The Stage Service - The Concord Coach - The Post Commander - Jack Morrow's Dinner - Hewey Morgan - Burke and the Cordwood - The Mormons - The Wrecked Mule Train - Gardner and the Cheyenne - Gilman's Advice - The Letter in the Blouse The Closing Letter - Correspondence of the Soldiers
DURING all this time the stage service was kept up. The stages did not seem to have any regular service, except this, that as fast as they got a coach-load they went through. People in the coaches were all armed. Sometimes two or three coaches went through at a time. The service was not irregular as being neglected, but was irregular because it was overcrowded, and the condition of the country unsafe. The dangerous part of the line was considered at that time to be between Fort Kearney and our fort, "Fort Cottonwood," as it was generally called. The stage stations were about ten miles apart, sometimes a little more and sometimes a little less, according to the location of the ranches. Stores of shelled corn, for the use of the stage horses, were kept at principal stations along the line of the route. Intermediate stations between these principal stations were called "swing stations," where the horses were changed. For instance, the horses of a stage going up were taken off at a swing station, and fed; they might be there an hour or six hours; they might be put upon another stage in the same direction, or upon a stage returning. It was the policy of the stage company to make the business as profitable as possible, so it did not run its coaches until each coach had a good load, and they were most generally crowded with persons both on the inside and on top. Sometimes a stage would be almost loaded with women. From time to time stage company wagons went by loaded with shelled corn for distribution as needed at the swing stations. All of the coaches carried Government mail in greater or less quantities. Occasionally when the mail accumulated, a covered wagon loaded with mail went along with the coaches. These coaches were billed to go a hundred miles a day going west; sometimes they went faster. Coming east the down-grade of a few feet per mile enabled them to make better time. They went night and day, and a jollier lot of people could scarcely be found anywhere than the parties in these coaches.
The coaches were all built alike, upon a standard pattern called the "Concord Coach," with heavy leather springs, and they drove from four to six horses according to their load. The drivers sat up in the box, proud as brigadier-generals, and they were as tough, hardy and brave a lot of people as could be found anywhere. As a rule they were courteous to the passengers, and careful of their horses. They made runs of about a hundred miles and back. I got acquainted with many of them, and a more fearless and companionable lot of men I never met. There seemed to be an idea among them that while on the box they should not drink liquor, but when they got off they had stories to tell, and generally indulged freely. They gathered up mail from the ranches, and trains, and travelers along the road, and saw that it reached its destination. They had but very few perquisites, but among others was the getting furs, principally beaver-skins, and selling them to passengers. Most of them had beaver-skin overcoats with large turned-up collars. We soon understood the benefits of these collars, and the officers of our post put large beaver collars on their overcoats, and the men of the company fitted themselves out with tanned wolfskin collars, which were equally as good. Wolves were so numerous that there was quite an industry in shooting or poisoning them, and tanning their skins for the pilgrim trade.
The commanding officer of our post was, as stated, Major George M. O'Brien, of the Seventh Iowa Cavalry. For a while I acted as Adjutant, Quartermaster, Commissary, and Ordnance officer combined. Major O'Brien was a fine-looking, high-strung Irishman, educated in the University of Dublin. He was the oldest brother of Captain O'Brien of my company. Major O'Brien took an active interest in the establishment of the post, and getting it ready for the outbreak which was to come in the summer. A squad from one or the other of our companies was sent down with teams nearly every week to Fort Kearney for supplies. The teams would go down one week, and come back the next. The distance was called one hundred miles.
On December 23rd the officers of our posts were invited up to Jack Morrow's ranch to dinner. Myself and Captain O'Brien went up, leaving the company in charge of our First Lieutenant. A couple of the officers of the other company, the First Sergeant and the Post Sutler (Ben Gallagher), were in the party. Jack Morrow's ranch was out on the prairie, nearly south of the junction of the two Platte rivers. North Platte had much more water in it than the South Platte. Between our post and Jack Morrow's the high hills of the tableland ran far north in a bold promontory, broken at the point into a sort of peak, which could be seen a long distance both up and down the river, towards which it projected. We had to go past this to get to Morrow's ranch. This point was called the "Sioux Lookout." Going up, we detected with a field-glass an Indian's head peering over the top of the ridge at us, but he afterwards scudded away and disappeared. We were told at Morrow's that the Indians were keeping constant lookout from that point, although the weather was exceedingly cold. There was a canyon came in near there called "Moran Canyon," also filled with large cedars. Jack Morrow was said to have cut out five thousand cedar logs from the canyon for his own use, and for sale to other persons; and to have got out two thousand fine cedar telegraph poles. It was also said that he would not allow anybody else to cut any timber in that canyon. Morrow had as large an outfit, nearly, as the Gilmans. He claimed to have cattle and goods and improvements worth $100,000, but he overstated it. He was a tall, raw-boned, dangerous-looking man, wearing a mustache, and a goatee on his under lip. He was said to be a killer, to have shot a man or two, and to have passed his life on the plains. He was said to have daily altercations with pilgrims, and to have gone on drunks that were so stupendous in their waste of money and strange eccentricities that he was known from Denver to Fort Kearney and very largely in Omaha. He was said to have had an Indian wife, although I never knew whether that was true or not. He had a very large stock of goods, and a row of "pilgrim quarters." His ranch-house was built of cedar logs, and was two and a half stories high and sixty feet long. The third story was divided into rooms, and the cross-logs were not sawed out to admit doors, so that in going from one room to another it was necessary to crawl over six feet of cedar-log wall to get into these rooms. Yet he had people sleeping in those rooms a great deal of the time. He stored away great quantities of furs, robes, dried buffalo-meat and beef, and other stuffs, for shipment, in a sort of annual caravan, which he made down to Omaha. He had a very capable and accomplished First Lieutenant who acted as foreman, salesman, and cashier. His name was Hewey Morgan. When Morrow went on a spree Hewey Morgan's authority began, and he must have exercised it very capably, because Morrow trusted him implicitly.
