Baron de Watteville - Eleventh Ohio Cavalry - Col. Collins - Lieut. Casper Collins - The Dance at MacDonald's - The Cincinnati Girl - The Fiddling Lieutenant - Smallpox - Jimmie O'Brien - Judicial Duties - The Judiciary System - Betting - "Linty" and the Laundry - The Wedding and Charivari - Co. "G" Departs - Ellsworth - Co. "C" Arrives - Professional Gamblers - Maps - Letters from Eastern Girls - Salt Lake Kate - Gilman Demands Protection - The Traveling Tailor
DURING April, several detachments of the Eleventh Ohio Cavalry passed us going northwest to Fort Laramie, and we got acquainted with them. On the 19th of April we had quite a number of visitors. John K. Wright, a Lieutenant of the Sixteenth Kansas Cavalry, with a detachment was going to Denver. Wright was afterwards State Senator in Kansas, and a very prominent citizen. With him was R. B. Hitz, a surgeon of the United States Army, who afterwards arose to distinction. He was going to Laramie. There was also Lieut. Jenkins of the Second Colorado Cavalry and Lieut. Rockwell of the First Colorado. The latter officers were going west, and the party had two hundred and forty unassigned recruits. With them was a strange character, Captain Alfred de Watteville. He was a Captain of "guides" in Geneva, Switzerland. He was in the Swiss army. He pronounced the word "guides," gwiids. He had his servant, and special team. He called himself Baron. He was a large, fine-looking, gentlemanly fellow, and spoke English well enough to make himself understood. We took him out antelope-hunting, both the Captain and I. While he was there, five days, we caught two antelopes after a chase from eight to twelve miles each. He was very much delighted with his entertainment; told about the European service; had visited our armies in the field; and was on a general tour of education. We took a fancy to him, and parted from him with great regret. De Watteville, Wright and Hitz departed together, going towards Denver, which was then merely a frontier town.
On the 24th of April, 1864, a large detachment of the Eleventh Ohio Cavalry went by, going west; we went down and took supper with the officers. The commanding officer of the regiment was Lieut.-Col. Collins. He was a very fine old gentleman, rather old for military service, but finely preserved, energetic and soldierly. He had a son as a Lieutenant whose name was Casper. Casper was a wild, heedless young man, and was afterwards killed by the Indians. Fort Collins, in Colorado, was named after the Colonel, and the town of Casper, in Wyoming, was named after the son.
While all of these officers I have spoken of were at our post, Ranchman MacDonald had another dance. And some of the passengers in the stages, including several women, stopped to attend it. There had in the meantime several new girls come into the neighborhood, and the dance was quite well attended. One of the young ladies from Cincinnati, quite interested in the dance, confided to me privately that she liked to attend dances, and dance with the officers of the army. One of the fiddlers upon that occasion was the First Lieutenant of Company G, of our regiment, who was at the post. He was a strange man to be made an army officer. He was a red-headed, fiddling farmer. He afterwards got himself dismissed from the service. He got his place because he had done good recruiting through the farms of his vicinity, and got enough of the boys in to give him a First Lieutenancy. That was the kind of stuff our armies were officered with at first, and it must ever be so in the volunteer service, at the outstart. In the first place we must have recruits, and the fellow who gets up the recruits must be paid for it by making him an officer. The man who is the best recruiter is the worst officer. Then it takes the attrition of six months or a year, or perhaps more, to get this stamp of fellows out, and get in those who have some military inspiration. It was the same both in the North and in the South during the Civil War. Both armies had to weed out worthless officers, and get the right men into command, before discipline and efficiency became potent. The South started out better equipped than the North in the Civil War, but in the course of time the North caught up. To illustrate: The Third Louisiana had its first battle at Wilson Creek; its Colonel and Captains had served in the regular army in some capacity. The First Iowa Infantry, who held their ground against them, had only three officers who had ever been in the service.
Along in the latter part of April, one of our men claimed that he was ill, and went to the post surgeon, Dr. LaForce. The Doctor said he thought it was a case of smallpox. Upon consultation the following plan was suggested: That a tent be put up on the island nearest the post, and the man be taken there, and some soldier be detailed to take care of him who had had the smallpox. This duty fell upon a brave, nervy little Irishman by the name of Jimmie O'Brien, whom I will speak of again hereinafter. One glance at Jimmie told that he had had a very severe case of smallpox, for his whole face was pitted up so that it looked as rough as a rasp. Jimmie accepted the detail with genuine Irish good-nature, and, taking a supply of firearms and ammunition, went over onto the island and set up a tent, and took care of this comrade. Cooked rations were served by leaving them on the banks of the river, and Jimmie waded across and got them and took care of his comrade until he was finally well. Then we took Jimmie some matches and a lot of hay, and left some new clothes for both on the banks of the river. Jimmie burned up the tent and the old clothes and everything. Both parties took a good wash in the river, came out and dressed themselves in their new clothes, and the contagion never spread, nor did we ever have another case of it.
