Rations of Whisky - Era of Bitters - Artemus Ward - Major Heath - Lieutenant Heath - His Death - MacDonald's Dance - Indian Invited In - John Dillon - Tom Potter - Captain Logan - The First Colorado Cavalry - Harry Dall - The Travel on the Plains - The Wagons - The Bullwhackers - The Wagon-boss - The Denver Trade - The Missourian
I HAVE referred to the store which Boyer kept where liquors were sold. We managed to get pretty good police regulations in our company in regard to liquors. My barrel of 1849 whisky didn't last very long, so that soon afterwards on one of my trips to Fort Kearney I went to the post commander and told him what my men were doing, and that they must have a ration of whisky if they did this hard pioneer work, that is, if they wanted the ration. I sat down with him and computed what it would take to build the fort for two companies and to make the work speed along rapidly. And I pointed out to him that it was the cheapest thing for the Government to give that inducement. After a considerable consultation he agreed with me that I might take out a supply that would last until the completion of the post, as they had much on hand and there did not seem to be a great demand. In short, I drew seven more barrels of good corn whisky as rations. And the arrangement which we made, and which was satisfactory to the men, and which worked exceedingly well, was this: Every man who worked as an axman or builder, or in other words did hard work that was strictly outside of military service, got a drink in the morning if he wanted it, and one in the evening if he wanted it, when he was through with his work. And if he shirked during the day, he did not get his evening drink. The men all seemed to be inspired, and they all wanted to work, and those who did work, as a rule, did well. The number of shirkers was not many. In order that there should be no intemperance in the morning, when the time for a jigger had arrived there was poured out in a tin cup a gill, and he drank it right there. The captain didn't allow him to carry it off. Our great big Corporal Forbush, who was the Hercules of the company, and who had passed a great deal of his life swinging an ax in the Northern pineries, was the man who gave the boys their drinks. He was liable to drink a little too much himself, but he was a good disciplinarian, and the boys could not get any whisky and carry it off. They drank it on the spot, and in his presence, morning and night. A gill is a pretty good-sized drink, and was all a man should have at one time. The seven barrels would not have lasted long if it had not been economically administered, and only to those who did the hard work. There was very little constitutional intemperance in our company. It was sporadic. None of the ranchmen would sell liquor to our men, nor would the sutler. And if a man was caught with liquor he was put at work on fatigue duty without liquor, so that we had but very little trouble during the winter.
That good old ancient time was an era of drinking. There was no such thing known then in the West as "prohibition," and nearly everybody drank a little. It was also the age of bitters. Sometime back in the early '50s the manufacture of artificial bitters had been introduced. Before that time an old invention called "Stoughton" had been for a long while in vogue. In every saloon was a bottle of "Stoughton bitters," and if anybody wanted any bitters he called for some Stoughton and put it in. It was only occasionally the Stoughton was used, but the Stoughton bottle was always at the bar, and the synonym for an idle fellow, always in evidence and doing nothing, was to call him a "Stoughton bottle." And frequently men were spoken of in politics or religion or in a story as a mere "Stoughton bottle." That is, they were in evidence, but nobody paid much attention to them. The simile survived for a lifetime after the Stoughton bottle had gone. But someone afterwards invented "bitters" as a beverage; three celebrated kinds were thrown onto market, and made great fortunes for their inventors, as were early occupants of the field. The first in order was 'Plantation Bitters"; next, "Hostetter's Bitters"; third, "Log Cabin Bitters." By the time the war broke out these bitters had been advertised with an expenditure of money which at that time was thought remarkable. Plantation Bitters appeared in 1860, and every wall and fence and vacant place in the United States was placarded with the legend, "S. T. 1880 X." For several months everybody was guessing what the sign meant. It was in the newspapers. It was distributed in handbills on the street. It was seen at every turn, "S. T. 1860 X." After the world had long grown tired of guessing, there appeared the complete legend, "Plantation Bitters, S. T. 1860 X." Plantation Bitters became the bottled liquor of the age. It was made out of alcohol, water and flavoring, and was really very attractive as to taste and results. The Hostetter and the Log Cabin followed closely behind in popularity. The Log Cabin got into sutler tents all over the district which the army occupied. Its principal advertisement was the strange glass bottle made in the shape of a log cabin. At about the time I speak of, all three of these liquors were on sale at Boyer's. The legend of the Plantation Bitters was that it meant "Sure thing in ten years from 1860." That is, when the inventor had made the decoction, and submitted it to a friend as an invention and marketable article, the friend, so the story goes, told him that it was a sure thing for a fortune in ten years. So, acting on this thought, he had billed the United States, "S. T. 1860 X.," and spent half a million advertising "S. T. 1860 X.," before anybody knew what it was all about.