About five o'clock in the afternoon -- it was after sundown, when we arrived there -- Morrow was either two-thirds full or pretended to be. My opinion of it was that it was merely pretense. In a little while he brought out a basket of champagne, and after we had paid our attention to it our dinner began. It was broiled antelope heart, baked buffalo hump, fried beaver tails; a regular pioneer banquet, and Hewey Morgan poured out the champagne in tin cups all around. There were two or three residents at the table, neighboring ranchmen from down near the post. Among others a young man named Sam Fitchie, who could recite poetry, and was a regular declaimer, and impersonator, and withal a fine-looking and well-educated young gentleman. He was out there trying to work into the stock business, and had not been there very long. Many years afterwards I met him as a prominent minister in Ohio. His Indian name was Wa-pah-see-cha (bad matches).
When the banquet was over, Morrow got out his paraphernalia, and offered to deal faro bark. We agreed to battle away at his bank for thirty minutes while the horses were being saddled and brought around, which we did without any material loss to anybody. Captain O'Brien whispered to me that he thought the whole business looked as if Jack Morrow was after a Government contract with our post. I sort of received the same impression. Just before the leave-taking began, Hewey Morgan wanted to ask me a question privately, and I went out with him. And the question was, whether he couldn't get a contract to furnish the Government with one hundred thousand pounds of shelled corn at five cents a pound, and if I would not use my efforts with the post commander. I told him that I certainly would not; that the corn could be put down much cheaper than that and that I couldn't recommend it. He took it good-naturedly, and on the way back to the post, when we got to comparing notes on the point, Hewey Morgan or Jack Morrow had each spoken to every member of the party. This whole proceeding was so raw that none of us ever made any visit again to Jack Morrow. Captain O'Brien was an honest man, and was very indignant.
A few days after that a little short, stubby Irishman named Burke came into camp, and said that he and the people with him wanted a job of work. I sent him to the post commander, Major O'Brien, and Major O'Brien sent for me. This man Burke had left Denver with some empty wagons, and had agreed to haul about fifty men through to Omaha at a rapidity not less than twenty-five miles a day, and was to furnish transportation for men, trunks and baggage, and feed them en route; he made a through rate. It was a train pulled by horses and mules. He said that he had to halt his train; that his animals needed shoeing; that their feet were badly worn; and while he was there he wanted to get something for the men to do. Major O'Brien suggested that he put in a bid for cedar cordwood; that he should go up in the canyon, take the tops, limbs and refuse of our cutting, make it up, and cord and stack it near the post. He went up, and came back and said he would do it for $4 a cord. Major O'Brien sent for me, and asked me what I thought about it; we concluded to offer a voucher for $3 a cord piled up near the barracks, at a point which I should designate. Burke and his men debated the thing the whole day, and finally came back, took the contract and piled up the four hundred cords of wood. Burke said afterwards that there was about $20 profit in the contract; that he "would liked to have made ten cents a cord on it," but hadn't done it -- had made only five.
During the months of January and February at least twenty coaches of Mormon officers and missionaries went past our post, going and coming. They traveled all by themselves; asked no protection nor odds of anybody. They always said that they did not fear the Indians, and that the Indians never harmed a Mormon. So, they passed by us, went up the North Platte and through the South Pass without an escort of any kind. Along in January a large mule train came up, loaded with shell corn and flour from Denver. As they neared our post a most terrific blizzard set in. It was, indeed, a fearful one. It caught this train three or four miles east of our post, down by the river. The train parted, its wagons got scattered, some of its horses and mules were literally blown away. They got started before the wind, and they could not be overtaken nor caught. The result was that the train was wrecked. They came to the post and asked us to take their corn and flour. Having no authority to buy, I told them that I would take it, receipt for it, and store it, and that they could return to the river, and if I received word from the Quartermaster-General there, I would take the stuff up on my accounts. This was satisfactory. The train immediately fastened the empty wagons together with what animals they saved and had recaptured, and pulled back to Leavenworth, from which place I got an order to take the property up on my returns, it having been bought by the Government.