While stationed at Cottonwood Springs, the post commander had some assumed political duties, and among others he had to act as justice of the Peace. I was post adjutant all the time, and these matters were very largely submitted to me. I prepared the cases, obtained the facts, and brought the parties before the post commander, who would hear my statement, listen to anything that either side wished to submit, and then render judgment. These matters consisted of complaints by "whackers" against the wagon-bosses, assaults, thefts, borrowed-money matters, and a great variety of other trivial things. The post commander did not only decide the cases, but he carried his decisions into effect. For instance, if a wagon-master wrongfully quarreled with a whacker in such a way as to justify the latter in leaving, and then refused to pay him, the post commander ordered the payment to be made in his presence, and if there was any hesitation or demurrer to it, the defendant was immediately stuck into the guard-house. We had such a summary way of enforcing justice that there was no appeal, and what was decided went as accepted, and that was the end of it. If some man unjustly quarreled with the wagon-boss we put the man into the guard-house until the train had got ten days on its journey, and then let him go to take care of himself. If a man with a team committed an assault, and was unable to pay, we just took enough of his stuff to pay the plaintiff. It might be a sack of corn, or a saddle, or something. Everybody was made to behave; and, it being well understood that we were there for that purpose, it served as a useful check upon the lawlessness of the plains.
Major O'Brien, the post commander, was a good lawyer, and had practiced law, and he knew how to get at things quickly, and knew how far he ought to go. The decisions of Major O'Brien were sought by the people up and down the road for a hundred miles, and he was not a bit backward in assuming jurisdiction in any kind of a case, and carrying his decrees into force. Several men who were charged with having committed crimes were put under ball and chain and delivered down at Fort Kearney, which had become the headquarters of our district. The commanding General of our military district, Gen. R. B. Mitchell, of whom I have spoken, was a good lawyer himself, and his adjutant was John Pratt, of Boston, a most accomplished gentleman, also a lawyer. The General made headquarters at Fort Kearney, instead of Omaha (as his predecessor had done), and he was very anxious that justice should be dispensed through his district, and that civilized methods should prevail. Although there were no civil officers, General Mitchell worked out the whole scheme through military instrumentalities in very good shape. From time to time he instructed his subordinate post commanders how to carry on their civil functions, and protect life and property. He was a great stickler for protecting property, and if some pilgrim stole a saddle or a lariat, it was his theory that the man should be arrested, and punished, even if a soldier had to chase the man for two weeks and it cost the Government $1,000. Hence it was, that our duties were civil as well as military, and we were obliged to briefly report all civil infractions, decisions and punishment. Once or twice we put people into the guard-house and they appealed to the General; he sent for them to be forwarded under escort with the next train to Fort Kearney, where he re-heard the case. One of the peculiarities of the civil jurisdiction was that people applied to the post to enforce the payment of bets which they had made. Parties would make bets, and then when they lost, sometimes would not pay. It was a betting age, and a betting country. We did not go according to the statute law in this matter. We recognized that the payment of bets was an obligation which persons should honor; that betting was recognized by the community as legitimate, and the non-payment of bets tended to disturb social conditions and make enemies, and bring about aggressions. But the debt must either be proven in writing or admitted by the defendant. We enforced gambling debts when reduced to writing and signed. More than once men had the alternative given them of paying a gambling debt or a bet fairly proven, or else of going to the guard-house. If they didn't have the money, they went to the guard-house anyway. There had to be some punishment.
