captain O'Brien's shotgun, and went out to get some prairie-chickens. It was a good deal of a feat to shoot prairie-chickens on the wing from horseback but both the Captain and I became quite expert owing to the intelligence of our horses, who, the moment a bird flew up or we made a demonstration, stood stock-still. As I was coming in at twilight by myself, Captain O'Brien, who had remained in camp, came up to me, and told me to go and put on my saber, and both revolvers loaded, right quick, and join him. He said the whole camp was drunk; that they had got some whisky from a passing train, and were raising Cain. I was soon equipped, and went with him. The Captain pulled out his saber, and went among the men, and began to take them by the neck and shake them up, and order them to be still, and I followed at his side. The Captain went at it rather violently, but succeeded in getting the men hushed up. Order was restored, and we returned to our tent, which was pitched about three hundred feet from the men. In a little while yelling and shooting broke out, and the Captain jumped up and put on his saber and revolvers, and bade me do the same. We went over to the tents, and the Captain began to punch some of the men around, and compel them to be still. There were several of the men and some of the non-commissioned officers who were sober. Some of the men were ugly, and the Captain immediately detailed five sober men with picket-ropes, of which each man carried one (which was a thirty-foot rope with an iron pin for picketing horses), and he took one man after another, who was ugly drunk, to the wagon, and compelled the sober men to tie them to the wagon-wheels. This was an exceedingly dangerous performance, but the Captain had all kinds of nerve and never feared to do his duty, and never feared his men. I accompanied him on the round backwards and forwards to the wagons, until some of the men gathered around the wagons with their guns and threatened to loosen the men who were tied up. So the Captain stationed me to guard the men while he brought others up and tied them. I walked up and down with a revolver, and had the men stand back. He tied up sixteen of them to the wagon-wheels of six loaded wagons which we had at that time. There was an appearance of a mutiny, so the Captain went in and out of the tents giving the men considerable harsh talk, and saying that he would shoot the first man that did anything that looked like a mutiny; that he proposed to handle the company as it ought to be handled, and didn't intend that drunkenness should impair its discipline. In a little while several shots were fired inside of a tent up through the canvas. Then the Captain gave a great "bluff," and went up and down through the camp ordering silence. He and I together kept things going, guarding the prisoners alternately and walking around among the tents, until finally the whisky died out, and the men became more sober, but not less ugly. We released the men who were tied up after about all of them had fallen asleep from drunkenness. Things quieted down about midnight, and finally the men were all released, and the next day matters went along as if nothing bad happened; but it was a very trying situation. We put our soberest man on guard that night at the picket-rope where the horses were tied, so that none of the men could go and saddle a horse and desert. The Captain's prompt and decided vigor had a good effect upon the company. And although we had many troubles after that, we never had at any time a difficulty which seemed so likely to break up the company. The Captain expressed gratitude for the assistance I gave him, and the men made up their minds as to who was in command of the company. A considerable while after that I had occasion at midnight to go in front and stop a large detachment of my men bent upon a vicious purpose which I will hereafter describe, but the incident at Warm Slough enabled us afterwards to command the attention of the men, and to keep them fully in line of duty. A company of volunteer soldiers will grow clannish and inclined to hang together for good or evil, and to see how far they can disobey the military law, and how far they can scare or baffle their officers; and when they are all out by themselves with no other corps or regiment or strange troops to bring them into line, and when they are by numbers the masters of the situation, they are liable to play havoc with all military principles, and to run over an officer, if they possibly can. When on detached service, such as we were on, it is sometimes about all an officer's life is worth to maintain his own standing, and the discipline of his company.
Ought I to tell these things in writing of my illustrious company? Well, it is history, and future times will want to know what manner of men wrought out the surprising details of that age.
Captain O'Brien was exceedingly rough, but his conduct was exactly the right thing. There was no better man in the company, physically, than the Captain, and next to the Captain in that respect I thought I was a very close second. The troubles we had with the men came largely from whisky. As to the doing of any dangerous duty the men had no lack of courage, nor of will to go into any fight, or into any dangerous place, or to do any valiant military act. They were all right as fighters, and as soldiers, with the exception that being volunteers and being taken out of the great body of people along with their officers, they felt that they were about as good as their officers were, and that they had a right to a will of their own. They thought that if they wanted to drink and raise Cain it was all right, providing they were ready to fight when the emergencies of the service demanded it. The volunteer soldier of that day was a very strongheaded, willful, obstinate fighter. He had been brought up from his boyhood to fight. The men fought around among themselves, pounding each other up, and exercising the same sort of a feeling of emulation that a lot of roosters would in a barnyard. When they wanted to stand off in a ring, and fight each other according to what were then considered "prize ring rules," we as officers never interfered. They had to fight somebody at some time, and little private fisticuffs were only an outlet for the energy and vigor of the men individually. In fact, one night without our knowledge, one of our sergeants got into a fist fight with one of the men, and they went at it, when a ring was formed, "hammer and tongs." I never knew anything of it until the next morning at roll-call, when I noticed the sergeant's face all black-and-blue. I asked what was the matter; he said he had been hurt. I guessed immediately how he had been hurt, and pursued the inquiry no further. It was, of course, against good order and military discipline that a private soldier should pound up a non-commissioned officer, but I did not deem it wise to take notice of such things if the non-commissioned officer did not care to say anything upon the subject. We took occasion some time afterwards to reduce this sergeant to the ranks, on the ground that when he made out his reports he did not write plainly enough. Our non-commissioned officers were sturdy young fellows, and kept pretty good order, and assisted us very greatly to keep and establish discipline.