Along about the latter part of February the weather became very severe. Storms came down from the northwest, one chasing after the other in close succession, that kept us very closely hived up in the barracks. Considerable snow fell upon the level ground, which blew over into the canyon, and in places there it was quite deep, so that our cordwood was a very great benefit to us. We took the horses out whenever we could, and rode them around and exercised them, but they were getting soft and unfitted for hard campaigning. We had always taken good care of our horses; in fact, when we left Omaha we adopted a frontier custom of placing a gunny-sack under the horse-blanket. I never saw that practiced anywhere else, except on the plains: Every soldier smoothed out a gunny-sack when he saddled his horse; it prevented the woolen horse-blanket from scalding the horse's back. The wind and alkali and sand had made it necessary to take care of the backs of our horses, and we arrived at Cottonwood Springs with our horses in good condition, but the keeping of them penned up was reducing their effective capacity very much. We did not dare to turn them out loose, to play, for fear some unexpected Indian might turn up and stampede them.
When the bad weather set in, it was our principal duty and object to keep our horses up, and we rode them around as best we could, occasionally trying to go through the forms of a drill. Owing to the fact that we were among the Indians, we adopted the bugle-drill almost entirely, and all movements were executed not by word of mouth, but from the note of the bugle. And in order to keep the men and subordinate officers efficient in that we practiced considerably at nights in the barracks, to keep the men's ears alert to distinguish the calls. Most of the men were inclined to forget.
While this rough and inclement weather was in progress a man named Gardner came to our post, and went to headquarters. He represented that he was the Government agent among the Cheyennes, at a considerable distance southwest of us. Gilman had said that there were twenty thousand Indian warriors within three days' ride (one hundred fifty miles) north of us, and an equal number south of us, but nobody knew exactly where they were. This man Gardner was not particularly specific, nor do I remember where he said the headquarters of the tribe were which he represented. The first thing that I heard of the matter was the end of a heated conversation with Major O'Brien, in which he demanded of Major O'Brien that the Major send out a company of cavalry with a brass howitzer, and arrest the head chief of the Cheyenne band; this the Major refused to do, but said he would consider. Gardner went out in a very lofty way, went across to Mr. Boyer's, where liquor was to be had, and I didn't see him until the next day. Major O'Brien said that this man Gardner had reported that he had been to the tribe to see about certain annuities and the carrying out of certain treaty obligations, and that the head chief had insulted him and slapped his face and told him that he was a coward and that the Government of the United States couldn't do anything with the Cheyenne tribes, and that they didn't care whether there was peace or war, and so on, and so on. The Major was of the opinion that as Gardner was a Government officer and had a right to call upon troops, something ought to be done, because, if the matter were left to go, there was no telling where the end might be in our dealings with those Indians. And he told me to think it over, and get ready and plan what I would do, because if that trouble arose he would want to send me out on the expedition. As I came out of headquarters to go and tell Captain O'Brien about it, I met J. K. Gilman near our company line, who was going to make a call upon Captain O'Brien, and I asked him to come in so that we could talk it over. Gilman's idea came quickly to the front. He said: "That man Gardner is a worthless, drunken fellow, who has been put in through political influence, and don't know how to handle himself, the Cheyennes, or anybody else. If you go out and demand the surrender of the Chief or any of the head-men they will refuse to do it, and all you will have to do is turn around and come back. If you go to showing fight your posse will last about thirty minutes." He said: "My advice for you is to go out there and take this man Gardner with you, and a good interpreter, and not to go nearer than five miles of their village. Send in for a delegation of their head-men and have a little preliminary council, and listen to the complaint those Indians have got to make, and then come back." The next day at the post Gardner was roariously drunk, and not much business was done. In two or three days, however, he had got Major O'Brien up to the idea of sending me out, and Major O'Brien told me to get ready and start within seven days. Thereupon I outlined the policy which Mr. Gilman had suggested, and Major O'Brien considered it wise, and sensible; so he sent for Gardner and outlined it. Gardner refused to go with me; said that it wasn't his business; that it was his business to call for Government troops to do what he ordered them to do, and he accused Major O'Brien of trying to shirk his responsibility. This made the Major very indignant, and he rose up in his wrath, and being a great big, strong man himself, he ordered Gardner out of headquarters, and told him not to come back until he was sober. Gardner went out, got onto a stage and went down to Fort Kearney. In a little while instructions both by wire and letter came, saying under no circumstances to send out a force against the Cheyennes; that the General commanding the District had the matter under consideration, and would give the necessary order when the time arrived, and for the post commander to take no orders from any civilian whomsoever. The rumor of our sending out a hundred men to the Cheyenne village with a brass howitzer went around with great rapidity, and it was not long before different ranchmen came in and said that it would simply precipitate the Cheyenne war, which would come anyhow as soon as the Indian ponies could live on the grass; that it was folly to send less than one thousand armed men, and that no cavalry company could get within ten miles of the Indian village before it would be annihilated; that it would bring a raid on the Platte valley, for which nobody was quite ready. Major O'Brien took the consensus of opinion and forwarded it with his own recommendations down to headquarters, and I felt somewhat relieved when I knew definitely that I was not to go out on such a forlorn expedition.