Along early in April one of our best men, having been recently appointed sergeant, played a very nice scheme upon our post. He said that our post needed a laundry; that we ought to have a building in which the soldiers could do their washing with a well and appurtenances; and that we ought to make some nice tight, cedar boxes for washtubs, etc., etc. This struck us as a good thing, so we went to and built a laundry building twenty feet square, but without a well, because it was not far from the stockade where our horses were, and where there was a good well. Now it happened that sometime in February a woman left a train was going west, came to MacDonald's ranch and asked if they wanted to employ a cook or woman to assist in work of the house. It was exactly what MacDonald wanted; his wife had been trying to get somebody for quite a while. The applicant was a woman, tall, slim, razor-faced, about six feet three inches high, and she looked like a human being that wasn't afraid of wild man or wild beast. She started in with MacDonald and did a power of work-washing, cleaning up the store, and everything else; she was a perfect giantess to work. She said that she was raised on a farm in Missouri, was unmarried, and was thinking of going through to Denver where some relatives were, but had concluded she had gone about as far west as she wanted to go. MacDonald was very much pleased with her work and services. As Captain O'Brien used to say, "She was as ugly as a mud fence." She obtained the nickname of "Lengthy." After a couple of months this nickname was reduced to "Linty." One day this Sergeant of whom I spoke above, came to us and suggested that we employ "Linty" as a laundress and give her the laundry-house, and arrange it so that whenever she did any washing for the soldiers it should be reported and taken from the soldier's pay at the pay-table. That was in accordance with the army regulations, providing the company should approve of it. We called up the company and stated the proposition. The Sergeant in the mean time worked the company all right, and the company without objection all agreed that their washing might be taken out of their pay if done by "Linty," but that they had the right to do their own washing nevertheless, if they wanted to. MacDonald objected a great deal towards letting the woman go, but she went, and took up quarters in the new laundry, and curtained off a part of it where she kept her trunk and bedstead. She went to work washing for the boys. She understood it well. She was very strong and industrious, and was doing very nicely, when one day, on May 6, 1864, this Sergeant and "Linty" appeared before the post commander and demanded to be united in marriage. The Captain had never married anybody before, but he had the right as post commander to perform the rite. So the Captain sent for me as the company commander to be present. The Captain fixed up a good deal of ceremony and it was pretty near a mock marriage, except that it was strictly legal. The Captain asked, "Who giveth this woman away?" and I said, "I do," and we went through the ceremony in great shape. Thereupon, arm-in-arm the Sergeant walked down with his bride to the new laundry-house, and started to take up his abode there. Some of the boys, finding it out, determined to have some fun. Late in the evening they got mess-pans and about a hundred of them surrounded the laundry and commenced giving an old-fashioned "shiviree." They ought all to have been arrested, because it was about nine o'clock at night, but the Captain and I concluded we would let the boys have some fun. All at once the noise stopped, and the next morning I heard that the Sergeant had gone to his wife's dress, got her pocketbook, took all the money she had, $5, gone out in stocking feet and had given the money to the boys and told them to go off and get drunk, and leave them, as, he said, that was all they both had. Thereupon the Sergeant took up his headquarters at the laundry and stayed there. Under the army regulations he drew rations for himself and his wife separately, and we saw that from first to last the Sergeant together with the woman had studied up the whole plan. They had worked us. We held this against the Sergeant until things had calmed down, and then we reduced him to the ranks; afterwards, having been a blacksmith, we put him over with Woodruff, the other blacksmith, shoeing horses and repairing wagons. They were not discharged from the service until they were mustered out, in May, 1866, and the couple stayed together as well as any married couple I ever saw, for in all future marches and expeditions of the company this woman went along, and followed the troubles and dared the dangers of the service, so that we finally got to thinking more of "Linty" than we did of her husband.
Owing to troubles reported from the south, Company "G," which was at our post, started May 2nd for Fort Kearney, from which post they went directly to Fort Riley, Kansas. Fort Riley was at the junction of the Republican River, upon which the Indians were very numerous, and, owing to emissaries from the Southern Confederacy, that country was becoming very dangerous ground. From time to time we heard that emissaries from the Confederacy were making inflammatory speeches, and doing their best to alienate the southern Cheyennes, and the Ogallallah Sioux. But this influence did not extend strongly across the Platte to the northern Sioux or Cheyennes, because such emissaries would be shot if they fell into our hands. Nevertheless, there were rumors that efforts were being made in the Indian villages north and northwest of us. From a Sergeant, Ellsworth, who afterwards was an officer in Company "G," the fort and town of "Ellsworth," in Kansas, was named. Shortly after the departure of Company "G" from our post, Company "C," Seventh Iowa Cavalry, arrived and occupied their barracks. Schenck, who was First Lieutenant of the company, had been detailed at Fort Kearney. The company was poorly officered and the captain was shortly afterwards court-martialed.
On May 7th a Mr. Trivit, of Denver, entered complaint against Ingram & Christie, who had a train passing our post. Trivit alleged fraud of considerable amount. Captain O'Brien, the commander of the post was down at Gilmans' ranch trying to make some arrangements for the cutting of a lot of hay during the summer. I swore Trivit to the truth of his statement, which I had my First Sergeant reduce to writing. Thereupon I arrested the other two persons, but sent them under arrest with their train to be halted down at Gilmans' for trial by Captain 0'Brien. He tried the matter out, made his finding, and it was complied with, and the matter ended.