Every man in the company could sign his name, and the large majority of them could write well. Although the company was a sort of fiery and untamed company, still the Captain and I could not help having a good deal of affection for the men, because there was one thing they wouldn't do -- they wouldn't get scared. And they wouldn't dodge any hardship or danger, and would march all night and all day, and all night again, with perfect composure, and the more difficult and dangerous the work and necessities of the occasion, the more good-natured they seemed to be. But whisky changed it all when they got too much of it.
In the morning of October 2, 1863, the Captain desired me to go on ahead to Fort Kearney, and arrange for quarters at that place, or pick out a camping-ground, and see about rations. I moved along with the command until we got to a place called the O. K. Store, which I think was the beginning of what is now the city of Grand Island. I remember hearing Grand Island spoken of, and remember of one of our Corporals going down to what he called the "North Channel," at which place he killed somebody's hog, skinned it and brought it into camp with all appendages cut off, and called it "antelope." Captain O'Brien and I had some of it for our supper, and having served in the army down South, we distinctly identified the flavor, and knew that it was pig. We sent for the Corporal and asked him about it, and he said that it was wholly wild, and nowhere near any habitation, and he thought it was too good a thing to let go by. Upon which we told him that if anybody made complaint we would pay for the hog and see that it came out of his pay-roll, to which he with apparent readiness consented.
At the O. K. store there was a telegraph station of the Overland Telegraph, and the Captain desired me not to wait, but to take that night's stage and go through to Fort Kearney. In order to do that I had to telegraph on down to Fremont or Columbus to know what the condition of things was, and whether there were any vacant seats in the coaches. I was up that night trying to get this information until two o'clock in the morning, at which time a stage came, loaded down to the guards with passengers. Every available person that could get on the stage was there. On the inside they were sitting by turns on each other's laps. The settlement around the store seemed to be German. The person in charge of the store was a German, and they had a very large stock of goods. There was another stage coming along, shortly after the two o'clock stage, as was believed, but I could not reach it by wire, and finally, having sat up all night, I went around to the company and took breakfast.
On October 3rd we marched along the road and camped on Wood River at a place which was then called "Center." On Wood River, near where we camped, Major Wood, who had rejoined us, took us out and showed an old crossing of the river where his train had a fight with the Indians over fourteen years before. These Indians he thought were the Pawnees. Upon the trip this day we passed a camp with several tents of Indians. The Indians which we had seen farther down called themselves Omahas. These Indians called themselves Ponkas, and we were told that they were a part of the same family as the Omahas. These Ponkas seemed to be a kindly, lazy, inefficient set of Indians, but the women had the same industrious appearance as other squaws. The men had a sort of effeminate look. They seemed to have small feet and to be more feminine than the women. They were strutty, with a sort of Indian pride. The women did all the work and appeared to think that it was the proper thing for them to show off their husbands all fixed up; they thought that they would not be considered good housekeepers if they could not show a well-dressed, idle husband. The squaws all appeared to be of such fiber that they could trounce their husbands easily, and throw them out of the tent when they wanted to. In fact, it seemed to me that the women were about fifty-five per cent masculine, and the men about fifty-five per cent feminine. I think that some of the contempt which the early settlers had for the Indian was due to his effeminate actions and appearance. In addition to this, the Indian grew no whiskers, and had a general inefficient manner, and was not in stature and build the equal of the white boys that were in our company.
The travel on the road continued incessant. The greater part of the travel, however, was towards Omaha. I was told that the heaviest trains and the greatest travel westward started with the grass in the spring. It now appeared as if the main travel was back towards Omaha, it being autumn, and that the trains had herded and left the greater part of their oxen somewhere west and with ox teams reduced in number were hauling back the empty wagons coupled together. With them were a great many returning travelers riding on horseback with their trunks in the wagons. These travelers were engaged in having a good time on their return and in hunting game along the route. There were a good many greyhounds with the trains. Jack-rabbits had become very plentiful after reaching Wood River, and antelopes were seen from time to time in great numbers towards the hills. These travelers and riders wore no coat or vest. They wore heavy woolen shirts with silk handkerchiefs around their necks, and one or two revolvers buckled on. I always stopped and talked to the wagon-masters of the trains, and it was the custom of the plains to give each other all the information possible in regard to the routes. As these people were all very observant, we could always tell pretty nearly what there was ahead of us. The Indians had entirely disappeared from the route. We were told that there were buffalo over in the hills both north and south of the river, but they seemed to stay away from the valley, being frightened by the hunters. Many of the wagons began to have large pieces of buffalo-meat hung up on the bows which supported the wagon-covers. At one point about noon of this day (October 3rd), I saw in the very great distance the black specks indicating buffalo, but they were too far off for us to bother with them.
A little while before we went into camp at Center we made a halt to let the horses graze upon the luxurious grass down in the valley. The wagons were parked and the horses unsaddled and picketed. The Captain and I went out into the road to await the coming of a train which was ahead of us. Suddenly we heard a lot of shooting, and the Captain and I immediately with great anxiety directed our steps in that direction. It seems that a buffalo had been discovered down near the river-bank, and, endeavoring to escape, had plunged into the water and quicksands, and the boys had rallied around it and killed it. It was pulled out onto the bank and skinned and put into our wagon, and that night we camped at the place called Center, where there were a couple of houses, and the whole company sat up until late at night frying and eating buffalo-meat. We divided some of the meat with a party of "pilgrims" as they were called, who overtook us going west. Everybody traveling west in those days was called a "pilgrim." The next day, October 4th, we marched, crossed the river to the south side, and went into Fort Kearney, where we arrived shortly after noontime.