Turning from the subject of Indians to another far more interesting, I will relate an occurrence that happened early in March; but I must go back into the past. I had been with the first army of General Curtis that marched down through Arkansas from Pea Ridge to Helena in 1862. We arrived at Helena, on the Mississippi River, shortly after the river was opened up by the gunboats at Memphis, the bombardment of which we heard over in Arkansas. As the Rebel gunboats were chased down the river the transports came from the North, and, as we were quite ragged, clothing was issued to us, and I drew a Government blouse. In the pocket of this blouse, August, 1862, at Helena, Arkansas, I found a letter substantially in these words: "I would like to know where this blouse is going to. If the brave soldier who gets it will let me know I will be very much obliged to him." It was signed Louisa J. B------. The letter was from a town that was one of the suburbs of New York City, in New Jersey. I immediately answered it, although the blouse had been some time coming, and a correspondence grew up which had run considerably more than a year. The correspondence consisted of my detailing matters concerning the campaigns that I was in, and the military duties which I was performing. The answers from New Jersey consisted in telling briefly what the newspapers said about the progress of the war, and the actions of the President. About the first of March, 1864, I received a very nice letter, in which the writer said that she was the mother of the young lady who had written me. The letter was a very fine and delicately written letter, so sensible that it was impressive. She said:
"I think you may be able to comprehend how devoted an interest a mother must take in her daughter's welfare, and her correspondence. My husband had large contracts for the army, and while my daughter was home from school visiting her father, who was making a large shipment of clothing, she wrote the note that you found in the blouse. It was the romantic idea of a school-girl. Your letters have been so interesting that it is not unreasonable for you to imagine that she has become interested in receiving them. The correspondence has gone on for some time. She has read me your letters, and they have been in every respect interesting and proper; but I fear that this matter may go too far. I wish, if you will permit the request, that you write no more to her, at least for the present. If at some future time you should be able to satisfactorily establish your character and standing, and shall visit the East, we shall be pleased to receive you. But you must know that her parents feel considerable interest in the matter, as you are such a total stranger, and we have no knowledge of your family or your social standing."
It was one of the nicest letters ever written; it produced a very great impression on me. I had a sister of my own whom I thought a great deal of, and I couldn't help thinking that I would feel the same way if she were writing to someone under the same circumstances. After cogitating over the letter, I returned it to her, telling her that all correspondence so far had been destroyed, which was the fact; that I had only the last letter, which I returned herewith; that I appreciated her feelings exactly, because I had relatives of my own; and that I would assure her that the correspondence was ended. About a month or more after that I received all my letters back from the young lady, and they were fragrant with roses, and had pencil-marks, underscored sentences, and query-marks on the edges, and all that sort of thing. After reading them consecutively through from one end to the other, I placed them gently upon the cedar coals while the aroma floated out upon the thirsty air. And that was the last of the episode, for I have never heard of any of the persons since; and as nearly fifty years have now elapsed I probably never will. I never interested myself further in the matter. There was another girl.
I tell this story to illustrate what happened constantly in the army. There were probably in my own company forty cases of correspondence not much unlike the one which I have depicted. Of course I supposed I was writing to the girl who made the blouse, for the girls who made the blouses and coats and clothing put such notes in, so that there was hardly any soldier who did not draw some kind of address like this during the Civil War, and many of them got more than one. In fact, it was not unusual, when there appeared in the newspapers notice of some movement of troops, naming some certain officer, that he would get half a dozen letters from persons he never heard of before, and perhaps never heard of again. And this was not wholly on our side. We had often captured the mail of Confederate regiments, and there was hardly any soldier in our army who did not carry around at some time some letter which some Southern girl had written to some Southern soldier. We had thousands of them, and I suppose the Confederates had similar experience.
The girls both North and South kept the soldiers feeling that their services were appreciated, and the boys in the ranks were bound that the girls should not be disappointed; and so, the war was long and severe. And the girls helped fight it. And neither side wanted to give up.