In March, 1864, while we were at the post, Artemus Ward, the great humorist, came through on a coach; and hearing that he was coming, Captain O'Brien and I went to the coach to greet him. It was late in the afternoon. The first thing he did was to ask us to go and take a drink with him, and Boyer's was the saloon. Artemus Ward went in, with us following him, and said, "What have you got to drink here?" Boyer said, "Nothing but bitters." Ward said, "What kind of bitters?" Boyer said, "I have got nothing but Hostetter; some trains went by here and they cleaned me out of everything but Hostetter." So Ward said, "Give us some Hostetter," and the bottle was shoved out on the cedar counter. We took a drink with Ward, who told us about some Salt Lake experience he had recently had. In a little while the driver shouted for him to get aboard. Ward turned to Boyer, and he says, "How much Hostetter have you got?" Boyer looked under his counter and said, "I had a case of two dozen bottles which I opened this afternoon and that is all I have got and I have used up five of them." Said Artemus Ward, "I have got to have eighteen of those bottles." Boyer said, "That only leaves me one bottle." Ward said, "It don't make any difference; your mathematics are all right, but I want eighteen of those bottles." The bottles sold for $1.50. Ward said, "I will give you $2 a bottle." In a short time the money had been paid. Ward went to the coach with the box of eighteen bottles under his arm, and we bade him an affectionate adieu. The crowded coach greeted him with cheers, and I have no doubt that they finished the whole business before morning, on the coach.
Our company kept constantly improving. Captain O'Brien had been a sergeant in the Fifth Wisconsin Battery, and I had been a sergeant in the Fourth Iowa Cavalry, and we had both served from the beginning of the war. Our First Lieutenant, of whom I have spoken, was a gray-haired and gray-whiskered man, who said he was only forty-five. He was a very gentlemanly, placid old man, without the slightest particle of military instinct or habit. The other company at our post was officered by three as inefficient men as could be found in the regiment. They were of no account whatever. The Captain and First Lieutenant were well along in years, and had got their places because they had been the relatives of somebody, and had managed to get the appointment. The Second Lieutenant was the son of the senior Major of our regiment, Major H. H. Heath. This man Heath had served in the First Iowa Cavalry, and had been made a Major of our regiment through the influence of a very giddy wife, who was the daughter of a Syracuse barber in New York. Major Heath himself was a fine-looking, dressy, showy fellow, but a great scoundrel. Through the influence which his wife had with Senator Lane of Kansas, Heath became finally brevetted as a Brigadier-General. Heath was a self-important, dictatorial wind-bag, and he succeeded in getting his worthless, drunken son as Second Lieutenant in the Company. The elder Heath coquetted with Jeff Davis to get a Brigadier-Generalship in the Confederate army. He was willing to be a traitor to his country or do anything else. He was absolutely without principle. I have referred to him once before, but will repeat. When the Rebel archives were captured at Richmond, Heath's letter was found among the many other similar documents, and when Heath under President Andrew Johnson wanted an appointment, Major-General G. M. Dodge, who was one of Sherman's corps commanders and happened to be a member of Congress at that time from Iowa, got hold of the Heath letter, and read it on the floor of Congress, and Heath became a refugee, fled to Peru, and died a pauper and a tramp. Heath, on account of his rascality, at the close of the war was recommended to be cashiered, but his wife, in a beautiful blue moire antique dress, went on to Washington, saw President Johnson, saved him, and had his dismissal remitted to a discharge from the service. I am anticipating history somewhat in giving the pedigree of Second Lieutenant Heath. I had so much trouble with him in the barracks that I had made up my mind that I would have him court-martialed and disposed of, because he would fill himself with whisky and become