During May two professional gamblers, one from Ottumwa and one from Denver, confederated together, got into our quarters, and got into games of poker with our men. They were quite liberal in buying sutler's stuff; and distributing it among the men in the quarters, but they were also very cunning in regard to it. They slept around wherever they could find a place and played poker whenever they could find a victim. Finally I heard of it, got them into my quarters, had a squad of soldiers come and peel off their clothes. They each had several decks of marked cards, and a lot of money. This I took from them, and then put them both into the guard-house until I could ascertain how much they had won from the men. After arriving at what I thought was a fair conclusion, I gave the balance back although it was a good deal more than I thought they ought to have, and I started them out of camp in opposite directions, two miles each way. I never saw or heard of them again. After they had gone several of the boys put in application to have their money refunded to them. To those applying, I returned no money at the time, but gave them first a few days each of extra work around the stables. Afterwards the money was returned to the losers; some of the boys had wives and families at home, who would be very much benefitted by it.
We had received requests from headquarters to prepare maps of the country as far as we knew. So we got up maps of the country, making them accurate as far as we were acquainted with the lay of the land, by observation or by advice of pioneers and others, as best we could. Along where we were, from Gilmans' to Jack Morrow's there were five cedar canyons, and we had explored them all pretty well, and we could make our maps so as to comprise a radius of twenty miles south of the river. I afterwards saw where, in the Chief Engineer's office at Leavenworth, our maps had been worked into a large Nebraska map, of which a copy had been forwarded to the War Department. It is from such sources as this that maps of a country are first made.
Some person going East from Denver had stopped at our post, which had been put up hastily, and which occupied a place that seven months before had been vacant. This person going East had published in an Eastern magazine a full account of the rapidity with which the work had been done, the value of the post, and its fine situation; in the article appeared my name among others. In one batch of mail I received letters from five different girls who wrote saying they had seen the article, and suggesting correspondence. One was from Monroe, Wisconsin, one was from McGregor, Iowa, one from Ottumwa, Iowa, one from Broadhead, Wisconsin, and another from Waterford, Pennsylvania. Captain O'Brien got a number, but we answered none of them.
On the 15th of May there came into camp a tough-looking woman who said that she had been assaulted by eighteen Cheyennes. She said that on the road east of Morrow's ranch, "Eighteen Cheyenne chieftains ravished my person." The woman was about forty years of age, and a very bad-looking character; but fearing that she might be telling the truth, and as she was talking about it to everybody that would listen to her, Captain O'Brien ordered me to take ten men, and immediately proceed to the place, and try to ascertain what were the facts. Going up to Jack Morrow's, I passed several persons who had been on the road and had seen nothing, and heard nothing. When I got up to Morrow's ranch and related the story the woman told, and asked them if they had seen any Cheyennes they all broke out into immoderate laughter, and one of them said: "You better go back to the post; that woman is 'Salt Lake Kate.' She is the toughest female on the road. Better have her leave the post; send her East as soon as possible." Afterwards one of the party said there had been some Indians seen out on the bluffs that day; that they did not seem to be stealing cattle, but to be very shy and acting as spies. I turned back, and while on march to our post with my field-glass I kept my eye upon the Sioux Lookout, hoping if by chance I might see by accurate and intense observation whether some Indian would put his head up far enough for me to see him. After a little while I beheld a little piece of an Indian's head spying over the ridge. My first impulse was to try to capture him, but as he had a mile or so the advantage of me, and could divine my movement in a minute, I did not attempt it. On my return we started "Salt Lake Kate" down the road with a passing train, and never saw or heard of her afterwards. But events followed rapidly which made us suspicious that she had really been telling the truth, because on the next day or the day after, John Gilman came up to the post, and said that he had seen twenty Cheyennes over on the bluff near them, and that he demanded protection from the United States, and would hold the United States responsible if he lost anything through want of protection, and he served this notice upon us in writing. We didn't like this movement on the part of Gilman, and gave him some harsh language, and told him that if he wanted to be protected to come on up to the post. However, he went back and put his ranch into a fortified condition so as to stand a siege.
At Gilmans' there was staying a peculiar man who came up with them, and stopped at our post. He was a wandering tailor. He had a wagon with cloth and buttons and stuff in it, and went up and down the road making good clothes for people who wanted them. As there were no tailors in the country, and as there were large numbers of people who had worn tailor-made clothes, he seemed to have done a pretty good business. He couldn't always give the people the kind of goods they wanted, but he could really make a nice tailor-made suit, and he was really a professional tailor. The ranchmen of the best order provided themselves with stuff to be made up, and this man Farley, who was a jolly fellow, and a rapid workman, had quite a patronage. He happened to have some blue cloth suitable for uniforms, and he made me one of the best suits I ever had. It cost me about three prices, but it would be difficult to have excelled it in fit, and workmanship, and I was always glad to remember the man, and afterwards to recommend his work farther up the road.