offensive and insulting. He would go down among his private soldiers in the barracks and play poker with them and win their money, and he would cheat at cards, and if a soldier playing with him, protested, he would send him to the guard-house. On the afternoon of March 21, 1864, Heath was sent out with a squad of men to scout along the south side of the river to see if there were any Indians or tracks to be seen. He got in just about sundown, and as he was going by his own barracks close to a door, a gun went off in the hands of one of the soldiers, and the bullet went a dead shot through his head and killed him. It was believed that one of the men had taken advantage of the situation to arrange the accident. I was directed by the Post Commander (Captain O'Brien) to inquire into the cause of the death, and make report. The soldier said that it was an entire accident. Everybody seemed to be pleased with the circumstance; nobody seemed to find any fault with it, and there being no evidence to the contrary, and it being entirely to the benefit of the United States service, I reported the testimony, and nothing was done except to bury the Lieutenant. Major Heath showed no particular interest in the death of his only son. He was a son by a former wife, and was the only child he ever had. He did not attend the funeral, nor were any arrangements made except to put the Lieutenant under the ground. Then the Captain of the company summoned all the power he had to get his own worthless brother-in-law in as Second Lieutenant; but the other officers of the post objected, and succeeded in beating him before the Governor and Adjutant-General of Iowa, who made the appointments.
For twenty-five miles along the line, including Jack Morrow's ranch, and Gilmans', there were ten ranches, and farm-houses. Wives and relatives of these settlers seeing the post well established, came out on stages from the East and joined their husbands and relations. Along about the first of April MacDonald said he was going to take the stuff out of his store-building as much as he could, and get up a dance on the first favorable opportunity. This plan was carried out, and women were there from the whole twenty-five miles. There were about twenty of them. Fiddlers were easily obtained, and the dance lasted until breakfast-time. I did not get much of an opportunity to be present except occasionally, up to twelve o'clock, after which I went on duty as officer of the guard. But it was a regular frontier dance. I have put down in my memorandum only two of the tunes that were played, and I give the names that the fiddler gave me. One of them was "Soapsuds over the Fence," and the other "Turkey in the Straw." All the men in the country were there except the soldiers, and a great deal of liquor was consumed, and several rough-and-tumble fist fights were had out of doors on the flat; but I arrested nobody, and let them all have just as good a time as they wanted to. Captain O'Brien was the mogul of the evening.
Matters upon the road began to get very busy about the first of April. The grass was not up so that the ox teams could travel, but the early pilgrims with smart mule teams began to go through in large numbers. The weather was very stormy and unpleasant in the latter part of March, and considerable snow fell, which the wind would sweep off into the gullies, and fill up almost level, although they might be ten or twenty feet deep. The sand, gravel and snow would be swept off by the wind from the road, and the riverbottom, leaving the roads entirely passable.
Word came from Fort Kearney that an effort would be made to have a big Indian council about the middle of April, and that word had been sent to all of the Sioux, both north and south. The Cheyennes and Arapahoes had not been invited, because it was believed if the Sioux could be influenced the others would remain neutral. So we planned for a reception that would strike terror into the red man when he came in to see us. The hospital which we had built was practically unused. The boys did not like to go to the hospital, and remained in their bunks until they recovered or got in pretty bad condition. And when they got in bad condition, if they could go we sent them down to Fort Kearney, where they could get good care.
One day early in April, 1864, John Dillon, the actor, was passing through on a stage. He was coming from the west. Some telegraph operator notified the operator at our post. Captain O'Brien knew John Dillon personally, and as they were fellow-Irishmen, it was but natural that the Captain should warmly greet him, and I went along. The result was that we got Dillon to stop over. We had built an addition to the hospital so as to make it twenty by forty. We got everybody out of the hospital, hung up some blankets at the end, and we had as good an entertainment from John Dillon as we had ever listened to anywhere. Dillon had been playing in Denver, and was on the way to the States, and we organized him a house, fifty cents admission. We had no chairs nor anything to sit on, so the front row sat down on the floor, and formed a semi-circle about five feet from Dillon, all around in front of him. Then the next row sat on cracker-boxes, flat side down, and the next row sat on cracker-boxes on edge, and the balance stood up. The entrance was through a window. Dillon was about two-thirds "full," and had a little monologue play to start on, in which he had some real drinking out of a real Hostetter bottle, and he kept the thing up for about three hours, to the amusement and delight of us all. We were packed like herrings in a box, and if John Dillon hadn't been one of the greatest comedians in the United States we could not have been kept there under those circumstances. When the show was over he came over to our quarters, and we all played poker until breakfast.
During April a vacancy as Second Lieutenant took place at Fort Kearney, in Company A. The First Sergeant, Tom Potter, and I had been friends, and I had been working to help him get into the vacancy, and during April I was very much grieved to hear that he had failed in being commissioned. This Tom Potter finally became an officer of the company. Our relations were exceedingly friendly, but at this time he had no money, few friends, and no relatives. There was nobody to help him. He was alone in the world, and promotions did not always go upon their merits. Our friendship lasted for many years, until his death. He afterwards became president of the Union Pacific Railroad at Fifty Thousand Dollars a year, and worked himself to death. But in the very height of his powers in the army, he was unable to become Second Lieutenant, owing to the petty little rivalries and dishonest instincts of his superiors, until long afterwards.
On April 9th we were visited by Captain Logan of the First Colorado Cavalry. Captain Logan was making the tour down the Platte from Denver to ascertain the condition of things, and the probabilities of an Indian war. He stayed with us a couple of days. He had talked with the ranchmen and settlers along the line. He told us that unless we could win the Sioux over at the approaching convention, we would have all kinds of Indian trouble. He said that be had been detailed to send out half-breed Indians as runners, and to assist in making complete the convention which was to meet at our post the middle of the month. We afterwards met most of the First Colorado Cavalry. They were a good regiment, and had saved New Mexico from going into the Confederacy. There is no more interesting regimental history than that which a young man named Hollister, who belonged to the regiment, has written of it. The regiment was a regiment of pioneers who were inured to the open air, and life on horseback; and as for being fighters, there were none superior, and we Iowa boys always liked them. Before we went out onto the plains, there had been part of the Eleventh Ohio Cavalry regiment sent to Fort Laramie, which was about two hundred and seventy-five miles northwest of us, on the Salt Lake trail. Once in a while we saw one of the officers or men of that regiment going down to Fort Kearney to get supplies.
On April 13, 1864, Harry Dall reached our post, and, being tired of staging, thought he would stay over a day and rest. I ran across him shortly after he got out of the stage, and he told me his story. Secretary Seward had sent him from Washington to go to Alaska, and he was going to go and report upon the botany, biology and climate of Alaska. I never saw him before or since. He was one of the most companionable men I ever met. We went out with our greyhounds, and caught an antelope and gave Dall a good time. It is impossible for me to say what he afterwards did, except that he made a long and interesting report upon Alaska, which was widely published; and he was about the first of the Americans who knew anything of the land which Secretary Seward purchased from Russia. Those who in those days opposed the purchase, called it "our national ice-house." He was with us at the same time that a Mr. S. F. Burtch, of Omaha, was with us. Burtch was one of those breezy young men of the Western country, who had business all over it, got acquainted with everybody, and liked everybody and everybody liked him. Burtch and Dall came together accidentally at our place; they made a great team.
One day a discussion grew up as to the amount of travel on the plains. Those who had lived on the plains for some time said that the travel from January 1st to April lst, 1864, had been the heaviest ever on the plains, for that season of the year; and that the probability was that the year of 1864 would show more travel by far than ever before. Various persons began to tell about the trains which they had seen. Many persons told of trains that were from ten to fifteen miles long, being aggregations of several independent trains. They told of eight hundred ox teams passing their ranches in a single day. Mrs. MacDonald, the wife of the ranchman at our post, said she had many times kept account of the number of wagons which went by, and that one day they went up to nine hundred, counting those going both ways, That may sound like a very large story, and it is a large one, but is entirely credible. These ox teams would pass a store in their slow gait about one in a minute and a half or two minutes, after they had begun to start by. But that would only make from three to four hundred in ten hours; but when trains were going both ways as they were, it is not incredible by any means that nine hundred wagons passed a ranch in one day. I have stood on the "Sioux Lookout" with my field-glass, and have seen a train as long as I could definitely distinguish it with my glass, and it would stretch out until it would become so fine that it was impossible to fairly scan it. As the wind was generally blowing either from the north or the south, the teams had a vast prism of dust rising either to the north or south, and the dust would be in the air mile after mile until the dust and teams both reached the vanishing-point on the horizon. Fully three-fourths of this traffic was with oxen. The wagons were large, cumbersome wagons which I have heretofore described. And in addition to the description I will say that they had wooden axles, and were of what they called the thimble-skein variety. On the end of the heavy wooden axle was the iron thimble which revolved in another iron thimble in the hub, which was called the skein; the axle was held on by a linch-pin made by a blacksmith. The thimble-skein was lubricated with tar, and the tar-bucket hung on the rear axle. At every ranch were lift-jacks, so that these wheels could be raised, taken off, and the axles lubricated. The wind and the whirling sand and dust made it necessary for this to be frequently done.
The drivers were called "bull-whackers," which was abbreviated down to "Whackers." They had long gads, and a long lash with whang-leather tip; this they could make pop like a rifle. And they could hit a steer on any part, with the whang tip as it cracked, and it could nip the hide out just like a knife. They generally drove walking along the left side of the team, but when the dust was heavy they walked on the clear side, whether right or left. The wagon-master was boss, he was king, and generally the most dangerous man in the lot. He carried a revolver or two, and his altercations with the whackers were very frequent. The wagons were piled full and the curtains drawn, so that it was not very easy to steal anything. One time Jack Morrow was at the post and was inebriated as usual, and he confided to me how he got his start. He said: "I came from Missouri, and got to whacking bulls across the plains; after a while I got onto a Government train loaded with ammunition. I unscrewed the boxes, took out the ammunition and sold it to the ranchmen, filled the boxes with sand, and screwed them down. Then before we got to Laramie I had a rumpus with the wagon-master and he pulled a pistol and I skinned out for somewhere else and nobody got onto it." He said, "I never heard a word from it ever afterwards, but I sold a big lot of ammunition." This statement might have been true, or not, but it was nevertheless the fact that in the commerce of the prairie, a great difficulty lay in guarding against theft in transit, and this was one of the main duties of the wagon-master in conducting his train.
It is perfectly safe to say that for several months during the summer there poured into Denver no less than a thousand tons of merchandise a day, and this seems almost incredible when we consider the hardship and privations which made it possible. But there was a class of people in the West, Missouri and Iowa, that liked fun, enjoyed freedom, despised luxury, and took no note of danger or privation; and they were not of the dumb and stupid class of society. Many were educated, some of them were gifted. They were full of fun, wanted to see the world, and tried to shoot each other up whenever they came in angry contact. I remember one of them standing up and reciting for ten minutes from memory one of the bucolics of Virgil. He had it in the original from end to end, and said he came from St. Genevieve, Missouri. As I now look back, the prominent, noticeable, rollicking dare-devils seemed to come principally from Missouri.